Vancouver vigil to shine light on self-immolations in Tibet

Since March of this year, nine Tibetan monks from the Kirti Monastery in the Ngaba region of Tibet have set themselves on fire after publicly denouncing repressive Chinese policies and seeking the return of the Dalai Lama to his homeland.

Today (October 19) the Canada Tibet Committee local chapter will hold a vigil at the Chinese Consulate (3380 Granville Street) in alliance with a global movement to demand that China remove troops from the region and cease its policy of forced re-education of Tibetans.

According to CTC Vancouver president Mati Bernabei, the local group has targeted crackdowns before and on October 14 had its first vigil pertaining strictly to self-immolations.

“It’s been a difficult and emotional process for everybody, because of the complexity of both wanting to respect and honour how profoundly emotionally distraught these people must be to self-immolate, and, at the same time, we don’t want to encourage more,” she said.

The vigil begins at 6 p.m.

CTC lists the names of those already dead from their burns: Lobsang Phuntsok (age 21); Tsewang Norbu (29); Khaying (18); Choephel (19), and Tenzin Wangmo (20). The fate of four others is unknown, Bernabei said, but she added that Tibetans will only take their life if they are absolutely desperate, as their Buddhist practice does not condone suicide.

“Karmically, you should live out the suffering you are born into in this lifetime,” Bernabei added. “So you should work through that and work for positive change. So the notion of cutting it short is absolutely counter to Tibetan traditions. So for Tibetans, the fact that this is happening is for them evidence of just how profoundly extreme the repression is, that people have gotten to this point of taking this final act in desperation. But it is definitely an act of protest.”

Bernabei claimed the tensions in the region have been high since 2008, when rioting broke out in Tibet after Tibetans protested their treatment by the Chinese, who continue to remain in the region they invaded initially in 1951.

The Chinese Consulate did not respond to an email from the Straight and nobody answered a phone call placed there. In 2008, vice consul Zeliang Wang told the Straight regarding Tibetan human rights, “We are still making great progress.”

“There is no country in the world that is perfect in the human-rights situation,” Wang said at the time. “We admit that in China there might be some human-rights issues, but we will work on that. They are not severe enough for those people to protest in front of the consulate. I think those people are overdoing it. They want to exaggerate it and attract more attention.”

Bernabei said China should allow foreign observers into Tibet.

“If they feel that they have got nothing to hide, then open the doors and allow people in to investigate themselves,” she said. “Foreign journalists, UN, et cetera, are still barred from the region, and I think that makes it look very much like the situation is much worse than we’ve been able to express. So if they have nothing to hide, please open the doors.”