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German Human Rights Delegation Visits Tibet

DW Staff 24/04/09April 24, 2009

For the first time since the unrest in Tibet last March, an foreign human rights delegation was finally given permission to visit the mountainous region this month. The four members of the German parliament’s human rights delegation just got back.

There seems to be little evidence that the Dalai Lama was behind last year's unrest in Tibet, as Beijing has vehemently claimed
There seems to be little evidence that the Dalai Lama was behind last year's unrest in Tibet, as Beijing has vehemently claimedImage: AP

The experts in the Bundestag’s human rights committee applied to go to Tibet a long time ago. In October 2007, they received a last-minute rejection with Beijing saying there was not enough official staff to look after the German visitors to Tibet. There was no reference to the fact that this rejection coincided with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s meeting with the Dalai Lama.

Another tentative trip before last year’s Olympic Games in Beijing was also refused -- this time the reason was the earthquake in southwestern China. But -- third time lucky -- the delegation was finally granted a three-day visit and it just returned to Germany.

Holger Haibach, a Christian Democrat MP, headed the mission: “We were given the impression that Tibet is a country with a big economic boom and no real problems in terms of ethnic or religious minorities. Whether this impression actually corresponds to reality would need more intensive scrutiny -- we didn’t have the chance to do this in three days”. Haibach added that it was also difficult because of the “constant accompaniment“.

Difficult to meet ordinary Tibetans

The liberal politician Burkhard Müller-Sönksen also went to Tibet: “We tried to meet ordinary Tibetans. But we were introduced to a functionary, a farmer, in a village near Lhasa. It all seemed like a façade because he was doing very well and was very successful. We were never able to meet any normal Tibetans unfortunately.“

He said that life on the streets of Lhasa was busy and generally peaceful. Although the presence of the military was not so visible, he said, there were a lot of barracks on the outskirts. Moreover, in the capital, there were heavily-armed security guards outside each government building. Had the “situation been totally peaceful, this military presence would not have been flaunted so obviously.“

Müller-Sönksen added that so far the courts had not delivered any evidence that the Dalai Lama was behind last year’s unrest in Tibet. He said his Chinese hosts were evasive when he asked them about this, leading him to conclude that “looking at the sentences, based on thorough research, there doesn’t seem to have been any political motivation but rather it was a local process, which clearly had nothing to do with the Dalai Lama.“

Several questions remain unanswered

But there still remained several unanswered questions, said the Christian Democrat Haibach: “It would be important to know how much the local Tibetan population is benefitting from the economic boom that has clearly taken place. Or whether it concerns mainly the Chinese population that came in when the region opened up."

He added that clarification of the situation regarding religious freedom and cultural autonomy was necessary.

Thus, the parliamentary human rights committee still has some work to do regarding Tibet.