The International Campaign for Tibet urges Secretary of State John Kerry, during this week’s high-level talks with his Chinese counterpart, to ask Chinese leaders to undertake an objective investigation into the shooting of unarmed Tibetans participating in a religious ceremony to venerate the Dalai Lama, and to bring those responsible to justice.

“Given that Chinese law provides for freedoms of assembly and religious belief, the U.S. should hold Chinese authorities to their obligations to investigate and prosecute those who have violated Tibetans’ exercise of these rights,” said Todd Stein, ICT Director of Government Relations. “Moreover, the Chinese should allow independent observers into Tawu to investigate this disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians.”

ICT and media outlets have reported that on July 6, at least two Tibetans were shot in the head when Chinese security forces opened fire at a crowd gathered outside Tawu in eastern Tibet. The Tibetans, who included monks and laypeople, had gathered to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday by making offerings and burning incense on a mountain considered sacred to Tibetan Buddhists. (ICT report, Tibetan monks shot as police open fire on Tibetans praying on Dalai Lama’s birthday)

Secretary Kerry, along with Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, will lead the U.S. delegation to the annual Strategic and Economic Dialogue, to be held on July 10-11. The talks will cover a wide range of bilateral issues, including human rights and “ethnic minority issues,” according to the State Department. Kerry and Lew will meet with their counterparts, China’s State Counselor Yang Jiechi and Vice Premier Wang Yang.

Last week, ICT sent a letter to Secretary Kerry asking him to engage with his Chinese counterparts on Tibet regarding the possibility that new developments may suggest potential openings on the Tibet issue within China. (ICT report, New challenges to Tibet policy from inside China) While the shootings in Tawu and the anti-Dalai Lama remarks given by high-ranking Chinese leader Yu Zhengsheng during a recent visit to eastern Tibet indicate Beijing’s overall hard line on Tibetans has not changed, ICT recommends that policy-makers explore any opportunity to reassess China’s policies in Tibet.

“We are under no illusion that the underlying Chinese mindset on the Tibet problem has changed,” wrote ICT Interim President Bhuchung Tsering to Secretary Kerry. “Further, even if it turns out to be accurate that there is some ‘relaxation’ of prohibitions against the Dalai Lama’s image, this does not mean that Chinese authorities are addressing the wide and deep legitimate grievances of the Tibetan people, much less consider the granting of meaningful autonomy. However, with even the slightest possibility that these developments represent a crack in the high and thick wall that the Chinese have erected around Tibet, we believe this is an opportunity for engagement that should be pursued.”