Canadian Activist: Games are time to talk Tibet


David Emerson, Canada’s foreign minister, attended the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympic Games and made it clear that he felt that this was not the appropriate time to talk about human rights, "We’re no shrinking violet on [the human rights] issue but we don’t see the Olympics as the venue to make that point."

Perhaps Emerson was concerned that the world would be impolite about Canada’s human rights record when Vancouver hosts the 2010 Winter Games.

Melanie Raoul, a Tibetan rights activist originally from Vancouver, has a different point of view. Last year, on August 7, 2007, Raoul rappelled down the Great Wall of China to make her point, unfurling a banner that read, “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” Earlier this year, Raoul spoke about the Olympics and Tibet with rabble.ca editor Derrick O’Keefe.

Derrick O’Keefe: With the 2010 Vancouver Olympics set to take place on unceded land, indigenous solidarity issues will be a big focus of demonstrations and organizing around the Games. With Tibet there are also issues of indigenous rights. What parallels do you see there?

Melanie Raoul: It’s almost like in what is happening in Tibet right now we see what has happened over 500 years of colonization in North America. You can draw a lot of parallels with history of occupation, history of colonization and just totally sweeping a people’s cultural integrity under the carpet because of these Olympic Games.

There are so many parallels you can draw there, and I think it’s important that groups use the creative type of means that we are trying to use to get the Tibetan issue into the spotlight with First Nations issues in North America when it comes to the 2010 Olympics.

The same goes for housing and other social issues facing Vancouver that are being totally blindsided by the Olympics coming there.

What were, in your view, some of the root causes of the uprising earlier this year in Tibet?

Well, one of the main arguments that the Chinese government always uses is that they have put so much economic funding into Tibet, they have put huge funding in for development. And that Tibetans are basically ungrateful, they are not thankful for the economic boost that China has given the region.

And what we constantly see coming out of Tibet is that people don’t want "development." Their water is more poisoned than it has ever been. There are more mines in Tibet than there ever have been and, as a side note, most of those are actually run by Canadian mining companies.

So they are seeing massive environmental degradation happening, and their main message is ‘take your development away, take your mines away, take your industry away and just give us our freedom.’

That’s what it boils down to and I think that’s what this uprising really represents. And it’s no coincidence that is happened on March 10, which is Tibet’s National Uprising Day. And I think it just really reflects over 50 years of occupation, over 50 years of being silenced by the Chinese government and also ignored by the international community.

What is your response to certain people and groups on the left internationally who have basically sided with the Chinese government, saying that this is an internal issue or a “separatist” issue?

In terms of progressives today and how the issue is being approached, I think that, whatever your politics are, associating yourself with one of the governments that has one of the most brutal human rights records on Earth and is without any doubt torturing, imprisoning and killing Tibetans for no other reason except for promoting unity in their country and wanting to keep a hand on Tibet [for] the economic benefits they can reap from that area, speaks for itself.

I don’t think anybody who would consider themselves progressive would associate themselves with any of those policies, so whether you are left or right I think is irrelevant. I think looking at China’s policies [is] what is most important and there is no doubt their policies are brutal towards the Tibetan people.

I think that’s one thing that is unique in the Tibetan movement, is that you have people who have come from all different political backgrounds and are involved in the movement for different reasons. And I think that rather than compromising the movement, I think this in fact makes it a lot more effective and richer in some ways.

At this moment what really matters is that this is an oppressed people that needs the support of the world. 

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