Mario Oriani-Ambrosini and Dalai Lama

Mario Oriani-Ambrosini being greeted by the Dalai Lama during a ceremony in the Bylakuppe Tibetan settlement in South India in September 2010.

With the passing away of Mario Oriani-Ambrosini, Italian constitutional lawyer and South African member of Parliament, we have lost one of the most committed and brightest supporters of the struggle of the Tibetan people.

Mario Oriani-Ambrosini passed away at the age of 53 on August 16 after a protracted and courageous struggle against cancer.

An MP for the Inkatha Freedom Party, Mario Oriani-Ambrosini was an outspoken defender of human rights and democracy. He is known for leading a successful lawsuit against the South African government’s decision to deny a visa for the Dalai Lama. In a statement announcing the legal action in November 2012, Mr Oriani-Ambrosini said the refusal of the visa showed how South Africa was beholden to China, and that: “The Dalai Lama is welcome in each and every country of the world, except China and South Africa. A recent poll showed that 89% of the South African people consulted indicated that they would welcome the Dalai Lama in South Africa.”[1] The Dalai Lama sent his condolences to Mr Ambrosini’s family.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini was part of the International Network of Parliamentarians on Tibet (INPaT), an action group established and mandated at the World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet, and co-chaired by Matteo Mecacci (who is now President of the International Campaign for Tibet).

Mr. Mecacci said, ” I met Mario for the first time in Rome in 2009 when I co-organized in the Italian Parliament the 5th World Parliamentarians’ Convention on Tibet. Our friendship and common work on Tibet never stopped after that despite his very serious illness.”

“Mario had a deep love for freedom, life and politics and his support for the Tibetan people developed naturally, for someone who could not remain indifferent on the face of oppression. The main lesson that Mario has left us today with is to never give up, because a way forward is always there to be found, even when it seems impossible. We will miss him, but the power of the ideals that he promoted and fought for will continue to last forever” Mecacci added.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini met the Dalai Lama on a number of occasions, and visited the Tibetan community in India. He was a strong advocate of human rights in Tibet and a close supporter of the Tibetan democracy in exile.

Mr Oriani-Ambrosini, who was born in Rome on October 26, 1960 was from a prominent Italian legal family; his father was a constitutional law professor who died when he was 11. He was adopted and raised by his grand-uncle Gaspare Ambrosini, a jurist who presided over the Italian Constitutional Court. Colleagues paid tribute to his brilliant legal mind.

Mr Ambrosini, who studied law in Rome and later continued his studies at Harvard University and Georgetown University Law Center, became Inkatha Freedom Party leader Mangosuthu Buthelezi’s constitutional expert during pre-democracy negotiations, and in 2009, an IFP MP.

In a moving tribute in the South African Parliament on August 19, Buthelezi said:

“We have been flooded with tributes to a man who clearly made a deep impression on many lives.

From citizens who appreciated his fight on their behalf against the Secrecy Bill, to His Holiness the Dalai Lama on behalf of the Tibetan people; from service officers in Parliament, to Ambassadors, journalists, students and lovers of freedom everywhere; tributes and words of thanks have abounded for the good Doctor. […]

Let us honour him for founding of the Parliamentary Institute of South Africa, with Dr Zola Skweyiya, Inkosi Patekile Holomisa, Professor Kader Asmal, Dr Wilmot James and other outstanding leaders. Let us remember that he was the main engine behind the recurring actions to vindicate the wrongful denial of a visa to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which brought to Parliament many members’ statement and the Torch of Freedom. […] [Mr Ambrosini] was an old-style gentleman, noble and brave.”

Mecacci has offered his condolences, and those of ICT, to Mr. Oriani-Ambrosini’s family and to his close friends.