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Speech by Iona Liddell at Tibet Freedom Rally PDF Print E-mail
[18 March 2014] Iona Liddell, Executive Director of the US-based Tibet Justice Center, gave a motivating speech at the rally outside the Chinese Embassy on 15 March 2014, following the Tibetan Freedom March which marked the 55th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Below is the text of her speech.


[15 March 2014, London] My name is Iona Liddell, I have been a long-term Tibet support and I am now the Executive Director of Tibet Justice Center. I am really honoured to have been asked to give a few words on this incredibly important day - a day that signifies the depths of the Tibetan peoples struggle and their enormous strength of spirit and resistance in the face of this.

Iona LiddellIt is particularly poignant for me to speak this year, as a Scot, because in September this year, the Scottish people will finally be able to exercise their right to self-determination and decide in a referendum whether they will stay within the United Kingdom or become an independent country again. I have not actually made my decision yet, but the point is that I have the right to choose. The Tibetan people have that exact same right. I wish for and I will work towards the day when they can exercise that very distinct right as a people.

Fifty-five years ago, Tibets capital city, Lhasa was reeling. On 10th March 1959 the Tibetan citizens of Lhasa filled the streets to prevent the Chinese regime harming their leader, the Dalai Lama. China responded with brute force. Fifty-five years ago today, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was on his hurried way to India, fleeing the regime that had broken all agreements and threatened the lives of the Tibetan people.

Today, in 2014, Lhasa is still a place of fear. The whole of Tibet is an occupied territory under military surveillance. If nothing changes, 6 million Tibetan people face an incredibly bleak future. To ensure its control over the land, the Chinese government enacts policies designed to break the identity, unity and spirit of the Tibetan people.

But resistance in Tibet is as strong as ever. One particularly distressing form of this has been the choice made by at least 127 people to self-immolate to highlight the hugely oppressive situation faced by Tibetans. Less reported, are the protests, the acts of civil disobedience - such as in Driru, where many Tibetans took a stand against the Chinese governments patriotic re-eduction program and refused to hoist Chinese flags above their homes, and the cultural renaissance of writing, song and art, that is galvanising around Tibetan identity. In spite of all the persecution in Tibet, there is an inspiring sense of unity, of shared history and, crucially, shared futures.

People often ask me, Why do you work on Tibet? Youre not Tibetan, or Chinese! What has this got to do with you?

Ionan LiddellThere are simple answers. For me, it is about people - you and me, and him and her. This very human family. No-one who hears about what the Tibetan people have suffered for decades can fail to be moved. What is happening in Tibet is an abomination, at a very basic human level. So it is up to us as a global human community, concerned about the welfare of our human brothers and sisters, wherever they may be, to take supportive action.

And, in a world where powerful interests compete for capital, we the people need to look out for ourselves and each other. We are all interconnected. As Martin Luther King famously said, Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

As supporters of Tibetans in Tibet, we know why we are here. And there is much we can do.

We need to listen to the voices of Tibetans in Tibet and let our actions be informed by them. Despite Chinas best efforts to block websites and punish bloggers, there is still so much that we can get online - a multitude of Tibetan voices describing the situation, singing the pain, blogging for change. Many of you already do, but for those of you who dont I would urge you to read the writings of Tibetans inside Tibet and China. You can do this through the fantastic blog High Peaks Pure Earth.

Last year with your support, and with information sent from Tibetans inside Tibet, Tibet support groups lobbied the UN and consequently 13 countries, including the UK, stood up for Tibet and challenged China in front of the Human Rights Council. This is more than twice the number who did so before. This was only made possible because you and other people like you in  countries around the world lobbied MPs and foreign ministries consistently and kept Tibet on the agenda.

As a result of your pressure, in December, William Hague made a statement of concern about the husband of one of the Tibetan self-immolators, who has been sentenced to death, accused of her murder. In reality, his wife had taken that awful and difficult and very personal decision to set herself on fire to highlight the conditions inside Tibet. Through your lobbying and raising awareness about Tibet, you helped take what was Tibets issue - our issue - and made it Hagues issue. Hague then asked the Chinese government to commute his death sentence. Lobbying works.

Just this week at the Tibet Lobby at the Houses of Parliament, MPs decided they will push for a chamber debate on Tibet, which has never happened before. When they launch this initiative, they will look to you to write to your MPs in order to make it happen.

Actions you take do have results. China may be mighty, but it is not untouchable.

In 2013, Tibetan victims who testified in an amazing lawsuit on Tibet saw it make real progress in a Spanish court, using the concept of universal justice. It accuses Chinese leaders of crimes against humanity, torture, war crimes and genocide of the Tibetan people in Tibet. Right now international arrest warrants are out for some of Chinas most powerful men.

Iona LiddellThere will come a day when the people of China, Mongolia, East Turkestan and Tibet will hold these leaders to account, when they will use their right to self-determination to decide their own future.

As non-Tibetans we can give our support to the Tibetans inside and outside Tibet who are working so hard to bring change.

There are so many things you can do to stand up for Tibet:

Coming on marches like this is definitely one of them.
Talk about the situation in Tibet, online and in person. Raise awareness, spread the word.
Raise concerns with your MP about it. Keep Tibet on the political agenda. Make our elected representatives know that their voting base wants to see more proactive UK support for Tibet.
Join a Tibet group or groups in the UK, support their campaigns, sign their petitions, donate to keep them going, keep up-to-date.

The road ahead for Tibetans may be long and hard but we can, all of us, give our skills and our energy to their journey, turn our compassion into actions and, in solidarity, walk with our Tibetan brothers and sisters to brighter 10th March days in Golok, Labrang, Lithang, and Lhasa.

Iona Liddell is the Executive Director of Tibet Justice Center, an independent volunteer committee of lawyers and other experts with a dedicated mission to advocate human rights and self-determination for the Tibetan people.

Further reading & viewing:
Ugyen Choephell's speech at Tibet Freedom Rally
Sikyong's 10 March statement
Photos from Tibet Freedom March & Rally (via facebook)


Tibet Society, the worlds first Tibet support group, was founded in 1959. Funded by its members, it has been working for over 50 years to seek justice for Tibet through parliamentary lobbying, campaigns and actions. Help keep Tibet alive by joining Tibet Society today. (Annual membership 24; Family 36; Life 500)
 
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