Washington, DC – On July 1, 2002, Mary Beth Markey was named Executive Director of the International Campaign for Tibet in the U.S.

“Mary Beth brings incredible dedication to Tibet, a knowledge of Tibetan issues and how they are understood in Washington, and I think she sees important opportunities in her new role and larger responsibilities at ICT,” said John Ackerly, President of ICT.

“At ICT, we are instituting some leadership changes to keep abreast of the growth of the organization,” said Ackerly.

Markey, was unanimously approved by ICT’s Board of Directors during their June 1 Board meeting. Markey had been ICT’s Director for Government Affairs since joining ICT in 1996. Before that she worked on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Message from the President, John Ackerly:

Throughout ICT’s growth and changes, we have never wavered from our core mission: to support the Tibetan demands for self-determination and promote human rights in Tibet. But we must also continue to empower Tibetans to raise their standard of living in Tibet and in exile.

As the summer of 2002 settles in, we are seeing some sort of opening in Tibet. Most notably, the Dalai Lama’s elder brother, Gyalo Thondup, will be allowed to travel to Lhasa for the first time since he left Tibet in 1959. Two Congressional staff delegations are scheduled to go to Tibet and a series of other government delegations have visited recently.

These are encouraging signs for all of us who have pressed for better access to a land ravaged by human rights abuses behind walls of secrecy. But these encouraging signs a still baby steps. There is still no access by human rights organizations, or by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and certainly not by groups such as ICT.

Moreover, these visits are often still carefully orchestrated and designed to provide a very short and controlled glimpse of Tibet as part of a chaperoned tour. Few delegations have their own Tibetan-language translators and if they did, they would have to exercise caution because people they talked to could be interrogated afterwards.

Western academics are also slowly able to do more research in Tibet but must avoid political topics and all engage in some level of self-censorship when they publish. More foreign NGOs are operating in Tibet but face red tape of Himalayan proportions, and are vulnerable to the whims of officials who have seriously curtailed or expelled some of the best NGOs.

Tibet University is allowing some foreign students to study Tibetan language whereas they previously only hosted missionaries. Group tourism is being heavily promoted while individual tourism is still restricted. Gone are the days of the late 1980s and early 1990s when individuals could easily travel to Tibet on their own and stay for several months.

The years of pressure and publicity on Tibet in the West have much to do with these loosening of controls. What is not changing, however, is much more important: political controls over the lives of Tibetans, imprisonment for speaking one’s mind, freedom to practice religion, etc.

China is able to loosen some controls to allow foreigners better access partially because they have spent most of the 1990s building massive infrastructures for surveillance, intimidation and repression in Tibet.

The “stability” delegations may witness in Lhasa is a superficial one, though very meticulously constructed and maintained through the constant threat of force and violence. If the complete budget for the military, police, armed police, neighborhood watch committees, monastic democratic management committees, etc. is ever made public, it would likely dwarf the funds spent on education or poverty alleviation in Tibet.

As the summer of 2002 closes, I believe China will keep on their current offensive of inviting foreign delegations and others. The delegations should go, but they should be well prepared because Chinese authorities routinely misquote and misuse foreign government delegations. ICT recently prepared a special memo and briefing packet for foreign delegations to help them navigate the political minefields in official visits to Tibet.

In our memo, we provide many recommendations for how to conduct a official visit and what not to do, such as visit prisons in Tibet because of the history of brutal crackdowns on prisoners following prison visits. We also strongly urge delegations to ensure that they get face-to-face briefings with Representatives of the Tibetan government in exile, Tibetan groups and human rights organizations prior to the trip and afterwards.

Ultimately, official delegations must measure their success by benchmarks such as obtaining information on political prisoners and helping to secure the release of political prisoners. Access to the detained Panchen Lama is still denied.

I believe China may closer to agreeing to negotiations with the Dalai Lama because the Tibetan people have kept this struggle in front of the Chinese leadership – and high on the world agenda. As long as they keep struggling, they deserve the support of those of us in the West, as do other systematically oppressed peoples.