TIBET OR NOT TIBET

InTheNews1
Tibetan women protesting against China at the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, September 1, 1995, courtesy of Reed Brody.

At the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing this past September and the parallel Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) Forum in the suburb of Huairou several issues had delegates and Chinese officials toe to toe. Not the least of these was the issue of Tibetan sovereignty. On September 1, as the rain fell over dozens of supporters, nine Tibetan women held a silent protest. With scarves tied over their mouths, they stood holding hands for…At the U.N.’s Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing this past September and the parallel Non Governmental Organizations (NGO) Forum in the suburb of Huairou several issues had delegates and Chinese officials toe to toe. Not the least of these was the issue of Tibetan sovereignty.

On September 1, as the rain fell over dozens of supporters, nine Tibetan women held a silent protest. With scarves tied over their mouths, they stood holding hands for about fifteen minutes. The women were the only nine Tibetans in exile to be granted visas to attend the conference. China sponsored a separate group of women from the region which it has occupied since the 1950 invasion. The protest coincided with the thirtieth anniversary of formal Chinese rule in the Himalayan region. Leaders of the Chinese backed group denied the exiles’ claims of repression in Tibet, despite the fact that these have been documented by independent observers.

A day earlier, the Tibetan women had caused a more violent stir when they showed a copy of the videotape “Voices of Exile.” The film, which features interviews with Tibetan women—along with fleeting images of the Dalai Lama—was shown in its entirety. After the screening, however, a hotel worker removed the tape from the machine, causing an uproar that almost came to blows.

A few days later, at the NGO conference, Eva Herzer, a Canadian lawyer, was punched and shoved by Chinese plainclothes police as she attempted to pass out literature about Tibet. She later said that police chased her around the site trying to confiscate literature on reproductive freedom. “I feel I have a moral obligation to speak up on behalf of Tibetans in exile who come with their stories but are not safe here,” she said, referring to the nine Tibetans who had been constantly followed and photographed since arriving in China. Australia filed two formal complaints over the harassment and surveillance of Tibetan women at the conference. One followed an incident where Canberra’s Ambassador to China, Michael Lightowler, rescued two Australian women of Tibetan origin from a fierce verbal attack by members of the Chinese-backed Tibetan delegation.

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