Human Rights Watch Urges South Africa to Allow Visit by Dalai Lama

Posted September 30th, 2011 at 1:00 am (UTC-5)
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A leading human rights group is urging South African authorities to allow the Dalai Lama to visit the country next week, saying the government should not block his visit because of alleged Chinese pressure.

Human Rights Watch says South Africa's reluctance to issue an entry visa for the Tibetan spiritual leader “has no objective basis” and appears to be because of “fear of Chinese government displeasure.”

The Dalai Lama has been invited to attend next week's 80th birthday celebrations of anti-apartheid icon Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He is also scheduled to deliver a lecture on international peace at the festivities in Cape Town.

But his visa request, which was originally submitted in June, has so far not been granted by South African authorities, who say the application is still under consideration.

A South African official on Wednesday denied allegations that his government was under pressure from China, a key trading partner, to block the Dalai Lama's visit. China regularly applies diplomatic pressure to governments that permit visits by the Dalai Lama.

Beijing has often accused the Dalai Lama and his followers of advocating Tibetan secession, despite repeated assurances from the Buddhist leader that he is seeking dialogue with China aimed only at establishing Tibetan autonomy.

Earlier this week, a joint statement by the Desmond Tutu Peace Center and the Office of Tibet in Pretoria said the South African government's slow response to the visa application has been “profoundly disrespectful” to the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Tutu, both Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

The statement also said the government's delay was “reminiscent of the way authorities dealt with applications by black South Africans for travel documents under apartheid.”

Human rights groups previously criticized South Africa for refusing to let the Dalai Lama enter the country in 2009.

South African Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe has been in China on a diplomatic visit, where Chinese authorities have praised him for his “valuable support” on the Tibet issue.