Yesterday, on the 29th birthday of the Panchen Lama, the US Senate unanimously passed Resolution 429, which expresses support for the human rights and religious freedom of the Tibetan people and Tibetan Buddhists. The resolution specifically references their right to identify reincarnate lamas without Chinese government interference, and recognizes March 10, 2018 as Tibetan Rights Day.

The resolution, which was introduced by Senators Leahy, Cruz, Feinstein, and Rubio, also recalls the abduction of the Panchen Lama by the Chinese government in 1995. The Panchen Lama has not been seen since then, and the Chinese government has repeatedly refused to provide information regarding his whereabouts.

This resolution is a manifestation of the enduring support Congress has offered for the aspirations of the Tibetan people over the course of several decades. The House of Representatives passed a similar unanimous resolution on the human rights situation in Tibet in 2015, calling on the United States government to “underscore that government interference in the Tibetan reincarnation process is a violation of the internationally recognized right to religious freedom,” and to “highlight the fact that other countries besides China have long Tibetan Buddhist traditions, and that matters related to reincarnations in Tibetan Buddhism are of keen interest to Tibetan Buddhist populations worldwide.”

As the newly nominated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is likely to be confirmed by the US Senate this week, the position of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan issues remains unfilled. Secretary Tillerson confirmed in 2017 that the position will be maintained at the Undersecretary of State level.

The United States government should now prioritize the appointment of the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues and fully implement the Tibetan Policy Act.

Concurrent resolutions S.Con.Res.30, introduced by Senators Cruz, Menendez, Rubio, Baldwin, Gardner, Sanders, Leahy, Feinstein, Warren, and H.Con.Res.89, introduced by Representative Ros-Lehtinen, Engel, Yoho, and Sherman in the House of Representatives, call for the full implementation of the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, including the appointment of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

ICT calls on the House and Senate Foreign Relations Committee to proceed to markup on both resolutions as soon as possible.