Protecting the rights of Tibetans in our area, and beyond

  • Jamyang Wangchuk, owner of Momo Tibetan Resturant in Amherst, talks about his life in Tibet and the restrictions on travel.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Jamyang Wangchuk, a co-owner of Momo Tibetan Restaurant in Amherst, faces the possibility of never seeing his family again.

Having traveled from Tibet to the United States in 2002, Wangchuk left behind six siblings and his mother. In that time, his mother fell ill, and he was unable to see her again before she died. He hasn’t seen his brothers and sisters, either, as he told reporter Jacquelyn Voghel (“Seeking freedom to travel,” see Page 1).

The reason is that the People’s Republic of China — which sent thousands of troops to Tibet in 1950 to enforce its claim on the region, and has governed it as a portion of China since — has placed strict limits on traveling into the area.

Pasang Norbu, president of the Amherst Regional Tibetan Association, sees this restriction as one of many human rights violations he says persists in Tibet due to China controlling the region.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, whose district includes Amherst, is hoping to put pressure on China to relax this policy by giving officials responsible for the restriction a taste of their own medicine.

The Reciprocal Access to Tibet bill, sponsored by McGovern, recently passed the House and would prohibit specific Chinese government officials involved with the restriction from entering the United States.

This is different from the harmful tit-for-tat we are seeing in the United States’ escalating trade war with China. McGovern’s bill, which has bipartisan support, aims to open up restrictions to allow the international community to observe alleged human rights violations taking place in Tibet — and to stop them.

“With this bill we are taking an important step forward on behalf of the human rights of Tibetans,” McGovern said. “We are sending a message to the government of China: human rights are not negotiable.”

“Supporting human rights is the moral thing to do. It is the right thing to do. And it is the American thing to do — for Tibetans, in China and everywhere else in the world,” he continued.

We agree with McGovern. 

Tibet has a complicated and troubled past. In the time since a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959 — after which the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and set up a government in exile in India — thousands of Tibetans are believed to have been killed, according to a BBC report from last year. The ability of the United States to visit and observe the region of Tibet could help prevent further abuses.

For people like Wangchuk, the stakes are personal. If McGovern’s bill succeeds in lifting travel restrictions to Tibet, he would be more likely to be able to see his siblings again.

Wangchuk told the Gazette he was shot and then imprisoned by Chinese authorities for two years due to his protest activities in Tibet. While he has permanent residency in the U.S., Wangchuk feels he needs to secure full citizenship here in order to attempt a visit. Otherwise, he fears being imprisoned again.

In a time of such divisive politics, we are heartened to see bipartisan agreement on McGovern’s bill and hope that the Senate will pass it as well. We support McGovern’s continued efforts to connect the United States with isolated parts of the world — as he had long worked toward with Cuba, where in 2016 he joined then-President Barack Obama on the first presidential visit in 88 years to the island.

Without the ability to visit Tibet, Americans and the rest of the international community will remain in the dark regarding potential human rights violations. Bearing witness is essential. As Norbu says, “If China claims that everything is OK in Tibet, good. Let the United Nations or an independent organization go in. China should make access for them to see and listen to Tibet.”

We wish Wangchuk the best in his continued effort to reconnect with his family and hope swift passage of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet bill can help facilitate that reunion.