The International Tibet Network was created in 2000 at an international conference of Tibet campaigners, in response to clearly identified needs for more effective international coordination of campaigns to help the Tibetan people.
For the first 40 years after China’s invasion of Tibet, the Tibetan people and their exile government received little active support or attention from the international community. (Three United Nations resolutions on Tibet were adopted between 1959 and 1965; however China joined the UN in 1971, and Tibet was not mentioned again until 1985, when a non-governmental organisation raised the issue.) In the late 1980s, however, the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government in Exile, Tibetans inside Tibet and fewer than a dozen small Tibet Support Groups achieved unprecedented international media and public attention for the issue of Tibet. As a result, the Tibet support movement grew at a phenomenal rate. Today more than 200 Tibet Support Groups and Tibetan organisations, in over 50 countries, are working actively to find a peaceful resolution to the occupation of Tibet.
This rapid growth, however, was not accompanied by the development of an organisational structure through which the various parts of this movement could effectively strategise and coordinate their actions for maximum impact. Tibet groups frequently struggled on their own to find appropriate strategies. Often good ideas were not translated into action for lack of follow-through. There were successes, but many campaigns were isolated, duplicated the efforts of others and failed to benefit from resources within the movement. Many groups lacked a coherent strategic plan or failed to clearly define their objectives and actions. As a result many campaigns that could have had a huge impact achieved only limited attention.
In 1999, Lobsang Gyalpo initiated a discussion about these shortcomings, and Thupten Samdup convened an ad hoc committee of Tibet campaigners, who together developed a proposal to create an international network. The proposal was unanimously welcomed by delegates at the 3rd International Tibet Support Group Conference in Berlin in 2000, and the International Tibet Support Network was born.
Until 2005, the Network struggled to find the resources to make a major impact but had modest success. The Network functioned primarily through a globally elected body of voluntary Steering Committee members who hired a part-time Coordinator and established some mechanisms for coordination. A breakthrough was made in late 2005, when the International Tibet Support Network secured a major “start-up” grant from the Isdell Foundation.
In 2006 substantial progress was made, including the employment of the first Executive Director and two Regional Coordinators. Three Regional Meetings were convened and the Network expanded its membership and resources.
In 2007 the Secretariat appointed an Olympics Campaign Coordinator, formally launched the Olympics Campaign, held a movement-wide consultation on post-Olympic strategic priorities, and organised an international members’ meeting and training.
In 2008 there were three Regional Meetings in Mexico City, Budapest, and Dharamsala, for the Americas, Europe and Asia respectively. A new Strategic Plan was completed, and a vigorous and widespread Olympics Campaign was conducted. The International Tibet Support Network also led the movement’s response to the biggest Uprisings in Tibet since 1959.
In 2009, the Steering Committee appointed a Campaigns Coordintaor to implement its Strategic Plan, and Network members carried out a global campaign to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising of 1959, the year the Dalai Lama left Tibet for exile. At the end of the year a Network-facilitated group of Tibetans and supporters attended the Climate Change Negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15) under the umbrella “Tibet Third Pole“. Regional Meetings took place in Dublin and Mexico City.
In 2010 further Regional Meetings were held in New York state and Dharamsala, India. The Network promoted actions on behalf of three political prisoners – Dhondup Wangchen, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche and Runggye Adak – as part of the “Free Tibetan Heroes” campaign, and a number of other campaign initiatives including resources to support Tibetan Cultural Resistance, to highlight the protests by students in defence of the Tibetan language, and to mark His Holiness’ 75th birthday.
In November 2010, the International Tibet Support Network changed its name to the International Tibet Network, to clarify that the Network is for all Tibet groups, not just Tibet Support Groups. Its Mission was unchanged. An International Meeting of Network Members was held in conjunction with the Tibetan Government-convened 6th International Tibet Support Group Conference.
In 2011 the Network held Regional Meetings in Asia, Europe and Mexico. We hosted the world’s first online press conference using Google+ in response to the 60th anniversary of China’s “peaceful liberation” of Tibet and launched a major public awareness and advocacy campaign “Stand Up for Tibet” in response to the emerging wave of self-immolations in Tibet.
In 2012 the Network continued to develop and expand “Stand Up for Tibet” campaign, and launched “Xi Jinping’s Tibet Challenge” prior to China’s Communist Party leadership handover. Regional Meetings were held in the Americas and Mexico and Network staff worked with the Tibetan Government in Exile on the implementation of campaign planning processes at an International Special TSG Meeting in Dharamsala, India in response to the self-immolation crisis, and facilitated workshops at 6th World Parliamentarians’ Convention for Tibet. A Secretariat Assistant was recruited to expand campaign support and Member outreach.
During 2013, the Network gave a greater focus to United Nations work, participating in China’s Universal Periodic Review, and campaigning to oppose China’s re-election to the UN Human Rights Council, as had been agreed during the Special TSG Meeting at the end of 2012. The “Stand Up for Tibet” campaign continued to be a major focus, with the tragic milestone of 100 self-immolations in Tibet being reached in February 2013. The Network also gave voice to the movement’s outrage at two major shooting incidents in Tibet during 2013 – in Tawu, eastern Tibet on the Dalai Lama’s birthday, and in Driru, central Tibet, in October. In addition to many other projects, the Network Secretariat also led a response to the rapid urban development of Lhasa which put the traditional character of the city at risk. A European Regional Meeting was held in Basel, in September.