Dalai Lama: Human Rights, Democracy and Freedom

Human Rights, Democracy and Freedom

By Tenzin Gyatso, H.H. the XIV Dalai Lama.

This year, 2008, marks the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948–2008). This declaration affirms that all human beings have the right to freedom from want and freedom from fear. These human rights are inclusive, interdependent and universal.

Whether we are concerned with suffering born of poverty, with denial of freedom, with armed conflict, or with a reckless attitude to the natural environment everywhere, we should not view these events in isolation. Eventually their repercussions are felt by all of us. We, therefore, need effective international action to address these global issues from the perspective of the oneness of humanity, and from a profound understanding of the deeply interconnected nature of today’s world.

At birth, all human beings are naturally endowed with the qualities we need for our survival, such as caring, nurturing and loving kindness.  However, despite already possessing such positive qualities, we tend to neglect them. As a result, humanity faces unnecessary problems. What we need to do is to make more effort to sustain and develop these qualities. Therefore, the promotion of human values is of primary importance. We also need to focus on cultivating good human relations, for, regardless of differences in nationality, religious faith, race, or whether people are rich or poor, educated or not, we are all human beings. When we are facing difficulties, we invariably meet someone, who may be a stranger, who immediately offers us help. We all depend on each other in difficult circumstances, and we do so unconditionally. We do not ask who people are before we offer them help. We help because they are human beings like us.

Closing the Gap Between Rich and Poor

Our world is increasingly interdependent, but I wonder if we truly understand that our interdependent human community has to be compassionate; compassionate in our choice of goals, compassionate in our means of cooperation and our pursuit of these goals. The awesome power that economic institutions have acquired in our society, and the distressing effects that poverty continues to wreak, should make all of us look for means of transforming our economy into one based on compassion. This form of compassion affirms the principles of dignity and justice for all embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Wherever it occurs, poverty is a significant contributor to social disharmony, ill health, suffering and armed conflict. If we continue along our present path, the situation could become irreparable. This constantly increasing gap between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ creates suffering for everyone.  Concerned not only for ourselves, our families, our community and country, we must also feel a responsibility for the individuals, communities and peoples who make up the human family as a whole. We require not only compassion for those who suffer, but also a commitment to ensuring social justice.

If we are serious in our commitment to the fundamental principles of equality that I believe lie at the heart of the concept of human rights, today’s economic disparity can no longer be ignored. It is not enough merely to say that all human beings must enjoy equal dignity. This must be translated into action.

Democracy and Peace

Today, the values of democracy, open society, respect for human rights, and equality are becoming recognized all over the world as universal values. To my mind there is an intimate connection between democratic values and the fundamental values of human goodness. Where there is democracy there is a greater possibility for the citizens of the country to express their basic human qualities, and where these basic human qualities prevail, there is also a greater scope for strengthening democracy. Most importantly, democracy is also the most effective basis for ensuring world peace.

However, responsibility for working for peace lies not only with our leaders, but also with each of us individually. Peace starts within each one of us. When we have inner peace, we can be at peace with those around us. When our community is in a state of peace, it can share that peace with neighbouring communities and so on. When we feel love and kindness toward others, it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace. We can work consciously to develop feelings of love and kindness. For some of us, the most effective way to do so is through religious practice. For others it may be non-religious practices. What is important is that we each make a sincere effort to take seriously our responsibility for each other and the world in which we live.

Human Rights
Providing for equality under law, the declaration states that everyone is entitled to equal rights and freedoms without discrimination of any kind. Peace and freedom cannot be ensured as long as fundamental human rights are violated. Similarly, there cannot be peace and stability as long as there is oppression and suppression. It is unfair to seek one’s own interests at the cost of other people’s rights. Truth cannot shine if we fail to accept truth or consider it illegal to tell the truth. Where will the idea of truth and reality be if we push the truth and facts under the carpet and allow illegal actions to triumph?

Human Rights in Tibet
If we accept that others have an equal right to peace and happiness as ourselves, do we not have responsibility to help those in need? The aspiration for democracy and respect for fundamental human rights is as important to the people of Africa and Asia as it is to those in Europe or the Americas. But of course it is often those people who are deprived of their human rights who are least able to speak up for them selves. The responsibility rests with those of us who do enjoy such freedoms.

