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Tibet: The Peace of the Graveyard

The recent events in Tibet and adjoining provinces are cause for deep concern. Indeed, the dispersal of a peaceful protest march organized by Tibetan monks, which led to a wave of unrest that was brutally suppressed by the Chinese military and police, has caused indignation all over the democratic world.

The reaction of the Chinese authorities to the Tibetan protests evokes echoes of the totalitarian practices that many of us remember from the days before communism in Central and Eastern Europe collapsed in 1989: harsh censorship of the domestic media, blackouts of reporting by foreign media from China, refusal of visas to foreign journalists, and blaming the unrest on the “Dalai Lama’s conspiratorial clique” and other unspecified dark forces supposedly manipulated from abroad.

Indeed, the language used by some Chinese government representatives and the official Chinese media is a reminder of the worst of times during the Stalinist and Maoist eras. But the most dangerous development of this unfortunate situation is the current attempt to seal off Tibet from the rest of the world.

Even as we write, it is clear that China’s rulers are trying to reassure the world that peace, quiet, and “harmony” have again prevailed in Tibet. We all know this kind of peace from what has happened in the past in Burma, Cuba, Belarus, and a few other countries—it is called the peace of the graveyard.

Merely urging the Chinese government to exercise the “utmost restraint” in dealing with the Tibetan people, as governments around the world are doing, is far too weak a response. The international community, beginning with the United Nations and followed by the European Union, ASEAN, and other international organizations, as well as individual countries, should use every means possible to step up pressure on the Chinese government to:

• allow foreign media, as well as international fact-finding missions, into Tibet and adjoining provinces in order to enable objective investigations of what has been happening;

• release all those who only peacefully exercised their internationally guaranteed human rights, and guarantee that no one is subjected to torture and unfair trials;

• enter into a meaningful dialogue with the representatives of the Tibetan people.

Unless these conditions are fulfilled, the International Olympic Committee should seriously reconsider whether holding this summer’s Olympic Games in a country that includes a peaceful graveyard remains a good idea.

—March 24, 2008

Václav Havel is a former president of the Czech Republic, André Glucksmann is a French philosopher, Yohei Sasakawa is a Japanese philanthropist, El Hassan Bin Talal is President of the Arab Thought Forum and President Emeritus of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, Frederik Willem de Klerk is a former president of South Africa, and Karel Schwarzenberg is Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic.

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