Archive for the ‘human rights’ tag
On Friday, January 17 falls the 2014 observance of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees in the Roman Catholic Church. His Holiness Pope Francis sets the themeTowards a Better World for this year’s observance with the following statement. World Refugee Day as proclaimed in 2000 by the United Nations is June 20.
Via The Vatican:
MESSAGE OF HIS HOLINESS POPE FRANCIS
FOR THE WORLD DAY OF MIGRANTS AND REFUGEES (2014)
Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Our societies are experiencing, in an unprecedented way, processes of mutual interdependence and interaction on the global level. While not lacking problematic or negative elements, these processes are aimed at improving the living conditions of the human family, not only economically, but politically and culturally as well. Each individual is a part of humanity and, with the entire family of peoples, shares the hope of a better future. This consideration inspired the theme I have chosen for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees this year: Migrants and Refugees: Towards a Better World.
In our changing world, the growing phenomenon of human mobility emerges, to use the words of Pope Benedict XVI, as a “sign of the times” (cf. Message for the 2006 World Day of Migrants and Refugees). While it is true that migrations often reveal failures and shortcomings on the part of States and the international community, they also point to the aspiration of humanity to enjoy a unity marked by respect for differences, by attitudes of acceptance and hospitality which enable an equitable sharing of the world’s goods, and by the protection and the advancement of the dignity and centrality of each human being.
From the Christian standpoint, the reality of migration, like other human realities, points to the tension between the beauty of creation, marked by Grace and the Redemption, and the mystery of sin. Solidarity, acceptance, and signs of fraternity and understanding exist side by side with rejection, discrimination, trafficking and exploitation, suffering and death. Particularly disturbing are those situations where migration is not only involuntary, but actually set in motion by various forms of human trafficking and enslavement. Nowadays, “slave labour” is common coin! Yet despite the problems, risks and difficulties to be faced, great numbers of migrants and refugees continue to be inspired by confidence and hope; in their hearts they long for a better future, not only for themselves but for their families and those closest to them.
What is involved in the creation of “a better world”? The expression does not allude naively to abstract notions or unattainable ideals; rather, it aims at an authentic and integral development, at efforts to provide dignified living conditions for everyone, at finding just responses to the needs of individuals and families, and at ensuring that God’s gift of creation is respected, safeguarded and cultivated. The Venerable Paul VI described the aspirations of people today in this way: “to secure a sure food supply, cures for diseases and steady employment… to exercise greater personal responsibility; to do more, to learn more, and have more, in order to be more” (Populorum Progressio, 6).
Our hearts do desire something “more”. Beyond greater knowledge or possessions, they want to “be” more. Development cannot be reduced to economic growth alone, often attained without a thought for the poor and the vulnerable. A better world will come about only if attention is first paid to individuals; if human promotion is integral, taking account of every dimension of the person, including the spiritual; if no one is neglected, including the poor, the sick, prisoners, the needy and the stranger (cf. Mt 25:31-46); if we can prove capable of leaving behind a throwaway culture and embracing one of encounter and acceptance.
Migrants and refugees are not pawns on the chessboard of humanity. They are children, women and men who leave or who are forced to leave their homes for various reasons, who share a legitimate desire for knowing and having, but above all for being more. The sheer number of people migrating from one continent to another, or shifting places within their own countries and geographical areas, is striking. Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals, if not of peoples, in history. As the Church accompanies migrants and refugees on their journey, she seeks to understand the causes of migration, but she also works to overcome its negative effects, and to maximize its positive influence on the communities of origin, transit and destination.
While encouraging the development of a better world, we cannot remain silent about the scandal of poverty in its various forms. Violence, exploitation, discrimination, marginalization, restrictive approaches to fundamental freedoms, whether of individuals or of groups: these are some of the chief elements of poverty which need to be overcome. Often these are precisely the elements which mark migratory movements, thus linking migration to poverty. Fleeing from situations of extreme poverty or persecution in the hope of a better future, or simply to save their own lives, millions of persons choose to migrate. Despite their hopes and expectations, they often encounter mistrust, rejection and exclusion, to say nothing of tragedies and disasters which offend their human dignity.