There has been a sad turn of events in Tibet that must be understood as thoroughly as possible. Since the Chinese Government has accused me of orchestrating these protests in Tibet, I call for a thorough investigation by a respected body, which should include Chinese representatives, to look into these allegations. Such a body would need to visit Tibet, the traditional Tibetan areas outside the Tibet Autonomous Region, and also the Central Tibetan Administration here in India. In order for the international community, and especially the more than one billion Chinese people who do not have access to uncensored information, to find out what is really going on in Tibet, it would be tremendously helpful if representatives of the international media also undertook such investigations.

I believe that many of the violations of human rights in Tibet are the result of suspicion, lack of trust and true understanding of Tibetan culture and religion. As I have said many times in the past, it is extremely important for the Chinese leadership to come to a better and deeper understanding and appreciation of the Tibetan Buddhist culture and civilization. I absolutely support Deng Xiaoping’s wise statement that we must “seek truth from facts.” Therefore, we Tibetans must accept the progress and improvements that China’s rule of Tibet has brought to the Tibetan people and acknowledge it. At the same time the Chinese authorities must understand that the Tibetans have had to undergo tremendous suffering and destruction during the past five decades.

Despite some development and economic progress, Tibetan culture continues to face fundamental problems of survival. Serious violations of human rights continue throughout Tibet. Yet they are only the symptoms and consequences of a deeper problem. The Chinese authorities have so far been unable to take a tolerant and pluralistic view of Tibet’s distinct culture and religion; instead they are suspicious of them and seek to control them. The majority of Chinese “development” plans in Tibet are designed to assimilate Tibet completely into the Chinese society and culture and to overwhelm Tibetans demographically by transferring large numbers of Chinese into Tibet. This unfortunately reveals that Chinese policies in Tibet continue to be harsh, despite the profound changes carried out by the Chinese government and the Party elsewhere in the People’s Republic of China. Thus, as a result of deliberate policies, an entire people with its unique culture and identity are facing the threat of being utterly overwhelmed.

It is common knowledge that Tibetan monasteries, which constitute our principal seats of learning, besides being the repository of Tibetan Buddhist culture, have been severely reduced in both number and population.  In those monasteries that do still exist, serious study of Tibetan Buddhism is no longer allowed; in fact, even admission to these centres of learning is being strictly regulated. In reality, there is no religious freedom in Tibet. Even to call for a little more freedom is to risk being labelled a separatist. Nor is there any real autonomy in Tibet, even though these basic freedoms are guaranteed by the Chinese constitution.

I believe the demonstrations and protests taking place in Tibet reflect reaction to repression. Further repressive measures will not lead to unity and stability.

Human Rights and China

China needs human rights, democracy and the rule of law because these values are the foundation of a free and dynamic society. They are also the source of true peace and stability. I have no doubt either that an increasingly open, free and democratic China will be of benefit to the Tibetan people too. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality in Tibet and China can lead us to a viable solution of our problems. While great progress has been made to integrate China into the world economy, I believe it is equally important to encourage her also to enter the mainstream of global democracy.  

Improving Observance of Human Rights
Internationally, our rich diversity of cultures and religions should help to strengthen fundamental human rights in all communities. Underlying this diversity are basic human principles that bind us all together as members of the same human family. The question of human rights is so fundamentally important that there should be no difference of views about it. We all have common human needs and concerns. We all seek happiness and try to avoid suffering regardless of our race, religion, sex or social status. However, mere maintenance of a diversity of traditions should never justify the violations of human rights. Thus, discrimination against persons of different races, against women, and against weaker sections of society may be traditional in some regions, but if they are inconsistent with universally recognized human rights, these forms of behaviour should change. The universal principle of the equality of all human beings must take precedence.

There is a great and growing desire for change in the world; change that ushers in a renewed commitment to ethical and spiritual values, that resolves conflicts peaceably, employing dialogue and non-violence, that upholds human rights and human dignity as well as human responsibility. We need change that educates and promotes the urgent need to care for the planet and its ecological systems, that calls upon all nation states to work towards the universal abolition of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction and that encourages peace, compassion, respect and warm-heartedness. I believe that these goals can be achieved on the basis of increased awareness. Let us widen our perspective to include the well being of the whole world and its future generations in our vision of prosperity and freedom.