- HH the Dalai Lama
It was one small step for the occupied nation of Tibet, a huge step for
mankind and its collective sense of universal responsibility. It was a humble if
significant victory and a temporary respite from 50 years of oppression and brutality by
China of the Tibetan people.
The World Bank, that austere institution which tends to lend and give
money to undemocratic regimes and the big businesses that support them (and vice-versa),
at the expense of human rights and human decency and environmental integrity, backed down
from going through with one of its more destructive proposed projects. A year and a half
ago the World Bank was prepared to give $40 million to China to be used in
"resettling" Chinese citizens from that over-populated country into Tibet.
That the World Bank was forced to back down from one of its ill-conceived,
destructive projects is as significant for the world as canceling this particular project
was for Tibet. The World Bank has never backed down before.
The proposed "re-settlement" project would have been an
environmental, cultural, human rights, social and, in the long run, economic catastrophe
for Tibet. Among the new settlers would be some 58,000 farmers from central China where
many years of over-population, over-grazing and a drought some think is caused by global
warming is causing some 900 square miles of land to degrade into useless desert each year.
Moving those people into Tibet would in time create the same over-populated, over-grazed
The people of Tibet knew this. The Tibetan people in exile knew this.
Environmental groups around the world knew this. Anyone familiar with basic human rights
issues and with the long-term and consistent brutality of the Chinese government towards
its own people and the peoples it has subjugated knew it. Anyone with a brain, a heart, a
consciousness of Tibet and an ethical standard a millimeter higher than the bottom line
Only, it seems, the World Bank didnt know it.
China has already resettled far too many of its citizens into Tibet since
it invaded that defenseless country half a century ago. In the beginning, most of the new
settlers were military citizens. Only later did the civilians arrive. During these 50
years of military rule in Tibet, a third of the Tibetan people have been murdered,
hundreds of thousands of others were forced to flee and seek refuge in other countries
around the world and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans who stayed in their own country
(including monks, nuns and children) have been tortured, maimed, jailed, raped, beaten and
persecuted in countless ways. The Tibetan people are now a minority in their own country.
But the World Bank was prepared to give China $40 million to support its
destruction of Tibet.
Still, after all this time and after all the indignities and hardships
China has inflicted upon them, the Tibetan in Tibet and in exile have not lost their
In June of 1999 the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT), a Washington,
D.C.-based organization for the defense of Tibetan people, filed a claim with the World
Banks Inspection Panel urging it to investigate violations of the banks own
policies and procedures for this project. At the same time it instigated and ran a
fast-paced and multi-faceted campaign to stop the project with the help of international
environmental, human-rights, Tibet support and other political groups. Through intensive
international mobilization and coordination, the ICT and the Tibet movement accomplished
what no other movement has ever been able to do: force the World Bank to annul one of its
own ruinous projects.
One reason for this turnaround was the large number of U.S. citizens who
contacted and voiced opposition to the project to their congressmen and their
representative at the World Bank.
In the words of John Ackerly, president of ICT, "Only days
beforehand, it looked as if we were in danger of losing, but on the 11th hour we found
that all the international organizing had paid off.
"The U.S. government and many other governments, including Germany
and Japan, were supporting our position much more strongly than we could have
.Ultimately, the key to victory was the U.S. government. They stood up to
China in this case because so many of you made your voices heard
.As president of
ICT, I have too often seen the U.S. government shortchange Tibet. But in this instance, it
made me proud to be represented by our government, because they stood up to China at the
World Bank not only for Tibetans, but for all persecuted peoples adversely affected by
World Bank projects."
The U.S. governments statement to World Bank President James
Wolfensohn and the board of directors concluded, "It is time for this organization to
see the issue for what it isdelivering on its own commitments to credible internal
controls and faithful execution of agreed policies and procedures. It is time to take
The World Banks Inspection Panel report found that the banks
management had violated all of the banks major human rights and environmental
safeguards, thus putting Tibetans at great risk.
China, of course, will neither become a responsible government nor cancel
its own resettlement plans for Tibet. But the rest of the world should neither condone nor
pay for it. Even if China will not, it is encouraging and momentous that enough concerned
citizens in concert can force the impregnable World Bank to conceive of and deliver on its
own commitments to universal responsibility.