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UBC Reports | Vol. 47 | No. 05 | Mar. 8, 2001

Student speaks out for human rights

A UBC student suggests other students incorporate their education as a tool to effect change

by Kate Woznow

In mid-February, rather than spending the time writing my mid-term for International Relations 260, I joined a trio of Canadian students who decided to create an international incident of our own.

Freya Putt, Sam Price and myself, all members of the organization Students for a Free Tibet, participated in a public action directed towards members of the Team Canada trade delegation in Beijing, China.

We were protesting China's 52-year occupation of Tibet and the absence of this issue from the Team Canada agenda.

Our action is referred to as a direct action. It is a tactic used by non-government organizations to propel an issue of concern into the national spotlight, hopefully attracting media attention.

Unfurling a banner in the lobby area within the vicinity of an international signing ceremony celebrating $1.4 billion worth of business deals, and having the event covered by national media outlets is deemed a successful action.

The publicity and reaction this action has received will hopefully benefit the six million Tibetans who continue to live under the repression of the Chinese government.

The momentum created by this action will continue to direct our efforts towards a peaceful resolution to this situation, unlike the prime minister's human rights speeches in China which by now have probably been forgotten by his hosts.

My interest in Tibet arose as a result of a visit I made there in 1999.

After graduating from high school, a friend and myself, feeling unsure of our academic pursuits in university, decided to work abroad in China.

We spent 10 months traveling and working in the country before joining my father in the western city of Chengdu, China and from there flew to Lhasa, Tibet.

Having no previous exposure to the political situation and history of this region, my first thought was how different Tibet and Tibetans were from their Chinese neighbours.

Within Lhasa there is a very distinctive divide between the Chinese quarter and the Tibetan quarter.

Equally evident was the tense atmosphere especially prevalent in the larger Tibetan cities where many of the pro-independence demonstrations have taken place.

It was a relief to leave this tension for the scenic countryside but the poverty of the local inhabitants, mostly nomads, and the ever-present evidence of Chinese soldiers was unavoidable.

The determination I saw exercised by the Tibetan people to preserve their unique culture left me with a desire to help their cause.

When I began my university studies at UBC in 2000, I was able to become pro-active in the Students for a Free Tibet (SFT) chapter which has been operating since 1998.

Our chapter is one of the more than 600 SFT chapters worldwide. Becoming involved with a group of students who shared my concern for the Tibet situation has become a central focus of my university experience.

Through my work with this group, I have experienced an education far beyond the constraints of our beautiful, yet isolated campus.

Students become very focused on the subject material they are studying. However, it is important that we incorporate, whenever possible, our education as a tool to effect change.

If I learned one thing from my recent experience in Beijing, Canadian students are fortunate for the daily freedoms we take for granted.

This is not to say that human rights abuses do not occur in Canada. Some of them have taken place on the very land where our campus is located.

But, students have the power to speak out.

Because we cannot always rely on our government officials and the business community to speak out for those citizens who are silent and do not share our freedoms, I believe it is our responsibility to be heard.

Kate Woznow, a second-year Political Science student, captured world media attention when she and a fellow protestor staged a brief human rights protest in the lobby of a Beijing hotel where Prime Minister Jean Chretien's Team Canada trade delegation was meeting with Chinese firms.

She is president of Students for a Free Tibet at UBC.


Last reviewed 22-Sep-2006

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