The reality of migration, given its new dimensions in our age of globalization, needs to be approached and managed in a new, equitable and effective manner; more than anything, this calls for international cooperation and a spirit of profound solidarity and compassion. Cooperation at different levels is critical, including the broad adoption of policies and rules aimed at protecting and promoting the human person. Pope Benedict XVI sketched the parameters of such policies, stating that they “should set out from close collaboration between the migrants’ countries of origin and their countries of destination; they should be accompanied by adequate international norms able to coordinate different legislative systems with a view to safeguarding the needs and rights of individual migrants and their families, and at the same time, those of the host countries” (Caritas in Veritate, 62). Working together for a better world requires that countries help one another, in a spirit of willingness and trust, without raising insurmountable barriers. A good synergy can be a source of encouragement to government leaders as they confront socioeconomic imbalances and an unregulated globalization, which are among some of the causes of migration movements in which individuals are more victims than protagonists. No country can singlehandedly face the difficulties associated with this phenomenon, which is now so widespread that it affects every continent in the twofold movement of immigration and emigration.
It must also be emphasized that such cooperation begins with the efforts of each country to create better economic and social conditions at home, so that emigration will not be the only option left for those who seek peace, justice, security and full respect of their human dignity. The creation of opportunities for employment in the local economies will also avoid the separation of families and ensure that individuals and groups enjoy conditions of stability and serenity.
Finally, in considering the situation of migrants and refugees, I would point to yet another element in building a better world, namely, the elimination of prejudices and presuppositions in the approach to migration. Not infrequently, the arrival of migrants, displaced persons, asylum-seekers and refugees gives rise to suspicion and hostility. There is a fear that society will become less secure, that identity and culture will be lost, that competition for jobs will become stiffer and even that criminal activity will increase. The communications media have a role of great responsibility in this regard: it is up to them, in fact, to break down stereotypes and to offer correct information in reporting the errors of a few as well as the honesty, rectitude and goodness of the majority. A change of attitude towards migrants and refugees is needed on the part of everyone, moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalization – all typical of a throwaway culture – towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world. The communications media are themselves called to embrace this “conversion of attitudes” and to promote this change in the way migrants and refugees are treated.
I think of how even the Holy Family of Nazareth experienced initial rejection: Mary “gave birth to her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). Jesus, Mary and Joseph knew what it meant to leave their own country and become migrants: threatened by Herod’s lust for power, they were forced to take flight and seek refuge in Egypt (cf. Mt 2:13-14). But the maternal heart of Mary and the compassionate heart of Joseph, the Protector of the Holy Family, never doubted that God would always be with them. Through their intercession, may that same firm certainty dwell in the heart of every migrant and refugee.
The Church, responding to Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations”, is called to be the People of God which embraces all peoples and brings to them the proclamation of the Gospel, for the face of each person bears the mark of the face of Christ! Here we find the deepest foundation of the dignity of the human person, which must always be respected and safeguarded. It is less the criteria of efficiency, productivity, social class, or ethnic or religious belonging which ground that personal dignity, so much as the fact of being created in God’s own image and likeness (cf. Gen 1:26-27) and, even more so, being children of God. Every human being is a child of God! He or she bears the image of Christ! We ourselves need to see, and then to enable others to see, that migrants and refugees do not only represent a problem to be solved, but are brothers and sisters to be welcomed, respected and loved. They are an occasion that Providence gives us to help build a more just society, a more perfect democracy, a more united country, a more fraternal world and a more open and evangelical Christian community. Migration can offer possibilities for a new evangelization, open vistas for the growth of a new humanity foreshadowed in the paschal mystery: a humanity for which every foreign country is a homeland and every homeland is a foreign country.
