Vienna gives Dalai Lama a hero's welcome: A compromise enabled Tibet's spiritual leader to overcome Chinese opposition

Click to follow
The Independent Online
CHEERING supporters greeted the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, as he arrived yesterday to address a fringe meeting at the UN World Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, defying attempts by China and United Nations organisers to bar him from the building.

The 58-year-old Buddhist leader refrained from making any direct reference to China in his speech, but he attacked Peking's position that Asian and other Third World countries could not be bound by Western notions of human rights. Neither he nor a majority of Asians agreed. 'It is the inherent nature of all human beings to yearn for freedom, equality and dignity,' he said. 'I do not see any contradiction between the need for economic development and the need for respect of human rights.'

The Dalai Lama also rejected another familiar Chinese argument, that human rights were an internal affair. 'It is not only our right as members of the global human family to protest when our brothers and sisters are being treated brutally, but it is also our duty to do whatever we can to help them,' he said.

Pressure from Peking kept the UN from inviting the Dalai Lama to the main conference, the largest international human rights gathering for 25 years. This should have kept him out of the vast Vienna Centre, which is regarded as UN territory for the duration of the conference, but under a compromise negotiated by Alois Mock, the Austrian Foreign Minister and conference chairman, he was allowed to address a special meeting organised by Amnesty International.

China remained unrepentant yesterday, saying: 'We are opposed to any contact between the Dalai Lama and any government official of any country in any form,' and hinting that the affair might damage relations with Austria. The Austrian Foreign Ministry retorted: 'They would have to put 15 men around every participant of the conference to prevent contacts with the Dalai Lama.'

Chinese efforts to keep the Buddhist leader away aroused strong opposition from Western governments and non-governmental organisations, and drew further attention to Peking's intolerance of criticism. Recently there was controversy when the UN Secretary-General, Boutros Boutros Ghali, prevented the exiled Chinese dissident Shen Tong from giving a press conference at UN headquarters in New York. He answered questions on the pavement outside.

Yesterday Russia gave its support to proposals for a UN human rights commissioner and an international human rights court, leaving China alone among Security Council powers in opposing them, but Peking is likely to find considerable backing for its stand among Third World states.