[Tuesday 4 October] In the morning, prior to the audience with the Dalai Lama, the delegation visited the offices of the Department of Information and International Relations (DIIR) and the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (TCHRD).
Ms Dicki Chhoyang, Kalon (Minister) with responsibility for the DIIR, spoke about the function of the Department and answered questions from the MPs. As well being responsible for the information and international affairs of the exiled government, the DIIR looks after the 12 Offices of Tibet around the world (including one in London), the Environment Desk, Tibet Online TV (a web-based news service – http://www.tibetonline.tv) and the Tibet Museum (which also has overseas travelling exhibitions).
Ms Chhoyang answered questions on the case of the missing Panchen Lama, the new Kalon Tripa and strategies of communicating with the Chinese public. On the question of whether broadcasting the news of the recent immolations may have a negative impact on the Tibet movement and even encourage further immolations, Ms Chhoyang said that one “cannot ignore” what is happening and that it is important to report the truth even if it is uncomfortable.
The group were then given a tour of the Audio-Visual Department of the DIIR, including a visit to the set of Tibet Online TV. There was a humourous moment when James Gray sat at the news desk and pretended to present a new Tibetan programme featuring British MPs, though with a particular Conservative Party slant. (Jeremy Paxman’s job is safe for the time being!)
The delegation then crossed the corridor to the offices of the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy (a Tibetan-run NGO) and a meeting with the Executive Director Urgen Tenzin, who presented the MPs with khatags and TCHRD reports. After an introduction about the work of TCHRD, the group discussed details of human rights abuses, political prisoners and how information is sourced and verified.
Following the audience with the Dalai Lama and a quick break for a late lunch, the group were given tours of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives (LTWA) and the Tibetan Parliament building, located at Gangchen Kyishong in Lower Dharamsala. The Director of the LTWA, Geshe Lhakdor, personally guided the group around the Library building, which included a fascinating look behind-the-scenes at the museum and the processes involved in preserving its collection of Buddhist texts, scrolls and manuscripts. We were granted a rare look at a 12th century manuscript, the oldest one in the exiled government’s possession. The LTWA is currently in the process of digitalising and translating the thousands of items in its possession, in order to allow access by the public.
The Speaker of the Parliament, Penpa Tsering, then met the group and took us across the government compound, to the Parliament-in-exile building. We were shown the main chamber and the Speaker explained the set up of the parliament, the departments for which it is responsible and the election processes.
The Deputy Speaker, Lopon Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, several Chitues (members of parliament), and the former Speaker joined the delegation for tea. Comparisons between the British and exiled Tibetan parliaments were discussed. Of particular fascination to the Tibetan parliamentarians was the UK’s lack of a constitution, which led Simon Hughes to give a brief history of the British Parliament, from its beginnings in the 12th century up until the 20th century and the Suffragette movement.
In the evening the delegation members were guests of the Speaker of the Parliament and treated to a cultural performance and dinner. We were also joined by Tibetan MPs. The venue for the evening was the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Performers from TIPA showcased Tibetan culture with a series of traditional dances and songs in elaborate traditional costumes. The performance culminated with a dance that combined athletic prowess with graceful poise – producing a colourful whirlwind moving around the stage.
The day’s activities closed with a dinner, for the British and exiled Tibetan parliamentarians. Penpa Tsering, on behalf of the exiled Parliament, thanked the British MPs for their support and looked forward to strengthening the relationship with a visit of exiled Tibetan MPs to Westminster in the future (a programme which TIbet Society will be looking into for 2012 or 2013).