Obama could do more to make religious freedom a key objective of US foreign policy

By TCHRD  / February 8, 2014 /
PM Obama with the Dalai Lama
On Thursday morning just before Max Baucus was confirmed by the US Senate to be the next US Ambassador to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), President Obama addressed the annual National Prayer Breakfast. Obama recognized the National Prayer Breakfast as an opportunity to set aside labels of party and ideology. He used the opportunity to discuss the importance of religious freedom abroad. Obama said that freedom of religion is necessary for peace and human dignity.

Tibetans know the truth of those words all too well. In Tibet, Buddhism is strictly controlled by the Chinese government. After the destruction of almost every monastery, nunnery, and religious, historic or biographic text in Tibet in the first 25 years of Chinese rule the Chinese government still violently denies Tibetans religious freedom. Tibetan Buddhists are prevented from freely exercising their religious beliefs. Monks and nuns are subjected to Patriotic Education Campaigns, which require monks and nuns to denounce the Dalai Lama or be kicked out of their monasteries or nunneries. By February 1998, 3,993 monks and nuns were kicked out of their monasteries and nunneries. According to official Chinese figures 1,200 monks were expelled from monasteries near Lhasa.
Lay Tibetans are arrested and tortured for possessing photographs and recordings of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism. The religious repression in Tibet has reached such a level that a considerable number of current or former monastics have committed self-immolations. Many called for freedom and the return of the Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to Tibet.
In this context, Obama’s words on freedom of religion in the People’s Republic of China were disappointing. He stated that the US does business with the PRC and US’ relationship with the PRC is important for the world. He also said that he tells the Chinese leadership that recognizing universal human rights is in their interest. However, if, as Obama said, promoting religious freedom is a key objective of US foreign policy, more must be done by the US to protect and promote religious freedom in the PRC. He cannot rely on the benefits of business with China to “trickle down” and benefit Tibetans or help them achieve human rights. In fact, Pope Francis, who Obama called inspirational, heavily criticized such an approach.
An important first step would be for President Obama to nominate a new ambassador at large for international religious freedom. This position has been empty since Suzan Johnson Cook stepped down in October 2013. He must also ensure that the Office of Religious Freedom has the support it needs at the State Department to promote and protect religious freedom internationally.
Nominating a new ambassador at large for religious freedom would also give president Obama an opportunity to work on an achievable, bipartisan goal with Congress. Protecting human rights, including religious freedom, in Tibet has traditionally been a non-partisan issue for Congress. In April 2012 the US Senate unanimously passed a bill calling upon the PRC to end its repressive politics in Tibet. On 25 July 2012, the US House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee heard Tibetans testify at a hearing on torture and human rights abuses in China.
President Obama should build upon the opportunity to set aside the partisan politics he recognized at the National Prayer Breakfast to work with Congress to promote and protect religious freedom in Tibet and elsewhere.

NOTE-- Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD) is a very reliable and unbiased Tibetan human rights organisation run and staffed by Tibetans. 


  1. While I understand TCHRD's point, the freedom of Tibetan people in Tibet to practice Tibetan Buddhism freely from Beijing's control. However, advising Obama that he should dictate to a foreign nation how they should conduct themselves? I dont know, that seems condescending especially when one considers that exile democracy, the very controlling exile Tibetan Buddhist throne holders of Gaden Phodrang, is not something a secular Tibetan sees as the very best of Democracy or Justice.

    At least, at the same time that we Tibetans, we who seem to just love lecturing other countries and their leaders to go against their own self interests time and time again, shouldn't we also, in the interest of fairness, in the interest of being taken seriously, fix our own social and political spheres from the total domination that is Tibetan Buddhism and its clerics?

    Now I hope that by freely expressing myself I didn't violate any precepts of the universal declaration of human rights freedom of religion.

  2. Ithink the world need to see just how China tortures Tibetans and then wants us to do business with them.I never will, nor go to their country. I don't buy any products made in China, I even bough Acer as they're made in Taiwan.

    Since Tibet was invaded by China over 150 countries have found freedom from oppression,when will the Tibetans?

    I would remind all Americans and anyone who values freedom to help, and remember what oneof the greatest men in history one said:

    Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world - Abraham Lincoln