Tibetan advocacy groups and concerned individuals on Monday delivered a petition to the World Health Organization, demanding that it approve the recognition of a Tibetan refugee hospital selected for a public health award, alleging Chinese government interference in blocking the prize.
The petition, addressed to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan and bearing 1,600 signatures, was delivered to WHO staffers at the organization's office in Washington, Tibetan activist Jigme Ugen told RFA in an interview.
“They accepted the petition, and committed to send it on [to WHO headquarters in Geneva] today,” said Ugen, who is president of the Tibetan National Congress—one of 15 groups sponsoring the petition.
The Dharamsala, India-based Delek Hospital, which treats thousands of Tibetans and Indians suffering from tuberculosis, had already been approved for the U.S. $65,000 Kochon Prize by the Stop-TB Partnership, “and what they needed was a final approval from the WHO, which has delayed its recognition,” Ugen said.
Chinese diplomats have demanded that the award be blocked, Ugen said, adding, “This has never happened before. The award has never been denied.”
“They are trying to run out 2013 and move into 2014, so that the issue can be swept under the rug,” he said.
“Tibetans in exile have one of the highest rates of tuberculosis in the world,” petition backers noted in a press release on Monday.
“[And] their status as refugees—which causes poverty, malnutrition, over-crowding, and migration—exacerbates this problem.”
“The abnormal rate of TB among Tibetans is directly linked to China’s oppression in Tibet which turned the Tibetans into refugees in the first place,” the statement said. “Ironically, China’s political meddling is now stopping these very Tibetans from curing their TB problem!”
Petition backers hope that the WHO will now “reconsider and endorse” what the Kochon Prize committee has already recommended, Ugen told RFA.
“But we will not just walk away from this. This is Step 1,” Ugen said.
“After Jan. 10, we will be escalating this campaign. We will be reaching out beyond our own organizations. We will try to align with organizations that really care about health care.”
The life-saving work done by doctors and staff at the Delek Hospital is now being denied recognition “because of what we sense is political pressure,” Ugen said.
“The world needs to see this—the hypocrisy of it—and we need explanations.”
'Bound by policies'
Reached for comment, a Geneva-based WHO spokesperson acknowledged Delek Hospital's "excellence in care and control of TB," but noted the facility's close connection to Tibet's India-based exile government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).
"The hospital is accountable to, and audited by, the CTA," the health organization said.
"WHO is a UN organization, and despite the good work of this hospital, WHO is bound by the policies of the UN, and as such, it cannot award this prize to an institution dependent on an authority not recognized by [the] United Nations."
"Therefore, while we are grateful for the work of this hospital, we cannot recognize that with the Kochon Award."