Exclusive - China urges diplomats and U.N. to boycott Dalai Lama in Geneva

GENEVA (Reuters) - China has written to diplomats and U.N. officials urging them not to attend a Geneva event on Friday where the Dalai Lama will speak, reasserting that it opposes his appearance at all venues due to his “separatist activities”.

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama yawns as he delivers the Jangchup Lamrim teachings at the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery in Bylakuppe in the southern state of Karnataka, India, December 28, 2015. REUTERS/Abhishek N. Chinnappa/Files

Reuters reported in October that China is waging a campaign of intimidation, obstruction and harassment that Western diplomats and activists say is aimed at silencing criticism of its human rights record at the United Nations.

The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Price in 1989, fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against Communist rule. China views him as a separatist, but Tibet’s spiritual leader says he only wants genuine autonomy for his homeland.

In a letter seen by Reuters on Thursday, China’s diplomatic mission in Geneva raised objections about the presence of Tibet’s spiritual leader on the panel of Nobel laureates, being held at the Geneva Graduate Institute.

“Inviting the 14th Dalai Lama to the aforementioned event violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, in contravention of the purposes and principles of the U.N. Charter. China resolutely opposes the 14th Dalai Lama’s separatist activities in whatever capacity and in whatever name in any country, organisation or event,” it said.

The letter was dated March 8, the day that the event - being sponsored by the United States and Canada - was announced.

“The Permanent Mission of China kindly requests the Permanent Missions of all Member States, U.N. agencies and relevant International Organizations not to attend the above-mentioned event, nor meet the 14th Dalai Lama and his clique.”

U.N. spokesman in Geneva Ahmad Fawzi confirmed that U.N. agencies and offices in the Swiss city had received China’s letter. “We take note but of course we are not bound by instructions from member states,” he said.

A U.S. spokesman declined to comment on the letter saying: “I refer you to Chinese authorities for their views. We do not comment on the substance of our diplomatic exchanges.”

Philippe Burrin, director of the Geneva institute, said that “pressures are being applied from various sides” but the event would not be cancelled.

“This is a question of freedom of expression and academic freedom to organise an event,” he told Reuters.

“It is not an event on Tibet, it is not on a politically sensitive subject, i.e. territorial issues, but on the role of civil society in promoting human rights,” he said.

At the U.N. Human Rights Council’s main annual four-week session no delegation is expected to make a formal complaint about China but there has been criticism recently of its mass arrests of lawyers, including from the United States.

A rare joint statement criticising that crackdown, sponsored by a dozen countries, was read out by U.S. ambassador Keith Harper to the forum on Thursday.

China’s envoy strongly rejected the censure and said the United States was hypocritical and guilty of crimes including the rape and murder of civilians.

Friday’s event, also featuring Nobel laureates from Iran and Yemen, will take place on the sidelines of the U.N. session.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kate Gilmore, the panel’s moderator, is believed to be one of the first senior U.N. officials to meet the Dalai Lama.

Thursday is the fifty-seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Tibetan people’s peaceful uprising against China’s invasion and occupation of Tibet.

Editing by Louise Ireland