TASC on the OC Register: Hundreds gather at Westminster temple for human rights conference
Tsering Choky, 37, her husband and two young sons made the 60-mile drive Saturday, Sept. 2, from their Canoga Park home to attend the human rights workshop on Tibet and Vietnam.
“In the United States, we can forget how important human rights are in our daily activities,” said Choky, a native of Tibet. “I came to learn more about how Tibet and Vietnam can work together since we face the same issue — China.”
Attended by about 300 people, the conference took place at the Chua Dieu Ngu Vietnamese Buddhist Temple in Westminster.
Local leaders including U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, County Supervisor Andrew Do and State Senator Janet Nguyen opened the event with brief speeches.
“This reaffirms what America is all about — a country of every race and every religion and every ethnic group,” Rohrabacher said.
Rohrabacher called communism “an ideology that has disappeared,” leaving behind “the residue of corruption and tyranny by those in power.”
Nguyen decried the crackdown on free speech in Vietnam, saying that peaceful protesters and political bloggers are routinely arrested.
A region of central Asia bordering the Himalayas, Tibet was claimed by the People’s Republic of China in 1951. After a failed uprising, China abolished the Tibetan government in 1959 and squelched political dissidence.
Lobsang Sangay, one of the two panelists at the conference, became the highest leader of the Tibetan parliament-in-exile after the Dalai Lama stepped down in 2011. The administration is based in India, home to about 80,000 Tibetans living in exile.
The other panelist was attorney Trinh Hoi, whose organization VOICE provides legal services to human rights defenders in Vietnam. He emigrated to Australia at age 14 as a refugee after the Fall of Saigon in 1975.
Sangay cited research by the American human rights organization Freedom House naming Tibet one of “the least free countries in the world” in civil and political rights — sharing that low ranking with North Korea, Saudi Arabia and Sudan. “How many people know that?” he wondered.
Still, Sangay expressed optimism that Tibetans, most of whom are Buddhists, will regain their autonomy.
“Buddhism has been around for 2,500 years, and communism for only 100,” he said. “Communists are just kids — misbehaving kids. The foundation for Buddhism is solid. And as long as there’s Buddhism, there will be Tibet.”
After Sangay mentioned that “the Chinese plundered and looted our statues made of gold,” Rohrabacher stood up from his seat in the audience to promise, “We’re gonna get the gold back, and we’re gonna get freedom back.”
Sangay also touched on climate change in an area with rivers that supply water for billions. “Tibet is the water tower of Asia, with the third highest reserve of ice,” he said. “Fifty-percent has melted.” He blamed the problem on urbanization and Chinese migration to the remote region. Over the past decade, Chinese workers have poured into Tibet both to develop its land and — Tibetans worry — push out its historic culture.
Hoi compared the plight of Vietnamese to that of Tibetans.
“We both lost our countries,” he said, “but we did not lose our hope and spirit.”