Dear migrants and refugees! Never lose the hope that you too are facing a more secure future, that on your journey you will encounter an outstretched hand, and that you can experience fraternal solidarity and the warmth of friendship! To all of you, and to those who have devoted their lives and their efforts to helping you, I give the assurance of my prayers and I cordially impart my Apostolic Blessing.
From the Vatican, 5 August 2013
Our society has whitewashed the civil rights leader’s life and deeds. On Monday, we should remember his dream of beloved community and his commitment to activism.
By Jay Youngdahl, President and columnist of EastBayExpress in Oakland, California. Published with permission.
On January 20, our nation will celebrate the American hero Martin Luther King Jr. Schools and post offices will be closed, giving many of us a three-day weekend — a welcome respite from our busy lives. But what will we be celebrating?
If we are to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. the man, we need a return to the real King, not to the tissue-paper-thin image of him devoid of meaning or historical accuracy. Tributes and celebrations are all too often marked by false remembrance, in which radical and transformational leaders and movements are cynically turned into bland narratives of fairness and justice. When applied to King, this process does a disservice to his work and the issues he held dear.
King was an activist and an intellectual whose courage shone during one of our nation’s most important moments. He was moved by religious faith and earthly fire. He was a believer in divine miracles and in progress through human endeavor. He was a religious figure and scholar who understood how the ills of society interconnect. He was a complicated man in a time in which the fundamental question upon which his activism began — justice for black Americans — was a simple binary. In the town where I grew up, Little Rock, Arkansas, there was one question with only two possible answers: Do you believe in segregation of the races — yes or no?
It is in King’s extraordinary writings that we can find the man today. His “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” written to a hostile white southern clergy, is a classic of American prose. It should be read by kids and adults everywhere this week. King argued for the sacredness of the inclusive “beloved community” of our human species and the importance of all of us. He stressed notions of love, power, and justice and their relationship to the nature of social existence — a message echoed in progressive strains of Buddhism and Catholicism.
It was through his conception of beloved community that King led the Civil Rights Movement, maybe the most important movement in our country’s history. In this struggle, he also inspired a generation of activists. In response to the Vietnam War, he called our government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” The elite howled and The New York Timesexcoriated him for this “reckless” connection of racism and militarism. King died in 1968 while in Memphis supporting striking sanitation workers, yet many believed his decision to link war with racism led to his murder.
The realization of beloved communities of human joy, plenty, and safety, King preached, is frustrated by three things: poverty, racism, and war. On January 20, we should remember that these three evils still exist today. Last week, the US Census Bureau reported that nearly one in three Americans experienced an episode of poverty between 2009 and 2011, a scandalous proportion. As to racism, the legacy of the death of Oscar Grant remains with us, and the educational opportunities for black Americans continue to deteriorate, as our privileged starve the public education system in the guise of standing up to teachers unions. As to war, our culture of endless conflict continues to cost us dearly in lives and money. King fretted about the diversion of resources from human improvement to war. Last year, a Harvard researcher calculated that the cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually hit $6 trillion.
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day also comes on the heels of the death of Nelson Mandela, another hero who is being sanitized by contemporary culture. Mandela was praised by all the world’s leaders, yet, in his struggle against apartheid in South Africa, he was no pacifist. Despite tremendous pressure, he refused to condemn the actions of apartheid’s opponents — even when those actions included violence. Yet at his funeral, world leaders tried to remake him in the image of their sanitized version of Martin Luther King. Mandela’s funeral was surreal, as he was joyfully praised by leaders of nations who had branded him a terrorist and funded the apartheid system that kept black South Africans in slave-like conditions. Luminaries such as British Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of apartheid in his college days, and one of our American princes of impoverishment, Texas GOP Senator Ted Cruz, made the pilgrimage.
Whitewashing the misdeeds of the elite — and the responses of historical heroes — is nothing new, of course. It’s worth revisiting Tom Paxton’s satirical ballad “What Did You Learn in School Today,” which Pete Seeger sang at a historic Carnegie Hall concert fifty years ago. Paxton’s lyrics described what kids were being taught at the time.
