Geneva: – Continuing her vocal push for the rights of Tibetans, US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Sarah Sewall today asked the Chinese government “to seize the opportunity” to engage with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in meaningful dialogue over the situation in Tibet.

Dr. Sewall – who also serves as the US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights – spoke at the “Lockdown in Tibet” Event, which the UN Human Rights Council organized to run concurrently with the Council’s 29th session. The statements Dr. Sewall provided today closely align with past declarations she has made, such as a November 2014 comment, “there is not a degree of freedom for Tibetans within China that we think is consistent with international human rights standards.”

Today, the US Diplomat focused on the diversity of international support for progress regarding Tibetans’ rights. She reminded the audience, “The US, EU and former (UN) High Commissioner (for Human Rights) Pillay, all have urged China to address the restrictions on rights and freedoms that have driven some 140 Tibetans to set themselves on fire in protest.”

Dr. Sewall also paid specific attention to the number of official visit requests the People’s Republic of China has rejected. The US Official found, “Over the last four years, 35 of 39 requests made by our Embassy or Consulates to visit the TAR (Tibet Autonomous Region) were denied.” Supporting the claim that the US is not unique in its inability to access Tibet, she stated, “The Foreign Correspondents Club of China, which represents journalists from some 40 nations, has reported that Tibetan areas in China are effectively off-limits to foreign reporters.”

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the current UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has made clear his objective of visiting Tibet during his next trip to China, and Dr. Sewall today used her platform to support his endeavor. She declared, “We urge China to allow the High Commissioner to visit Tibet and to reconsider its opposition to upholding the Vienna Convention on consular access.”

Critics may find Dr. Sewall’s comments frustrating in that they do no more than entreat the PRC to alter its behavior toward Tibet. The Special Coordinator did not threaten any further action from the US or international actors, nor did she comment on any further consequences if China refuses to cooperate.

However, she did remind those present of US President Obama’s White House meeting with the Dalai Lama in February 2014, in which “he stressed the benefits of renewed dialogue and expressed support for the Dalai Lama’s ‘Middle Way’ approach.” She renewed this commitment, stating, “We believe the Dalai Lama is sincere and can be a constructive partner for peace and stability.” This comment seems directed towards official PRC rhetoric regarding the Tibetan Spiritual Leader, which accuses him of separatist intentions.

The “Lockdown in Tibet” event itself is dedicated to bringing further attention to human rights abuses ongoing in the region, and attendees included Matteo Mecacci, President of the International Campaign for Tibet; Keith Harper, US Ambassador to the Human Rights Council; and Ven. Golog Jigmy, a former Tibetan political prisoner.

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