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China Agrees to International Resolution to Protect Asia's Rivers

[International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet; October 16, 2000.]

International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet


For Immediate Release

October 16, 2000

Berkeley, California: A resolution to protect Asia's major river systems was adopted at the 2nd World Conservation Congress by the World Conservation Union (IUCN) held in Amman, Jordan, October 4 - 11th. The resolution was sponsored by the Berkeley-based International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet (ICLT) with co-sponsors the Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society of Australia, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from India, Nepal, and Vietnam. "The resolution represents an important first step in getting the Chinese involved in cooperative environmental efforts," said ICLT delegation chairperson D'Arcy Richardson, "and in getting them to sit down with Tibetans to negotiate an agreement."

The resolution recognizes that overexploitation or misuse of Asia's major river systems could negatively affect these systems as well as the livelihoods of a significant proportion of the world's population. It sets up a process to evaluate and recommend mechanisms for conservation and sustainable management of these waters for the common interest of the riparian countries.

The resolution -- a compromise from its original language -- was hammered out, in face-to-face negotiations, between Chinese government delegates and the sponsors, including Tibetan representatives. "While the language of the resolution was weaker than what we wanted," Richardson said, "we preserved the ability of the Tibetans to participate thus lending legitimacy to their ownership of the resources in Tibet. We hope to build the case that regardless of Tibet's political status, Tibetans should still have the right to control their own resources. As it now stands, the environmental relationship between China and Tibet is one of a colony where resources are extracted and the benefits accrue to the occupier, not the local people."

The Congress was the largest environmental gathering of the millennium, bringing together over 2,000 delegates from all over the world. The focus of the Congress was "EcoSpace" -- the concept that environmental issues cross national boundaries and need to be dealt with cooperatively on an international scale. "One of the objectives of our resolution was to bring the Chinese into a dialogue about what happens with the rivers that flow from the Tibetan Plateau," said ICLT delegate Tashi Tsering. "Up to this point, China has been unwilling to participate in other international mechanisms that have been created, such as the Mekong River Commission, but we still believe that environmental issues are the best place to search for common ground between China and Tibet."

"As a Tibet advocacy organization, IUCN is an important forum for us," Tsering said. "It's one of the few places where Tibetans have a voice in an international arena, where we can advocate for ourselves."

IUCN is a unique international forum, where governmental and non-governmental delegates have equal status, thus allowing Tibetans who are members of NGO's to be part of the discussion and decision-making process. Other ICLT delegates to the Congress were Lhadon Tethong with Students for a Free Tibet, New York and Lorne Stockman, coordinator of the International Tibet Support Group Network based in London. Stockman had earlier in the year represented ICLT at the Second World Water Forum & Ministerial Conference in The Hague.

"The resolution," Richardson said, "recognizes that environmental problems need regional and local collaboration of all parties, leaving room for Tibetan participation. However, the success of the resolution will depend, in large part, on the will of IUCN members and the Secretariat to carry out its mandate. There is strong support for Tibet from within the NGO-IUCN community. With this resolution, and the one on Yamdrok Tso passed at the first IUCN Congress in Montreal in 1996, we have started to build precedents that we can use in the future -- hopefully, to help bring the Chinese to the table to negotiate a peace agreement with the Tibetans."

The full text of resolution is attached below.

The International Committee of Lawyers for Tibet advocates self-determination for the Tibetan people. Through legal action and education, ICLT promotes human rights, environmental protection, and peaceful resolution of the situation in Tibet. A non-profit membership organization, based in Berkeley, California, ICLT is supported by attorneys, other concerned individuals, and organization. See our website: www.tibeticlt.org.

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ACKNOWLEDGING that Asia's major river systems, including their watershed areas, support the livelihoods of a significant proportion of the world's human population both within and across countries;

AWARE that these river systems are home to a great diversity of ecosystems with a wealth of plant and animal life;

FURTHER AWARE that overexploitation or misuse of these river systems and their surrounding lands may lead to habitat loss, species extinction, soil erosion, siltation, pollution, flooding, and unstable water flows that may threaten the integrity of these rivers;

ENCOURAGED by the recent efforts of riparian countries to address critical issues affecting the protection of these waters, such as: a) logging bans in the upper watersheds of the Yangtze; b) the commitment to establish a wetlands reserve to protect the headwaters of the Yangtze, Yellow, and Lancang (Mekong) Rivers; c) coordination by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam on Mekong River conservation; and d) NGO [non-governmental organizations] initiatives for forest protection in the Himalayan region;

APPLAUDING the World Conservation Union's proposed Overall Quadrennial Programme for 2001-2004;

NOTING its orientation towards producing measurable progress in each of its seven Key Result Areas, including ecosystem protection;

EMPHASIZING that any efforts to protect and manage these river systems should take into account the needs of local people to maintain their livelihood, and should involve local communities in this process in order to be effective and sustainable;

RECALLING Resolution 19.23 (The important of community-based approaches) adopted by the 19th Session of the General Assembly (Buenos Aires, 1994) and Recommendation 1.42 (Collaborative management for conservation) adopted by the 1st Session of the World Conservation Congress (Montreal, 1996);

The World Conservation Congress at its 2nd Session in Amman, Jordan, 4-11 October 2000:

CALLS ON the riparian countries to utilise fully the existing co-operative mechanisms and arrangements for conservation and sustainable management of these important waters; and REQUESTS the Director General to:

a) Conduct a study on the necessity and feasibility of establishing a new mechanism for conservation and sustainable management of these waters for the common interest of the riparian countries;

b) On completion of this study to convene, if necessary, a meeting of governments and organisations of riparian countries to discuss the findings of the study and determine agreed appropriate follow up actions;

c) Assist in obtaining the necessary funding for activities related to this resolution; and

d) Report back to IUCN membership on progress made on this resolution at the next session of the Congress.

-- 2nd World Conservation Union Congress Amman, Jordan, October 4-11, 2000

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