I learned that Washington never told a lie. I learned that soldiers seldom die. …
I learned that war is not so bad. I learned about the great ones we have had. …
I learned that policemen are my friends. I learned that justice never ends. …
I learned our government must be strong. It’s always right and never wrong. …
An understanding of history and what to honor and what to remember is not an empty intellectual enterprise. As Guardian columnist Gary Younge wrote from the Mandela funeral, “The past has a legacy and the present has consequences: our understanding of how we got here and why is crucial to our decision about where we go from here next and how.” Understanding who our heroes really were and what they actually did is, indeed, critical.
The question is not whether to praise King; the question is what we commemorate. For me, it was his commitment to direct action with his eye always on the prize of a beloved community, a place where joy and a healthy life for all can be created. “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he wrote in his Birmingham letter. This is the message to be celebrated and taught to our kids.
INTERFAITH EVENT FRIDAY: Solidarity Circle for Father Solalinde and the Caravan Opening Doors to Hope
The Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions in partnership with the DePaul University Office of Religious Diversity is convening a special one hour solidarity circle for interfaith leaders to meet Catholic priest, Padre Alejandro Solalinde, and his Caravan Opening Doors To Hope.
Solalinde is traveling the U.S. with a large group of victimized migrants turned activists who have experienced human rights abuses in Mexico. The story of 70,000 Central American brothers and sisters disappearing over the last few years, while Solalinde has been imprisoned and arrested for his work operating a network of shelters is shocking. We are helping share this story and honor his bravery.
NOTE: This event is being produced to connect university-level Interfaith leaders with Padre Solalinde’s entourage, but we are inviting you as guests of CPWR.
In this hour we will…
-Hear words from Mexico’s 2012 Human Rights Award recipient
Watch a short film documenting the reality of the migrant train in Mexico
-Welcome Amnesty International to recognize the work of Padre Solalinde
-Share our blessings and offerings to the migrant activists
-Extend our wishes for peace and security to the caravan
-Personally connect Chicago’s young interfaith leaders with a hero to a humanitarian crisis
TO ATTEND: All are welcome, but for seat reservations contact molly@parliamentofreligion
Applying the “rights-based” approach in national, organizational, and humanitarian bodies on human rights is the methodology studied at the Venice School branch of the European Inter-University Centre. This field of study is often helpful for Interfaith advocates working across sectors to integrate or advance fairness ideologies in individual or community settings. These trainings are open to academics and professionals:
from the European Inter-University Centre:
European Inter-University Centre’s Venice School of Human Rights was born in 2010 with the goal of studying today’s challenges in the field of human rights. It allows its participants coming from all over the world to list these challenges and examine their reasons and possible solutions to deploy. The Venice School intends to highlight that the respect for human rights is the responsibility of all, that «Human Rights are our responsibility». Participants of EIUC’s Venice School will benefit from a faculty of well-known academics and practitioners that will merge theory into practice with the scope of creating a dynamic classroom.
EIUC Venice School of Human Rights is aimed at postgraduate students from all nationalities wishing to consolidate and update their knowledge of human rights. The School is likewise open to members from national and international organisations wishing to specialise and to better understand how to integrate human rights in their daily work. Finally, EIUC Venice School is aimed at Alumni from the E.MA and all other regional masters organised under EIUC umbrella.
After an introduction on general challenges, three topics will be examined in depth:
· Freedom of Religion and Belief is a human right that has a longstanding universal recognition. The 1948 Universal Declaration guarantees its enjoyment. Today we witness more and more to a clash between two systems that oppose religious values to human rights in different areas: women’s rights, gay marriages, ritual slaughtering, circumcision, protection of children… What is the status of religious freedom? How can we protect religious minorities? How can we reconcile religious freedom with other rights?
· Another challenge we face nowadays is discrimination based on sexual orientation. Discrimination against LGBTI is extremely common. The aim during this school is to examine the rights recognized at the universal and regional levels and educate the participants about how to protect this particularly vulnerable category of persons.
