It's a storyline tailor-made to arouse the United Nations' ire. Troops move in to occupy the land of an indigenous population; civilians have been murdered and imprisoned en masse; local residents have been displaced to make way for settlements by outsiders sent by the occupying power. And, indeed, were Israel the main culprit in this scenario, one may be certain that the U.N. would waste no time condemning its conduct.
But China, it appears, is held to a different standard. Thus, in just in the last few days, the world's premier human-right organization has looked on, mostly in silence, as dozens of Tibetan demonstrators have been reportedly killed and many more have been languishing in jail cells, with the less fortunate subjected to torture at the hands of the occupying Chinese. In the face of such atrocities, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour have issued only the mildest of criticisms and sidestepped calls for an international investigation.
Some of this, to be sure, is China's doing. China has blocked the Security Council and Human Rights Council from taking up the current crisis in Tibet. That has been easy, considering that its permanent, veto-bearing seat on the Security Council and its membership in the Human Rights Council. China also has used its clout to demonize the Dalai Lama and to make him a persona non grata at the U.N.
But ultimately it is the U.N. that bears the blame for allowing China to get away, sometimes literally, with murder -- a dereliction all the more noteworthy considering the near-constant attention that the UN has given to the Palestinians' self-inflicted plight. And in contrast to the Palestinians, whose history so often is distorted by the U.N. for political purposes, the Tibetans are the clear victims in the current conflict.
The history of that conflict is well-known. The Chinese occupation of Tibet predated the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by nearly two decades. With the Chinese invasion in 1951, the Tibetans lost their homeland and religious freedoms. Although the Chinese invasion violated international law, the Chinese suffered no repercussions from the UN or from any other international body.
On the other hand, the Palestinians could have been living in their own internationally recognized state since1948, when the United Nations recommended the creation of Palestinian and Jewish states co-existing side by side. The Jews living in Israel accepted the UN proposal and declared independence within the borders demarcated by the international body. The Palestinians refused the offer.
Instead, they thought Israel would be crushed in a matter of days as the neighboring Arab countries violated international law and invaded Israel right after it declared its independence. The Palestinians made the wrong choice. They lived in the West Bank and Gaza under Jordanian and Egyptian control respectively for nearly twenty years. Israel finally did occupy the West Bank and Gaza as defensive buffers against more Arab invasions, after winning the territories and Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War.
If the Palestinians' claim to victim status is tenuous at best, the Tibetans' case is more straightforward. According to various estimates, up to 1.2 million Tibetans have died due to the Chinese occupation. By contrast, the U.N.'s own estimates conclude that, as of 2006, the post-1967 rate of avoidable mortality in the Palestinian territories is at most 300,000. But as the UN General Assembly came under the sway of the Islamists and their allies, including China, Israel became the UN's singular villain. Despite the far graver harm that China was inflicting on the Tibetan people, China's brutal occupation of Tibet received little notice.
This glaring double standard continues today. The UN harshly condemns Israel for its settlements in the Palestinian territories, failing to give Israel even the slightest credit for removing Israeli settlers from Gaza when that territory was turned over to the Palestinians in 2005. But the remaining Israeli settlements in the West Bank pale in comparison with the vast Han Chinese migration into Tibet that the Chinese government has been actively pushing for years.
Consider the numbers. In 2006, there was a total Israeli West Bank settlement population of 267,163. This is about one tenth of the number of Palestinians living in the West Bank. On the other hand, the migration of Han Chinese into Tibetan lands has inundated Tibet with millions of Chinese setters seeking to turn the Tibetans into a minority within their own homeland. Thus, in the cities of Tibet, where the best jobs are available, the Han migrants outnumber the Tibetans about three to one. When one counts the rural areas in Tibet's autonomous regions -- Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan -- the Chinese population still exceeds the indigenous Tibetan population by nearly two million people.
In concert with the Han migration, the Chinese have engaged in systematic religious persecution of the Tibetan Buddhists. As part of their "patriotic re-education campaign" in Tibet, Chinese government officials have forced Tibetan monks to condemn the Dalai Lama and his "splittist group;" to accept that Tibet is an inalienable part of China; and to submit to Beijing's selected puppet as the real Panchen Lama of Tibet. Those monks who resisted have been murdered, repeatedly tortured to extract confessions, or expelled. Monasteries have been closed or destroyed altogether. The Chinese authorities continue to dictate "patriotic education" activities for monks and nuns on a regular basis at monasteries and nunneries.
By contrast, the Palestinians have not been forced to give up their religious autonomy while living under Israeli occupation. Despite all of the sermons of hate and incitement to violence being preached daily in the Palestinian mosques, the Israelis have not denied the Palestinians their freedom of worship. There has been no attempt by Israel to interfere with the Muslims' practice of their own religion or to replace even their incendiary religious leaders with any hand-picked puppets of Israel's choosing.
