WHAT WE DO
In 2008, as eyes turned to China before the Beijing Olympics, Tibetans rose up across Tibet. Massive solidarity protests around the globe followed. A new chapter of the Tibetan resistance was born, as Tibetans strategically embraced tactics of self-reliance and noncooperation on a scale never seen before. Tibet Action Institute was formed the following year to support this changing resistance landscape, providing intensive training on lessons of strategic nonviolent action drawn from other successful human rights and democracy movements around the globe, while helping Tibetans inside and outside Tibet capitalize on new information and communication technologies and defend against relentless cyber attacks and surveillance from China.
Tibet Action Institute combines the power of digital communication with strategic nonviolent action to advance the Tibetan freedom movement. We bring together expert campaigners, strategists, and technologists to develop and implement visionary strategies and innovative training, education, and technology programs, equipping Tibetans with the tools and knowledge to achieve human rights and freedom in Tibet.
By training and educating Tibetans everywhere in the art and methods of nonviolent resistance and safe and effective use of new information and communication technologies, we build a movement that is equipped to successfully wage the strategic civil resistance campaigns that will bring positive change to Tibet.
Tibet Action Institute turns 10! We’ve made a short video to tell the story of our beginnings as we start our second decade of using technology and nonviolent action to strengthen the Tibetan people’s struggle for freedom. We want to thank each and every one of you who has supported us, believed in us and cheered us on in our mission. We especially want to thank all of the activists who have worked with us, trained with us and inspired our team to keep at it. We have no doubt positive change is coming for Tibetans. We will get there. Tibet will be free. Visit https://tibetaction.net to learn more
Posted by Tibet Action Institute on Friday, November 15, 2019
"We are here today not just to mark a historic moment, or because things have gotten so much worse, but because we have to act -- to right the wrongs of the past and to pick up from that moment, 30 years ago, that was alive with hope and possibility, and this time, to get it right." Lhadon Tethong, Tibet Action Institute. Watch the complete #Demaward acceptance speech here:
Posted by Tibet Action Institute on Wednesday, June 5, 2019
Tibetan National Uprising Day
From Kathy Ní Keefe, Training and Campaign Manager, Tibet Action Institute, March 10th, 2023
Tashi Delek and thank you for this opportunity. I’d like to begin by acknowledging that we are in O’Gah Po’Geh, the occupied ancestral land of the Tewa People.
Today I want to speak about two important developments in the landscape for freedom in Tibet. First, an update on the colonial boarding school campaign I spoke about last year that has gained major momentum in recent months. And second, the inspiring “White Paper Revolution” in response to the Chinese government’s Zero-Covid lockdowns.
As many of you know, China is currently engaged in a vast system of colonial boarding schools all across Tibet. In December 2021, Tibet Action Institute released a report called “Separated From Their Families, Hidden From the World” uncovering this devastating system and its potential impacts on children and families, providing detailed recommendations for governments and international bodies. I encourage you all to read it at tibetaction.net if you have not already. Through the course of research, we made the shocking and gut-wrenching discovery that approximately 1,000,000 Tibetan children – some as young as 4-year-olds – are living in colonial boarding schools across Tibet.
It’s not hard to see that this system has similar designs to the residential schools that existed for so long in the United States, Canada, and Australia which have been categorically denounced for their tragic impact across generations of Indigenous and Aboriginal Peoples and First Nations. Like those schools – one of which was right down the road from here in Santa Fe – the colonial boarding schools in Tibet weaponize the schooling system. Authorities close village schools and private Tibetan schools while threatening parents with fines, banishment from future schooling, and being stripped of government benefits if they don’t cooperate. In this way, Tibetans are being forced and coerced into sending their kids away. Away from their families, language, religion, and way of life. The system is designed to strip away Tibetan identity and squash future resistance to China’s occupation of Tibet by filling children with political indoctrination in an environment almost exclusively constructed of Mandarin language and Chinese cultural learning.
Even though the Chinese government says it’s the rural landscape of Tibet that necessitates these schools, we know the truth is that it’s a racist policy of repression. We know this because in the most rural areas of China, the rate of boarding is around 22%, while it’s around 80% across all areas of Tibet combined. In 2015, China’s State Council underscored their plan, saying Tibetan children along with Uyghurs, Southern Mongolians, and more should “study in a school, live in a school, and grow up in a school.”
There is no denying that this is indeed a crossroads for Tibetan children, families, and Tibet itself that is a steep hill to climb. And yet, in the last couple months, after almost a year of meetings and testimony from a coalition of civil society activists, we are seeing the international community wake up to this challenge with action that is critical for success. The magnitude of the boarding school situation in Tibet has staggered and alarmed every single political leader that it has been put in front of, spurring many to make formal and informal statements on the issue. From Congressional and State Department people in the United States, to Parliamentarians and Foreign Ministry people in Canada and the UK, to the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, to the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues Under Secretary Uzra Zeya, to the United Nations’ former High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet herself.