· Finally, the last topic we wish to address during this year’s School is how international organizations should integrate human rights into their policies. The European Union has, for instance, underlined the need in its action plan to integrate a rights-based approach within its policies. This cluster will try to familiarize the participants with the core elements of Rights-Based Approach raising awareness of common obstacles and challenges and giving a methodology to apply in all phases of the programming process.
Dates: 27 June – 6 July 2013
Type of courses: Lectures in the plenum and smaller seminars
Application deadline: 30 April 2013
by Dana Attocknie
from the Native American Times
A dozen students from Haskell Indian Nations University are walking to the save the Wakarusa Wetlands, the only remaining native wetland prairie in Lawrence, Kan., from being destroyed in order to become the South Lawrence Trafficway (SLT). Their walk through seven states is named the Trail of Broken Promises, and their first steps were taken on May 13, 2012 from Lawrence, Kan. Their journey will go through 50 communities, cover 1,100 to 1,300 miles, and end July 9 in Washington, D.C. where the students will present the Protection of Native American Sacred Places Act to Congress. The bill amends the American Indian Religious Freedom Act, “to ensure that federal laws protecting the free exercise of religion include protection of traditional Native American Sacred Places where ceremonies, commemorations, observances or worship are conducted or occur, and to provide a right of action to protect Native American Sacred Places.”
“This is a spiritual issue. We believe that Congress needs to address specific legislation to protect sacred places in an inclusive manner for all people whom those places affect … By walking the Trail of Broken Promises we call attention to the spiritual interconnectedness that we as human beings have with our environment and all elements within it,” Millicent Pepion, of the Navajo and Blackfeet Nations, said to United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples James Anaya, on May 3 in Tulsa. “We declare that a mutual respect and dignity be given to Native American people in concerns that affect our home communities. We respectfully request that the U.S. government adhere to our cultural, social, medical, environmental, and spiritual interests that the Trail of Broken Promises members seek to protect.”
Pepion is active in the Wetlands Preservation Organization and the Indigenous and American Indian Studies Club at Haskell. Her quest to bring awareness to the wetlands is part of her Commitment to Action that was accepted into the Clinton Global Initiative University. In her commitment letter she quotes Dr. Daniel Wildcat, her advisor, as reminding her, “‘It is not our right to protect Mother Earth, it is our responsibility.’”
by Rabbi Jack Bemporad, Rev. Dr. James A. Kowalski, and Susan Barnett
from Huffington Post
We don’t honor God when 4,500 children die every day — but they do — from the lack of something so simple, each of us takes it for granted: a safe glass of water.
Four thousand five hundred children — that’s one every 20 seconds, a little life extinguished.
While the last couple of years have seen an increase in awareness about the global water crisis, it’s still the No. 1 killer of children around the globe. Safe water and sanitation remains the greatest under-recognized global humanitarian crisis we face and its impact is staggering. It’s the world’s dirty secret.
Almost a billion people do not have access to safe water globally and 2.5 billion lack the dignity of basic sanitation. This lack of access translates into more stunning numbers:
- 50 percent of all malnutrition is due to the lack of safe water and sanitation
- As is 80 percent of all disease
- Half of the world’s hospital beds are filled by patients suffering from water-borne diseases
- This leading killer of children under five kills more children than malaria, AIDS and TB combined
- The result is a catastrophic 2 million, mostly preventable deaths, every year.
We fight malaria but poor sanitation increases breeding grounds for malaria-carrying mosquitoes. We spend millions making sure HIV/AIDS patients get the anti-retroviral drugs they need, but they take these drugs with disease-ridden water.
Current U.S. funding for water and sanitation development amounts to less than one one-hundredth of a percent of the federal budget. Yet for every dollar invested, there’s an economic return of $8.
