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Section A: The Tibetans Are A People With The Right Of Self-Determination

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1. International Law Recognizes The Right To Self-Determination
2. Independence Is Only One Manifestation Of Self-Determination
3. The Tibetans Are A People With The Right Of Self-Determination

1. International Law Recognizes The Right Of Self-Determination

The Charter of the United Nations states that one of its Purposes is: 'To develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples.' That 'principle' has been recognized as a right of peoples:

By virtue of the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations, all peoples have the right freely to determine, without external interference, their political status and to pursue their economic, social and cultural development, and every State has the duty to respect this right in accordance with the provisions of the Charter.

International instruments, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (now ratified by 136 and 135 States Parties, respectively), and the unanimously adopted Vienna Declaration on Human Rights (June 1993), unequivocally define self-determination as a legal right:

All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of this right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.

2. Independence Is Only One Manifestation Of Self-Determination

Self-determination is not synonymous with independence. On the contrary, independence is merely one of an infinite variety of potential outcomes of the exercise of self-determination:

The establishment of a sovereign and independent State, the free association with an independent State or the emergence into any other political status freely determined by a people constitute modes of implementing the right of self-determination by that people.

In balancing the Tibetans' right to self-determination against the PRC's claims to territorial integrity, it is important to know how the Tibetans would exercise their right: would they choose independence or something less?

It appears that the Tibetan people do not rule out independence. The wishes of the Tibetan people inside Tibet with respect to whether Tibet should become an independent state or remain confederated with the PRC, though with greater autonomy, cannot be formally ascertained. No mechanism exists for those people to express their wishes freely. Nonetheless, Tibetans in Tibet have used different avenues in an attempt to express a desire for independence from the PRC: 'There is no pro-democracy movement in Tibet; it is a pro-independence movement, and every single political prisoner there - without exception, to our knowledge - is detained for some form of pro-independence activity.'

Some evidence of the desires of the Tibetans can also be gleaned from expressions made by the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. The Tibetan Assembly of People's Deputies is apparently unwilling to settle for anything less than complete independence, and that position appears to have substantial popular support in Tibet. The Dalai Lama has stated, however, that although '[t]he Tibetan people must once again be free to develop culturally, intellectually, economically, and spiritually,' the 'future status of Tibet' is negotiable.

In 1988, the Dalai Lama made an offer to negotiate on the basis of a proposal for self government under which the PRC would control the defense and foreign policy of Tibet (the so-called 'Strasbourg Proposal'). Although negotiations between the Tibetan Government-in-Exile and the PRC have not taken place, the Dalai Lama has continued to state that he will accept 'genuine self-rule' short of full independence:

With regard to a mutually-acceptable solution to the issue of Tibet, my position is very straightforward. I am not seeking independence. As I have said many times before, what I am seeking is for the Tibetan people to be given the opportunity to have genuine self-rule in order to preserve their civilisation and for the unique Tibetan culture, religion, language and way of life to grow and thrive. My main concern is to ensure the survival of the Tibetan people with their own unique Buddhist cultural heritage. For this, it is essential, as the past decades have shown clearly, that the Tibetans be able to handle all their domestic affairs and to freely determine their social, economic and cultural development.

3.The Tibetans Are A People With The Right Of Self-Determination

There is no universally accepted definition of a 'people' in international law. Indeed, the wisdom of even attempting such a definition has been called into question. A group of experts meeting under the auspices of the United Nations has identified seven objective indicia of peoplehood for purposes of self-determination, no single one of which is either necessary or sufficient to establish that a group is a people: '(a)a common historical tradition; (b)racial or ethnic identity; (c)cultural homogeneity; (d)linguistic unity; (e)religious or ideological affinity; (f) territorial connection; [and] (g)common economic life[.]' Peoplehood also necessarily includes subjective aspects which are not readily, if at all, subject to proof. Thus, a people combines objective characteristics describing a group's common historical, ethnic, cultural, religious or other background, with the subjective consciousness that the group has a common identity.

While it may be difficult to define a 'people' in the abstract, the Tibetans are without question a people by any meaningful standard:

The Tibetan people meet all the relevant tests of peoplehood. Tibetans are a distinct racial or ethnic group. Their language, Tibetan, is a Tibeto-Burmese language distinct from the Indian and Chinese languages and dialects. Tibetans are bound by their religion (Tibetan Buddhism) which is inextricably linked to the people's cultural, social and historic development. The Tibetans have a unique culture, passed down and developed through many thousands of years of separate and distinct history as expressed in the development of Tibetan fine art, literature, architecture, dress, dance, drama, medicine and way of life. They have an identifiable territory, Tibet (referred to by most Tibetans as Cholkhagsum, the three regions of Tibet) geographically and geologically distinct from China.

The Permanent Tribunal of Peoples examined the Tibetans in the light of UNESCO criteria and concluded that the Tibetan people meet the criteria of a 'people' and are entitled to exercise their right of self-determination. Likewise, the Conference of International Lawyers on Issues Relating to Self-Determination and Independence for Tibet concluded that the Tibetan people satisfied the UNESCO criteria and are a 'people' under international law. In short, it is not disputed that Tibetans are a distinct people with a language, culture, religion and history separate from China.

(On to III.B, The Tibetans Are Entitled To Exercise Their Right Of Self-Determination Because The PRC Has Not Acted As The Legitimate Government Of The Tibetan People -->)

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