Recently, the three United Nations special rapporteurs covering education, culture, and minority issues collectively and publicly conveyed their shock and alarm at China’s colonial boarding school system in Tibet, directly reprimanding the Chinese government and spurring outlets like Time Magazine, Newsweek, the BBC, and the Globe and Mail to cover the issue. And, most recently, the United Nations Committee on Economic Cultural and Social Rights issued an incredibly strong recommendation for China to “immediately abolish the coerced residential school system imposed on Tibetan children, as well as allowing private Tibetan schools to be established.” They went on to say it is critical that China ensures “Mandarin is not the only language allowed as the language of instruction” in Tibet.
Why is this important?
While it can sometimes be difficult to see in the outside world the impact of the inner workings of the UN, the special rapporteurs and the CESCR hold a special place in the eyes of world leaders, including China. In fact, the CESCR is considered one of the most important UN committees. So much so that all the top global rights experts want to be on it. And while China shuns most committees, they can’t avoid this one because it’s so consequential. So the fact that this committee is using words like “abolish” and “coerce” signals to all governments that this system is truly diabolical. This is an important marker for Tibet in and of itself. But in addition, world leaders often like to follow the lead of such important international committees and rapporteurs. So by laying the issue out so clearly, like-minded governments now have a pathway to come together to challenge China on the issue of colonial boarding schools.
This is truly exciting! And we will continue to press for this kind of multilateral action. To help with this, please, as always, write your Congressional representatives and Senators. Ask them to ask Secretary of State Blinken to speak out on the issue of China’s colonial boarding schools in Tibet, both making a statement himself and multilaterally with other leaders.
In addition, we will continue to make sure Tibetans inside Tibet know about these important developments from world leaders and the United Nations. So they can be inspired to continue the courageous acts of resistance they are undertaking in support of the Tibetan language and their right to access high quality, local, Tibetan education.
We also saw incredibly courageous action recently with the White Paper Revolution. After months of lockdown due to China’s draconian Zero-Covid policy, people raised their voices in desperation from being locked behind closed doors – sometimes without food and medicine – for months. People in Lhasa, who are often the most surveilled and therefore silenced, sent out courageous messages of what they were facing. When Uyghurs died after being trapped inside their apartments, a boiling point was reached. In a rare act of solidarity and with unprecedented scenes from Shanghai to Beijing to Wuhan, thousands of Chinese citizens defied the lockdown and held memorials for Uyghur victims, chanting “Liberate Xinjiang.” Protests also soon included slogans seen on the Sitong Bridge in Beijing in October, calling on an end to Covid testing and quarantines, as well as the right to vote, freedom of speech, and for Xi Jinping to step down. While the protests were shut down after a few days, less than a week later, Beijing eased the lockdowns and started rolling back its Zero-Covid policy, a clear victory to people power!
While it’s important not to think the next Tiananmen Square-level democracy movement is about to spring up tomorrow, it’s important to note that these protests have been building on the shoulders of decades of pressure, and that ordinary Chinese people showed incredible agency and planted a seed of hope that a more inclusive and progressive democratic movement for human rights and freedom in China could exist. This is important because Tibet’s freedom is tied to what happens in China too. Political scientist Erica Chenoweth says: “A mass uprising is more likely to succeed when it includes a larger proportion and a more diverse cross-section of a nation’s population.” This not only means various sectors of society, but in this case, we could also think it to mean Tibetans, Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Southern Mongolians, and potentially Taiwanese people joining forces to resist the Chinese government. This cross-movement thinking is taking hold more and more, establishing important building blocks for collaboration.
Tibetans know better than most that everything is impermanent. And modern, geopolitical history shows us that authoritarian regimes never last. Step by step, with eyes on the prize, taking advantage of strategic opportunities, and working to mitigate setbacks, this is the way movements advance. Even when hope is hard to assemble. Even when victory seems far away. Like the lifting of covid lockdowns. Like children being able to go to village schools. Coupled with decades of dissent on the books, things can change in a heartbeat. We have to remember this. And be ready to take advantage of any and all opportunities where even the smallest beam of light shines through. While also remembering that even under some of the worst repression in the world, when all may seem lost at times, Tibetans inside are STILL fighting. Are STILL finding a way to maintain their identity and their dignity. This is amazing. And I consider myself lucky to be able to be inspired by this every day.
Thank you for giving me your time and this space.
Abolish colonial boarding schools!
And Free Tibet!