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The 2008 Olympics have focused our attention on China and its amazing fanfare and beautiful accomplishments in preparation for hosting the worlds premier sporting event. With what little bits and pieces I’ve been able to watch, I am very impressed with the spectacle.

However, every time I sit down to watch a bit of the Olympic games, I can’t help but think about Tibet. In the early 1950s, China invaded Tibet and occupied it and coerced the government into a “17 Point Agreement” that China still uses today to justify its unlawful annexation of Tibet. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties makes it clear that all treaties in international law are binding for the countries that sign and ratify them unless the agreement is signed under conditions of force or intimidation. By all accounts save the victors, this “agreement” was signed under such conditions.

After the initial occupation, Tibet was given a fair amount of autonomy. But, as the years stretched on and the natives resisted China’s rule, the tenor of the relationship become increasingly oppressive. By 1959, the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Dalai Lama, was forced to flee the country for his own safety. The much of the legitimate Tibetan government was forced to follow suit and now rules in exile from India.

Last year, the U.S. news was atwitter (rightly so) criticizing the Burmese junta that hindered the distribution of supplies, food and assistance in the aftermath of the cyclone that struck Burma/Myanmar. A bit later, international flak continued as the Burmese government cracked down and committed atrocities against anti-government demonstrators and Buddhist monks.

With the eyes focused on China and the Olympic games, though, we seem to be ignoring the very similar behavior by China against Tibet for fear we might dampen the sporty spirit and miss all the pretty logos and advertisements that are running at a premium during the games. After all, talking about how the death toll of Tibetan monks and civilian demonstrators has passed 150 or the fact that literally thousands of Tibetan demonstrators that were “detained” during protests have yet to be accounted for isn’t exactly the kind of thing you want people to be thinking about when the commercial break hits. If so, they might ignore the car commercial or the new diet pills and get off the couch to do something.

Unfortunately, the Chinese government will likely ramp up the violence to try to keep things quiet so most of us can watch the Olympics in peace. And sure, Bush made some remarks about China needing to curtail violence in Tibet. I find them hallow words, considering they’re coming from a man who has started a war considered near-unanimously throughout the world to be unjust, unlawful and disastrous. And let’s not ignore that these words come from a man who has exploited the atrocities of 9/11 to justify torture and reject human rights and civil liberties for an “any means necessary” agenda.

No, the outcry against China’s abuse of Tibet will continue to be relegated to the back pages of the New York Times and mentioned in the margins, op-eds and opinion pages of mainstream media. And, once the fanfare of the Olympic games fades from earshot, I’m sure the sparse coverage and attention that the protests by the Tibetan peoples have gotten will follow suit.

This means that it will be up to people like you and me to keep the lens of humanity focused intently on the people of Tibet. We’ll need to write our local papers and flood online forums with a steady stream of letters and posts to help ensure that the oppressors and the oppressed are not set loose from our collective conscience and memory as soon as the NBC and CNN camera crews pack up and leave Beijing.

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