Fri, May 07, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Canada starts a probe of human rights in China


Canada's parliament on Wednesday launched a wide-ranging probe into China's human rights record, which included damning evidence of the treatment meted out to Tibetans by Beijing.

The hearings are the brainchild of the chair of the human rights sub-committee of the House of Commons, David Kilgour, a former minister who was responsible for Canadian relations with the Asia-Pacific region.

"Silence in response to any abuse of human rights is unacceptable and it is especially objectionable in response to abuses that amount to cultural genocide -- as in Tibet," Kilgour said, quoting Canadian human rights activist, Jean-Louis Roy.

"Who can disagree?" he added.

Wednesday's hearing coincided with the departure from Canada of the Dalai Lama after a three-week visit which angered Beijing.

Thubten Samdup, president of the Canada-Tibet Committee, told the hearing that Tibetans were counting on Canada to play an "honest broker" role in getting China to end its human rights abuses in Tibet.

"Tibet is going through a very, very difficult period," he told the committee.

"We don't have the luxury to wait 10 or 15 years; something has to be done now," he said.

He said that the outpouring of love and affection by Canadians for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Canada showed that "it is very obvious what Canadians want the Canadian government to do."

Samdup recalled that the Dalai Lama has said he was not asking for independence, "he is asking for genuine autonomy."

"That," said Samdup, "is not too much to ask."

And it had to be done soon -- "in five or 10 years something must happen. Otherwise there will be nothing left in Tibet."

Human rights activists and western governments have argued that China is mounting a deliberate attempt to dilute Tibetan culture by flooding the region with migrants from ethnic Han regions of China.

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959 when he fled a Chinese crackdown on an abortive uprising in Tibet.

Carole Channer, of Amnesty International (Canada), said China admitted to performing 10,000 executions every year, adding that in reality "it may be more."

This, she said, was higher than the total number of judicial executions carried out in the rest of the world combined.

Iris Almeida, director of the Canadian government-financed International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development, said it was incumbent on Canada to ensure that human rights ranked at least equally as important as trade in the country's relationships with China -- its fourth largest commercial partner.

Although Kilgour is a member of the governing Liberal Party, the hearings are unlikely to lead to any immediate change in Canada's China policy, political sources said.

They noted that Prime Minister Paul Martin had already made a bold step by personally meeting the Dalai Lama in Ottawa last month, a move that incurred the wrath of Beijing.

One insider said that action alone was a strong message to Beijing, but any further immediate action was unlikely.

Undaunted, Kilgour plans to continue his hearings next week, probably hearing evidence from Buddhist nun Ngawang Sangdroi, now 26, who was sentenced by the Chinese authorities to eleven years' imprisonment when she was just 13 years old.

According to Kilgour, the crime for which she was sentenced was a peaceful demonstration for a "free Tibet."

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