Instead, the Palestinians were given political autonomy as a stepping stone to their own state. Time and again, Palestinian leaders squandered opportunities to achieve independent statehood since the start of the occupation. Palestinian terrorists instead have visited suffering upon their own people as a result of their unrelenting campaign of violence against innocent Israeli civilians aimed at destroying the Jewish state, which have prompted Israeli reprisals. The Tibetans, on the other hand, represent no threat to China's own continued existence that in any way justifies the Chinese government's brutal treatment of innocent civilians. There are no Tibetan terrorists killing Chinese women and children with suicide bombs or rockets.
The Dalai Lama – hardly a terrorist leader in the image of the typical Hamas militant – has repeatedly assured the Chinese government that he is not leading a fight for political independence. All he wants is for Tibetans to be left in peace to practice their own religion as they see fit. The Chinese response is to accuse the exiled Dalai Lama of being responsible for the current crisis by inciting from afar violent riots amongst his followers. (This charge is about as ludicrous as Osama bin Laden's most recent taped accusation that the Pope is launching a "new Crusade" against Muslims.) The agitation for a free Tibet that Chinese police have encountered in the streets is an understandable reaction to China's refusal to afford Tibetans any liberties at all.
Shortly before the most recent crack-down in Tibet, the International Fellowship of Reconciliation, a non-governmental organization that has special consultative status at the United Nations, submitted a statement to the UN Secretary General describing how the government maintains tight controls on religious practices and places of worship in Tibetan areas. The UN ignored these findings, but it is worth reciting some of the details here, as they demonstrate the cultural genocide that the Dalai Lama has rightly condemned and which form the backdrop of the demonstrations that have broken out in recent days. There is nothing comparable in Israel's administration of the Palestinian occupied territories:
"Repression of freedom of religion by the Chinese government is not limited to the Tibetan Buddhist monastic community. It also extends to secular Tibetan society… Despite government claims that Tibetans enjoy complete freedom to practice their religion, religious ceremonies and activities continue to be restricted in Tibet. For several years now, the Chinese authorities prevented ordinary Tibetans from participating in public religious observances…"
"Instead of guaranteeing the freedom of religious belief as claimed, the TAR 2006 Measures ['Tibet Autonomous Region Implementing Measures for the 'Regulation on Religious Affairs'] enforce compliance with government regulations and policies with respect to religious organizations, religious personnel, and religious citizens. In particular, it provides officials with the legal backing to intensify restrictions and subjects religious organizations, personnel, and citizens to state control and repression."
"For instance, authorities can initiate punishments for 'illegal activities such as those that harm national security or public security,' a catch-all phrase that can include expressions of religious devotion to the Dalai Lama, or for sharing, viewing, and listening to any type of recorded media about him."
Executions, torture, arbitrary arrests, and lengthy detention of Tibetans for peacefully expressing their political or religious views have occurred all too regularly at the hands of the Chinese occupiers. What has happened to the Tibetan demonstrators in the last few days is a continuation of this tragic pattern of abuse.
To minimize exposure of its misdeeds, China has taken the route that is so familiar in closed dictatorships, such as censoring Internet services and blocking foreign journalists from reporting what is actually going on. The organization Reporters Without Borders notes that the last foreign journalists were expelled from Tibet on March 20th and that Chinese security forces have blocked foreign press access to Tibetan areas in other provinces. Reporters Without Borders also obtained a copy of China's official Internet Surveillance Bureau bulletin warning Internet users "that it is forbidden to post news about Tibetan events. From today, the Internet Surveillance Bureau will carry out filtering and censorship…anyone infringing this ban will have their I.P. address sent to the police who will take the necessary steps."
The U.N.'s disparate approach toward Israel and China is a lesson in hypocrisy. Israel is the constant target of vitriol from the UN Human Rights Council on which China sits along with other serial human rights violators. Indeed, while China has gotten away with regularly breaching the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which is supposed to protect Tibetan civilians living under Chinese occupation from being deliberately targeted for violence, Israel is regularly accused by U.N. bodies of violating this same Convention whenever it tries to contain Palestinian terrorism against Israeli citizens. China also has escaped any reproach for its repeated violations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which recognize that freedom of religion is a basic human right.
Most tellingly, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights ("OHCHR") did not mention Tibet even once in its Human Rights Program for Asia-Pacific (2008-2009). It had only this to say concerning China's human rights record: "OHCHR will also continue its technical cooperation program with China and work in close partnership with the UN Country Team, particularly as the 2008 Olympics create further impetus to reform."
This silence speaks volumes. For the U.N.'s morally challenged establishment, it is more preferable to enable the phony façade of progress that China intends to display at this summer's Olympic Games than to speak out against its slaughter, torture and imprisonment of hundreds of innocent Tibetans. It is much easier -- and more politically correct -- to make Israel the UN's favorite punching bag.