Thank you, Tencho and Tomáš, for the kind introduction.

Good morning and tashi delek. It’s a pleasure to be with everyone here today in beautiful Prague. My name is Uzra Zeya, and I am the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.

I would first like to thank the International Campaign for Tibet for organizing this session; our distinguished moderator and speakers for providing their insights on this vitally important issue; and to the Czech Republic for hosting this year’s International Religious Freedom or Belief Alliance Ministerial Conference. Thank you, all.

My friends, we gather here today in a world marked by conflict. From Russia’s ongoing war against Ukraine; Hamas’ brutal terrorism in Israel and the ensuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza; to genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang and increasing repression throughout the People’s Republic of China—these are times when peace feels uncertain. Around the world, we see authoritarian governments that are increasingly intolerant of ideas, beliefs, and practices different than their own. They espouse political systems that ignore and even undermine internationally recognized human rights; democratic governance; and rule of law. The tragic events unfolding in Tibet mark just one example of this troubling dynamic.

Tibetan Buddhism — a religion Tibetan Buddhists describe as rooted in compassion, empathy, and nonviolence — lies at the heart of Tibet’s identity and cultural heritage. In most Tibetan homes, you will find an altar with images of the Buddha of Compassion, “Chen-Ray-Zig.” Prayers mark the hours of the day, and monasteries dot the landscape. Monks and nuns, who play revered roles in Tibetan society, serve as leaders, educators, and stewards of Tibet’s language and environment, passing their knowledge down to future generations. As I’m sure my Tibetan friends would agree: for many Tibetans, their Buddhist faith is inextricably linked to Tibetan identity.

And yet, Chinese Communist Party officials somehow portray this religion of peace as an existential threat to the People’s Republic of China, or the PRC. Tibetan Buddhism runs contrary to Chinese Communist Party ideology, which dictates that loyalty to the party is paramount and that religion and spirituality are phenomena to be controlled and co-opted by the state. For decades, the PRC has developed a draconian system of repression that aims to “Sinicize” Tibetan Buddhism. It seeks to subsume this rich and vibrant spiritual tradition into the PRC’s political framework and reshape its core tenets in accordance with the values of the CCP.

For example, so-called “patriotic campaigns” require monks and nuns to pledge loyalty to the Chinese state. They must obtain permission to travel or hold religious events and gatherings. The state approves reincarnations and even maintains a registry of officially recognized lamas. And perhaps most concerning, the PRC has made clear that they have every intention of co-opting the succession process of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

These restrictions also apply to lay Tibetans: children are prohibited from participating in religious activities or even receiving religious education. Families are no longer able to hang pictures of His Holiness in their homes. Gone are the prayer flags that used to flutter in the crisp air of the Tibetan plateau.

Looking outward, the PRC’s interference in Tibetan Buddhism extends beyond its borders, demonstrating a troubling pattern of transnational repression. This aligns with broader PRC efforts to reshape the global human rights discourse, especially regarding the right to freedom of religion or belief. The international community’s response to PRC abuses is, therefore, not only directly tied to the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Tibetans—it is an affirmation of our collective commitment to safeguarding human rights.

It is in these challenging times that we need to look to leaders like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who remind us that despite the challenges, despite the uncertainty, there is always hope. And that hope, that possibility for positive change, needs to be undergirded by our actions. It is here that we — as policymakers and advocates — have an indispensable role to play. The United States is meeting this call to action in three important ways.

First, the United States has deepened its engagement with partners and allies, recognizing that multilateral collaboration is foundational to building broad and results-oriented advocacy for the Tibetan community. In August, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Switzerland, and United Kingdom co-sponsored a Department of State-supported event at the World Water Week conference in Stockholm, which raised awareness of the PRC’s unsustainable environmental practices on the Tibetan Plateau and displacement of Tibetan nomads. Over the course of the past year, we also saw Tibet highlighted in high-profile multilateral statements, including from the G7, expressing serious concern over the human rights situation in the PRC. We will continue to increase international solidarity in support of Tibetans’ human rights and preservation of their unique cultural, linguistic, and religious identity.

Second, as the Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, I am proud that the United States continues to lead in bringing attention to the PRC’s human rights abuses. We continue to call on the PRC to resume meaningful and direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama or his representatives, without preconditions, at the highest levels of our government. This past February, we hosted the first in-person Losar celebration since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with representatives from over a dozen countries. There, Secretary Blinken reaffirmed the State Department’s resolve to defend and promote the human rights of Tibetans and recommitted to working alongside the global Tibetan community. It is events like this where we remember the importance of celebrating Tibet’s rich religious, linguistic, and cultural heritage and passing it on to the next generation.

And finally, the United States is backing up our words with our actions. This past August, the Department of State took historic steps to impose visa restrictions against PRC officials involved in the forced assimilation of over one million Tibetan children in government-run boarding schools. Last December, the United States also designated two PRC officials under the Global Magnitsky sanctions program in connection with serious human rights abuses in Tibet. Moreover, the United States is proud to be one of the leading donors to Tibetan communities worldwide, providing more than $24 million this past year for cultural and linguistic preservation efforts; scholarships for Tibetan youth; support for Tibetan Institutes across Asia; development of the CTA’s virtual election system; healthcare, education, and job training; and so much more.

This week, my esteemed colleague Rashad Hussain, the United States’ Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom, and I are honored to participate in the IRFBA Ministerial Conference. We are here to promote respect for freedom of religion or belief, as well as advance avenues to protect members of religious minority groups, including Tibetans. But, let me be clear: our work does not stop here. The United States’ resolve is unwavering, and we will continue to work tirelessly to advance the human rights and dignity of all Tibetans.

Let me leave you with this: for decades, the Dalai Lama has used his faith as a bridge to connect with others and uncover the common thread of our shared humanity. This week, let us continue this work: promoting dialogue, building understanding, and creating a freer and more just world for all.

Thank you.

U.S. Department of State

The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future