WARSAW, POLAND. As part of the live coverage from this year’s World Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates, ROOSTERGNN is conducting a series of follow-up interviews with speakers and representatives of diverse organizations present at the event.

The International Tibet Network is a coalition of more than 185 Tibet organisations dedicated to campaigning to end human rights violations in Tibet and restoring rights to the Tibetan people. Its purpose is to maximise the effectiveness of the worldwide Tibet movement by increasing the capacity of each individual organization to act, as well as to facilitate cooperation and communication among the various groups.

Among the member groups, there is a wide variety of positions on Tibet’s future political status. Some advocate for independence for Tibet, others for “genuine autonomy” within the People’s Republic of China, whilst still others stand for self-determination for the Tibetan people, that is, for the Tibetans in Tibet to decide their own future, as per their right under international law. Therefore, the Network as a whole takes no position on Tibet’s future political status but works to encourage and resource the movement to coordinate their activities around priority campaigns.

Alison Reynolds

Alison Reynolds

ROOSTERGNN had the opportunity to speak with Alison Reynolds, the Executive Director of the International Tibet Network. Prior to her appointment in 2006, Ms. Reynolds held the position of Director of Free Tibet Campaign, one of the leading international Tibet campaign organisations, for nine years. She was formerly a campaigner with the environment organization Greenpeace. She holds a degree in Geography from the University of Cambridge, UK. Here, Ms. Reynolds discusses the situation in Tibet and what her network is doing to help.

Despite the continued insistence by the Chinese Government that Tibet is under the control of the Chinese government, do you still believe that Tibet will one day be a free country? 

Alison Reynolds: To clarify, the Network as a whole does not take a position on Tibet’s future political status as it is composed of many different organisations each with a different position. However, yes, I believe that change is possible for the people of Tibet. No one would be involved in this movement if we did not believe there will be a considerably brighter future for the Tibetan people.

Your organization is working for an independent Tibet; however, as this is a highly contested area, not all who live in Tibet would like the region to be independent. Has this effected your work at all, and if yes, how? 

I want to emphasize that our organization has Member Groups that stand for the “Middle Way” (genuine autonomy for Tibet), for independence, as well as self-determination for the Tibetan people. Our objective is to end the human rights violations in Tibet and to restore the rights of the Tibetan people.

After 50 years of repression in Tibet, what has been accomplished, in terms of improving the situation, on an international level? 

There is considerably more awareness of Tibet internationally, and resulting pressure on China to address the situation. Governments regularly engage with Tibet organisations for briefings and to discuss policy. We are working hard to ensure that governments share their Tibet policies, and work collaboratively to develop unified strategies to advance the Tibet issue with China. Much as it dislikes the idea, and despite considerable efforts to silence criticism, China knows that international concern will not go away.

The Tibet movement’s pressure has secured the release of prominent political prisoners in the past, and prevented intergovernmental organisations and companies, including the World Bank and overseas mining projects from investing in harmful projects in Tibet. International pressure led to China opening a dialogue with representatives of the Dalai Lama in 2002, although unfortunately that dialogue has been in hiatus for the last couple of years.

One of the most remarkable achievements is the resilience of the Tibetan people, who after 60 years of living under China’s occupation have not lost their spirit of resistance, their devotion to the Dalai Lama, or their strong sense of national and cultural identity.

On October 22, several Tibet activists protested in front of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) order to pressure the UN to support a free Tibet. What is the current attitude of the UN towards a free Tibet? Has anything changed in the last few years?

The protests on 22 October, and the lobby effort that was going on inside the building (and had been going on for many weeks), were specifically about China’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which China’s human rights record was peer reviewed by fellow UN member states. Our objective was to get at least 10 nations to specifically mention concern about Tibet; in fact 13 expressed concern, plus many other countries raised questions about China’s policies towards ethnic minorities and related issues, including freedom of religion and belief, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. We consider this to be a considerable success. Since China’s 2009 UPR we have seen an increase in the number and diversity of nations willing to express concern about China’s human rights record. On 12 November China will be seeking re-election to the UN Human Rights Council. We are campaigning for governments to adopt a principled decision to vote “no”.

Has there been an increase in public interest regarding the conflict in Tibet in the last few years? What kind of trend have you seen?

Yes, there has been an increase in public interest in the last couple of years, linked to an increase in resistance by Tibetans inside Tibet, including many instances of mass protest. One of the most tragic developments has been a wave of self-immolations by Tibetans inside Tibet; there have been more than 120 now, and over 100 Tibetans who have set light to themselves have died. It’s astonishing that Tibetans continue to protest against Chinese rule despite the appalling risks; there have been at least two occasions in recent months when Chinese security forces have opened fire on unarmed Tibetans, causing severe injuries. In one case, Tibetans had merely gathered to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

As of now, there are 174 different groups from six continents working as a part of your organization for an independent Tibet. Of the countries involved, which have been the most active? Are you hoping to expand to other countries in the near future? 

We have over 185 Member Groups now, all of which are active for Tibet as far as their capacity allows. The movement is especially strong in India, Western Europe, North America and Australia, but we also have active groups in the Far East, Northern and Eastern Europe, Latin America and in South Africa. Tibet supporters in countries where there is no existing Tibet Group (see below) are warmly encouraged to establish a group; the Network can give advice and practical support. Email mail@tibetnetwork.org.

How can those interested in improving the situation in Tibet become involved, either via your organization or via another one?

We appeal to everyone who cares about Tibet to sign the Stand Up for Tibet pledge: www.standupfortibet.org. We also strongly encourage them to join one of our Member Groups; they can find one near them on www.tibetnetwork.org/find-a-group. By joining a Tibet group they can support the movement’s grassroots campaigns and advocacy work.

A related interview with Students for a Free Tibet Poland will be published tomorrow, check back for more.