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South Africa: Issue Visa to Dalai Lama

Source: Human Rights Watch - Thu, 29 Sep 2011 21:38 GMT
Author: Human Rights Watch
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The South African government's reluctance to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' spiritual leader, has no objective basis and appears to be based on no more than fear of Chinese government displeasure, Human Rights Watch said today. South Africa rejected a similar visa request in 2009. (New York) - The South African government's reluctance to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama, Tibetans' spiritual leader, has no objective basis and appears to be based on no more than fear of Chinese government displeasure, Human Rights Watch said today. South Africa rejected a similar visa request in 2009. The Dalai Lama has been invited to attend Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday celebrations and to deliver a lecture at the University of the Western Cape in early October, 2011. He initially applied for a visa through the South African High Commission in New Delhi in June. After two months of delays and bureaucratic obstructions, the Dalai Lama's representatives in Africa were told to submit an application to the authorities in South Africa, which they did on September 20. South African authorities have not replied to media queries about whether they will grant the visa, implying that they would wait until Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe returned from a trip to Beijing on September 29. "If South Africa refuses a visa to a Nobel Prize recipient and human rights campaigner, with no objective grounds for refusal, then there can only be less-than-noble motivations for its action," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "For the government to block a leader who supported South Africa's struggles is not only to deny its own history, but it raises questions about whether  the government looks to Pretoria, or to Beijing, for some of its domestic policy decisions." Although governments have discretion in granting entry visas, the absence of any clear or compelling grounds for refusal is striking, Human Rights Watch said. If the lecture at the University of the Western Cape is cancelled because a visa is refused, academic freedom and speech would also suffer. The Chinese government regularly warns that countries that permit even private visits by the Dalai Lama risk retribution. As a result some governments have only allowed the Dalai Lama to attend religious or academic gatherings. Although the United States has allowed many visits by the Dalai Lama, President Barack Obama postponed meeting him until after Obama's first state visit to China in November 2009.   South Korea and Russia, among others, have denied him visas. Helen Clark, the former New Zealand prime minister, declined to receive the Dalai Lama in New Zealand in 2007, arranging instead to cross paths with him in an Australian airport. Other governments and multilateral organizations, including the European Union, Japan, and South Africa, have received the Dalai Lama. In the past two months, he has visited Brazil, Canada, Estonia, Finland, Mexico, and the United States. The Chinese government regularly describes the Dalai Lama as a separatist and a traitor. A recent editorial in the state-run Xizang Ribao characterized the Dalai Lama's visits to other countries as "an absurd mockery played by scurrying around the world for a political show." There is a long and documented history of alleged human rights abuses suffered by Tibetans living under Chinese rule, which remain unaddressed. The Chinese government refuses to recognize criticism leveled against state policies in Tibetan areas and continues to frame all discussions about Tibet as a sovereignty issue, claiming that the country&${esc.hash}39;s territorial integrity and inter-ethnic relations are threatened by a secessionist movement supported by "hostile foreign forces." The Chinese authorities have also consistently rejected all allegations of human rights abuses in Tibetan areas, claiming they are conspiracies to fan ethnic dissatisfaction against the Communist Party and the government. Authorities stress that Tibetans&${esc.hash}39; rights are fully protected under the law, and point to political, social, and economic development over the past half-century as signs that the human rights of ethnic Tibetans are fully protected. "While it's true that South Africa wouldn't be the first to refuse a request to visit by the Dalai Lama, it should make clear that 2009 was the last time it will," said Bekele. "There are few better ways to honor Archbishop Tutu, and that for which he and South Africa stand, than by acting on principle rather than perceived political expediency."  

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