His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Under Secretary Otero

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with Under Secretary Otero in Charlottesville, VA, October 2012.

U.S. Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Maria Otero leaves the U.S. State Department today after overseeing a broad range of issues, including serving as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, during the first term of the Obama Administration.

The International Campaign for Tibet thanks Under Secretary Otero and her staff for their efforts and the rich exchange we have shared in trying to move Tibetan issues forward.

“I’ve known and admired Maria Otero for over twenty-five years. Her intelligence, warmth, commitment and skill have served her well as Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues during these most-trying of times. We are all sorry to see her leave but trust that she will stay connected to the Tibetan story long into its future,” said ICT Board Chair, Richard Gere.

Under Secretary Otero was appointed as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues on October 1, 2009, by Secretary of State Clinton. The appointment is mandated by the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 and is an indication of the U.S. Government’s strong commitment to Tibetan issues.

The central objective of the Tibet Coordinator is to promote substantive dialogue between the Chinese government and the Dalai Lama or his representatives and to seek to preserve Tibet’s distinct religious, cultural and linguistic identity.

Dialogue between Chinese officials and the Dalai Lama’s representatives resumed in September 2002 after a break of nearly a decade. The last round occurred in January 2010 during Under Secretary Otero’s tenure at State. Lodi Gyari, who served until June 2012 as Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, said today: “I have had the privilege of working closely with Under Secretary Otero. I can say without hesitation that she gave her best in every apect including our efforts for a negotiated solution for Tibet.”

Under Secretary Otero’s many achievements as Tibet Coordinator include:

  • Oversight for U.S. Government funding for Tibetan programs, including a new $2 million Tibetan education project in Tibetan refugee settlements in India and Nepal;
  • Coordinating the U.S. Government public and private response to the self-immolation crisis in Tibet, specifically including that the self-immolations are caused by “counter-productive” Chinese government policies;
  • Engaging with other governments’ officials on an informed approach to Tibetan issues, highlighted by her citation of Tibet as an example of US-EU cooperation on Asia policy; and
  • Broadening the focus on Tibet at the State Department with increased attention on the importance of water and other environmental issues.

Maria Otero is the fourth person to serve as Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, following Paula Dobriansky, the late Julia Taft, and Gregory Craig.

As we anticipate the appointment of the next Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, ICT urges Secretary of State-designate Kerry to move quickly so that the crisis situation in Tibet can be urgently addressed bilaterally with Chinese officials and through other mechanisms available, including the upcoming March-April session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.