This month, our blog has featured voices of survivors of past genocides and mass atrocities. In so many of these cases the world failed to call the atrocities genocide while they were taking place. In some cases, even generations later, survivors continue to seek the world’s acknowledgement that acts of genocide did take place. What are we afraid of acknowledging in these cases?

Our friends at the International Campaign for Tibet have just released a new report, “60 Years of Chinese Misrule: Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet.” The report is bound to generate controversy, not only because of the position it takes on the contested concept of ”cultural” genocide, but also because as China emerges as a global power, few will want to point too closely to China’s ongoing atrocities within its border.

The report was made public on April 25, the birthday of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, Tibet’s Panchen Lama, who was taken into custody by the Chinese authorities in 1995 and has not been seen since. The Dali Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader, is in Canada this weekend for a convention of world parliamentarians on Tibet that is being broadcast live. The analysis in this important new report is being discussed during this convening.

There is much to debate in the report but we call attention to the fact that the report reminds us that 60 years ago the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) found that mass atrocities were committed by China in Tibet. Reports in 1959 and 1960 by the ICJ, immediately after the Chinese takeover of Tibet and the exile of the Dalai Lama, stated that the pattern of evidence from Tibet constituted “(a) a prima facie case of acts contrary to Articles 2(a) and (e) of the Genocide Convention of 1948.” (Article (a) covers mass killings and article (e) refers to forcible transferring of children to another group). There was no overt response from the international community at that time to the ICJ reports.

It is possible that our collective international unwillingness to reopen past cases and offer to survivor communities the acknowledgement and the words to legitimize their suffering, is in part a reflection of our collective guilt? As past atrocities unfolded, we far too often failed to sound the alarm at the time in ways that would compel action to protect the victims.

What, then, is appropriate to say now? At today’s hearing in Canada, the question was raised as to whether in fact a genocide “equivalent to the Holocaust” had taken place in Tibet. Richard Gere, speaking on behalf of Campaign for Tibet, responded judiciously by stating, “At Campaign for Tibet, we are very careful not to co-opt the Holocaust in any way.” We agree: historic circumstances for each contested case are unique and each case deserves its own special consideration; broad moral equivalency is neither helpful to meaningful healing for survivor communities, nor does it support our future efforts to sound the alarm.

The Tibet report raises more questions than it answers. But the questions are good ones and we should not seek easy answers. We should, however, insist on keeping the debates alive.

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