With all the good work the faiths do, from malnutrition to malaria, it’s all being undercut by the overarching absence of clean water and sanitation. Not prioritizing the global water crisis defies logic. It prevents productivity, increases poverty and inequality for women.
by Katie Taylor
from the Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty.
Ms. Fatima Gerbil knows from personal experience the challenges children in her community face. As a child Fatuma became an orphan, and as she grew older, she began to understand more and more the personal burden carried by parentless children.
In 2003, she started the Community-Based Child Support Program, directed at both Christians and Muslims, in Bahirdar, Ethopia, which began with 87 children. Fatuma’s program focuses on educational and psychological support, as well as developing life- skills. An important part of her advocacy efforts is encouraging schools to provide financial support for orphaned children who cannot afford school fees. These include children who have lost one parent, those who have lost both parents, and those who are in living in great poverty. For children who have lost only one parent, Fatuma works to support that family financially and emotionally. For children who have lost both parents, they look for relatives, and support the family once the child is taken in.
What I find most inspirational about Fatuma‘s story was not only her passion for helping children in her community but how she is willing to try anything to improve the lives of these children. This includes leveraging religious leaders to support her cause, and she has an excellent working relationship with the imams as well as with other government and community leaders.
Fatuma also believes Imams can play a great role in eliminating harmful traditional practices such as child marriage. Imams are highly heard in the mosque. So if they speak out boldly on these harmful traditional practices, it will be easy to bring about the desired change.
Fatuma has become talented at leveraging religious institutions to support her initiatives. Thanks to her efforts, at the ritual Muslim engagement ceremony, it is now established practice for the couple to be asked, in private, if they love each other. The man will also be asked if he understands the woman’s rights. Fatuma has also established an impressive record of legal interventions in unlawful marriages with underage girls or polygamous arrangements. Her role in the community as the protector of the vulnerable has allowed her to expand her advocacy and she looks forward to establishing her programs in new neighborhoods to spread her message of equality.
Katie Taylor is Executive Director of The Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) CIFA engages and trains leaders from multiple faith traditions to deliver critical development messages and services. These messages link interfaith efforts with those of civil society and governmental campaigns to reduce poverty and disease.
This article is part of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation series: My Female Faith Hero honouring International Women’s Day
From State of Formation
Socially and professionally, American Jews have often felt that they were being ‘put on the stand’ for their beliefs. Sometimes their beliefs even seemed to be on trial nationally – notably during the Red Scares leading up to and during the Cold War, when a disproportionate number of Jews were blacklisted.
But seldom has our religion actually been put on the stand. No organ of the federal government has, to my knowledge, held hearings to investigate American Jewry for disloyalty or radicalization. We may have feared such public humiliation – but it has not yet materialized.
By contrast, an effort is currently underway to single out American Muslims. Representative Peter King (R-NY), Chair of the Homeland Security Committee of the House of Representatives, has declared his intention to hold a public hearing in Congress on the “radicalization” of Muslim Americans.
by Janaan Hashim
Janaan Hashim is a member of the Council’s Board of Trustees and is currently in Israel/Palestine with a delegation of the Nobel Women’s Initiative to “focus on learning from and spotlighting the work of women peacebuilders.”
My day began with a blessing in Hebrew after breakfast with my new Rabbi friend, Amy Eilberg. She’s is a member of this delegation and person who I deeply respect. I respect her for her courage to look truth in the eye and to try to sort out all that she is taking in.
We are in Ramallah, a large, bustling town in the Occupied Territories. In a large church hall filled with 300 Palestinian women, we heard their their stories of difficulties and were inspired by their signs of determination and strength to shape their own futures. Rabbi Eilberg was, for sure, the only rabbi in the crowd.
Did she feel uncomfortable? Perhaps…I would. Despite the setting, she carried herself with poise and dignity. How would TV-land portray this scene? Perhaps with a woman walking past Rabbi Eilberg and spitting in her direction, or perhaps with a mob surrounding her, trying to blame her for making their lives so difficult. This was the farthest thing from what happened.
