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Jewish World Review August 14, 2000 / 13 Menachem-Av, 5760

Nat Hentoff

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The repressive hand of China -- THE CHINESE GOVERNMENT -- so pervasively antithetical to American principles of freedom of speech and freedom of religion -- has convinced the ethically challenged president and the majority of Congress to reward it with a permanent trade agreement, which is likely to be completed when Congress returns from its recess.

Now, the United Nations has also bowed to this land of gulags and religious repression. On Aug. 28, more than 1,000 religious leaders from around the world will attend the Millennium Peace Summit, a conference organized under the authority of the United Nations by Secretary General Kofi Annan, who is hardly known as a profile of courage.

Because of pressure from the Chinese government, the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of Tibet's Buddhists and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was conspicuously not invited. Initially, the United Nations said that any Security Council member has veto power over invitations to U.N. conferences. But according to the protocol office of the United Nations, only conference organizers have the power of rejection.

Although the Millennium Peace Summit is substantially sponsored by private organizations, the conference's ties to the United Nations are clear and central.

When the news of this political exclusion was revealed, Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu wrote to Kofi Annan saying that he could not come, but if he had been able to attend, he would have withdrawn in protest against this "disgraceful decision."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson is among the prominent spiritual leaders of this country who have been invited to the Millennium Summit. As of this writing, he has yet to protest this insult to the Dalai Lama and to not only members of his faith but also to all the people around the world who have spoken out against China's brutal suppression of human rights in Tibet.

A July 8 New York Times editorial advised that "the conference's chief financial underwriter, Ted Turner, and the religious leaders planning to attend, should make clear that if the U.N. is not prepared to reverse itself, they will move the conference to another location. A gathering of spiritual and religious leaders for world peace should not have a political admissions test."

Because of the protests that have been pouring in to Kofi Annan, the United Nations has now tried to avoid further acute embarrassment by suddenly inviting the Dalai Lama -- but only to speak at the last day of the conference, which will not be held at the United Nations but rather at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama quickly saw through this spin. Because, they pointed out, the session to which the Dalai Lama had been reluctantly invited would not be held at the United Nations, Kofi Annan was still yielding to Chinese pressure. It would be like inviting Bishop Tutu to speak, as an obvious afterthought, at some outbuilding.

The Dalai Lama has declined this attempt by the United Nations to save face.

If the first two days of the so-called Summit are held at the United Nations as scheduled, those in attendance should speak strongly about the treatment of the Dalai Lama. More to the point, they should denounce the terrifying suffering China has imposed on the people of Tibet.

The original protest to the United Nations was organized by Brahma Das, founder and director of the Interfaith Call for Universal Religious Freedom and Freedom of Worship in Tibet. Joining him was Catholic theologian Brother Wayne Teasdale. Brahma Das has now written to Kofi Annan, giving him a chance to redeem part of his reputation as someone purportedly concerned with human rights:

"We ask the U.N. to reverse its long-standing policy, one that was started long before you became Secretary General, of bowing to political pressure and choosing to ignore the genocide" in Tibet. Stop allowing China to censor the United Nations!

Elsewhere, Brahma Das has noted that "since the invasion of Tibet in 1949 by the Chinese army, over one-fifth of the Tibetan population has died under the Chinese occupation, and more than 6,000 monasteries have been destroyed."

Brahma Das is also urging the religious leaders attending the U.N. summit to "show their courage and moral leadership by convening" their own conference about Tibet -- without the imprimatur of the United Nations. The Dalai Lama would speak there.

This is the Chinese government that Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George Bush, Dick Cheney, Trent Lott, Tom Daschle and Jesse Jackson are inviting as our permanent partners in world trade -- and to hell with other peoples' human rights.

JWR contributor Nat Hentoff is a First Amendment authority and author of numerous books. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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