As Mr Thubten Samdup reaches the end of his tenure as the Dalai Lama’s Representative for Northern Europe at the Office of Tibet, London, Mr Tsering Passang, who works for Tibet Relief Fund, London, speaks to him about the range of responsibilities that this diplomatic position without diplomatic accreditation entails. Mr Samdup is a 2005 recipient of the ‘Unsung Heroes of Compassion’ award from the Wisdom in Action, a California Bay Area non-profit organization.
Q1: Your official position is Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama for Northern Europe. Do you simply represent His Holiness the Dalai Lama and support with facilitating his visits to the countries of your jurisdiction? Or do you also represent the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) in its pursuit of political, cultural and diplomatic relations with those countries? How many people are currently working at The Office of Tibet? There is also an affiliated charitable wing – the Tibet House Trust. A lot of things seem to be going on under your leadership! Please explain what you as Representative and The Office of Tibet do for Tibet and Tibetan people?
TS: In this role, we do both. His Holiness’ overseas trips are very important part of our job and we all take this responsibility very seriously. We also represent CTA. We meet regularly with officials from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and members of parliament from the countries under our jurisdictions.
In London office, there are only three people working in the office including the Representative. With our limited resources, we have tried to be strategic and with innovative ideas to further the cause of Tibet. I have always felt as a Representative of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, opportunities are limitless.
Q2: What level of recognition (diplomatic status) does the British Government (and also in other countries of your jurisdiction) give to the Central Tibetan Administration and The Office of Tibet? During His Holiness’s visits to the UK and other countries, what level of security protection and reception do the governments provide through your good offices?
TS: Of course no countries in the world recognize Tibet as an independent country and therefore the Office of Tibet and the Representative does not receive the diplomatic status. However, some of the smaller countries particularly the Baltics States treat us with more respect and they are more sympathetic.
I have found that most countries in Northern Europe provide reasonable security during His Holiness’ visit. For instance, Poland and some of Baltic States provide high level security. Whatever the reason the UK government’s security arrangement is minimal.
Q3: I learned that the Tibet House Trust has recently secured 1.5 million Euros for some capacity-building related programmes in the exiled Tibetan community. Can you please explain more about this grant and how it will be best utilised?
TS: Yes we have managed to raise 1.5 million Euros and it is being used for capacity building for human rights defenders.
Q4: In the past whenever His Holiness paid visits to the Houses of Parliament, The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tibet were involved to organise interaction with the British MPs, who are sympathetic to Tibet and the Tibetan people. However, in the case of the 2012 UK visit by His Holiness, I noted that, unlike your predecessors, you handled it differently. You involved The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Food & Security for His Holiness’s meeting with British MPs. This new approach has attracted the largest numbers of British MPs ever attending His Holiness’s event in parliament. Could you please share with us why you have done it this way?
TS: Yes this is true. It was handled differently in 2012 and the reason for this is simple. Most of the visits of His Holiness abroad, he meets politicians who are already supporters of Tibet and people knowledgeable about Tibet. I felt it is very important to be more strategic to invite and facilitate His Holiness to meet with new audience. For instance, many parliamentarians find it difficult to attend meeting with His Holiness when the invitation is extended from a Tibet friendly parliamentarian group like the APPG for Tibet for instance. That is why I decided to go with All Party Parliamentarian Group for Food & Security. There are 650 members of parliament in the British parliament, we must try and get those parliamentarians who may not necessarily have an interest in Tibet but interested in seeing His Holiness. This is the only opportunity when we can attract these politicians and diplomats alike.
Q5: In August 2009, you said that your London appointment was four-year term but you stayed on for five! What extra things have you achieved in the fifth year that you did not achieve during the original four-year mission?
TS: The reason we extended one more year is to finish off some of the work I had started for next year (2015) when His Holiness turns 80. I wanted make sure all loose ends are tied and my successor can follow up.
Q6: I hear that after leaving The Office of Tibet next month, you have plans to work on a youth employment initiative in the Tibetan settlements. Is this true? If so, please tell us what is this all about? Do you have funds available to kick-off your initiative?
TS: Yes it is true. I find it very important that we must come up with a strategic plan to help those young Tibetans who may choose to live in the community and raise their children in the Tibetan culture and also look after their aged parents. We must provide them with an option. Of course I have no magical solution but I am positive we can come up with something interesting to provide decent paying employment opportunities.
I had visited all the major Tibetan settlements in Karnataka State in 2006. During the visit, I felt something had to be done. Unfortunately, I had no time to devote to this project in the last 5 years in London. Now with little more time on hand and with cooperation with CTA, I want to try something innovative and sustainable project to help achieve this stated goal.
(*This interview was conducted and submitted by Mr Tsering Passang, of the Tibet Relief Fund, London)