Our delegation was very warmly received. Nobel peace laureate Jody Williams assured the women of our purpose – to hear their stories and to take them back and relay them to the world. We listened intently to their common problems, problems that are no stranger to the world: unemployment, access to health care, violation of basic human rights. Other problems were less common to those of us in the West: tight checkpoints prohibiting movement, confiscation of land, being shot.
We heard stories of inspiration: a woman who married young and went back to school to earn her bachelors degree, another woman with a handicapped hand not holding her back from living a life of dignity, and women helping other women in business.
The rabbi listened and absorbed; the women watched and observed. Tiny steps toward feeling comfortable with one another during a very intense time in history. I’m certain the rabbi will remember her experience for many years…but I wonder if she realizes how her presence may have positively impacted these 300 women… how her presence may have made a difference in these women’s lives the next time they see a Jewish woman.
The Dalai Lama’s 75th birthday on July 6 marks a bittersweet milestone. The anniversary is cause for celebration that his message of peace has become so widespread, yet it is also illustrative of his mortal frailty as China’s power grows and the Dalai Lama’s fades.
But there is also a deeper resonance — and controversy — to his preachings: that peace and compassion are more important than prosperity and financial advancement. It is a message, at one time straightforward and prehensile, that now poses a dilemma, particularly to the West, in our troubled times. Practicing what the Dalai Lama preaches, for some, has never been harder.
In September 2006 a murder on a remote mountainside on the Tibet/Nepalese border perfectly illustrated the West’s conflicted response when the moral imperative to speak up for human rights and spiritual freedom comes at the risk of increasing prosperity. Near Choy Oyu, the sixth tallest mountain in the world, a group of Chinese People’s Armed Police opened fire on a group of 74 Tibetan refugees in full view of 100 or so Western climbers.
Among them was 17-year-old Tibetan Kelsang Namtso. Forbidden from becoming a nun by her family in Tibet for fear that it would lead her into trouble with the Chinese authorities, she took her vows in secret. A year later, frustrated that that she could not practice her faith in a working nunnery because of draconian regulations and interference from Communist party officials, she decided the only option she had left to find spiritual fulfillment was to cross the high Himalaya. A chance of a few seconds with the Dalai Lama and the opportunity to practice her faith freely in India was worth a grueling journey beset with danger. Together with her best friend Dolma Palkyi, she set out. After 12 brutal days, just 20 minutes from the border, Kelsang Namtso was shot in the back and killed as Western climbers watched.
Shortly afterwards children, monks and others who couldn’t escape were led through the climbers’ camp at gunpoint, some later to be tortured in a mountaintop military compound.
Some of the Western mountaineers, making considerable amounts of money leading climbing expeditions, urged others in camp not to talk about the murder lest the Chinese retaliate by banning them from climbing in Tibet. In short, the climbers faced the same dilemma that the West faces in that if it wants to economically prosper together with the Middle Kingdom it must, at China’s insistence, turn a blind eye to its human rights abuses. A few climbers broke the adopted code of silence — one Romanian filmed the murder — and the story shortly thereafter became an international incident as the footage contradicted China’s assertion that the soldiers killed in self-defense. It was the first time a human rights murder in Tibet had been captured on film since the Chinese invasion in 1950.
Kelsang’s best friend, Dolma Palkyi, and 43 others made it to India where they met the Dalai Lama.
I too met the Dalai Lama shortly after Kelsang Namtso’s murder and found a profoundly human presence, rather than a lofty god-king. He was above all else direct and simply angry, not only at the murder but also at the West’s apathetic response to China’s brutal treatment of Tibetans. He told me that the West was often consumed with indifference, self-interest and quite simply racism.
“In the sixties, seventies and eighties, we went through incredible suffering,” he explained. “But they [the west] all looked at Russia and not China.” His chest was heaving as he spoke. “Perhaps it is because we are Asian, they don’t care?” he asked me directly. “So you see there is even discrimination in human rights!”
Click here to read the full article.