US House lawmakers pass McGovern Bill to hold China accountable for Human Rights abuses in Tibet

Washington DC — Lawmakers in the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill Tuesday afternoon to update the 2002 Tibetan Policy Act, the latest in a series of congressional moves to strengthen America's stance towards the communist-authoritarian regime in China.

The Tibet Policy and Support Act, introduced by Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat, alongside a bipartisan roster of cosponsors, passed with an overwhelming vote of 392-22.

The legislation would establish as US policy that the succession of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, be left solely to the Tibetan Buddhist community, without interference from the Chinese government.

The bill states that if Chinese officials interfere in the process of recognizing a successor or reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, they will be subject to sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. It also calls for the establishment of a US consulate in Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The ongoing repression and occupation of Tibet is an international issue. "It should be clear that we support a positive and productive US-China relationship," McGovern said ahead of the vote. "But it is essential that human rights of all the people in China are respected by their government."

On the House Floor, McGovern says his bill “reaffirms America’s commitment to the idea that human rights matter.”

Video of McGovern’s remarks on the House Floor shortly before passage (YouTube)

Full Text of the Bill (PDF)

On Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representative passed, by a vote of 392 to 22, a bipartisan bill introduced by Congressman James P. McGovern (D-MA), Chairman of the House Rules Committee and the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, to update and strengthen the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 and address the ongoing oppression of the Tibetan people by the Chinese government.

In the seventeen years since the original Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 was signed into law as part of the FY2003 Foreign Relations Authorization Act (P.L. 107-228), the human rights situation in Tibet has gotten considerably worse.

The Chinese government refuses a dialogue with Tibetan leaders. Chinese officials continue to threaten the religious freedom of Tibetans to select Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama – in clear violation of China’s international obligations to protect religious freedom. The policies of the Chinese government have severely degraded Tibetan religion, culture, language, livelihoods, and the environment.

Key Quotes from Chairman McGovern’s remarks on the House Floor shortly before the bill’s passage:

  • “Our bill updates and strengthens the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 to address the challenges facing the Tibetan people. But perhaps as importantly, it reaffirms America’s commitment to the idea that human rights matter. That we care about those who are oppressed, and we stand with those who are struggling for freedom. That we have a moral obligation to do something when we see something that is not right.”
  • “It should be clear that we support a positive and productive U.S-China relationship but it is essential that the human rights of all the people of China are respected by their government.”
  • “Unfortunately, the human rights situation in Tibet has gotten much worse. The Chinese government has refused to enter into genuine dialogue with Tibetan leaders. Restrictions on access to Tibet, for both Tibetans and foreigners, have been tightened. International journalists have stated that the isolation of Tibet is as bad as North Korea, allowing human rights abuses and environmental degradation to be concealed from the outside world.
  • “Last year, the Congress passed the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act to demand that American journalists, diplomats, and tourists be given the same freedom to travel to Tibet that Chinese officials have to travel freely in America. I hope to see a report from the State Department, that was due in December, describing the steps the Administration has taken to implement this policy over the last year.”
  • “The Dalai Lama should be commended for his decision to devolve political authority to elected leaders. The Tibetan exile community is also to be commended for adopting a system of self-governance with democratic institutions to choose their own leaders including holding multiple “free and fair” elections to select its parliament and chief executive.”
  • “Standing together, the American people will remain steadfast partners of the Tibetan people.”

If passed by the Senate and signed into law by the president, Chairman McGovern’s bill would:

  • Establish as U.S. policy that the succession or reincarnation of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is an exclusively religious matter that should be decided solely by the Tibetan Buddhist community.
  • Send a clear message that Chinese officials who interfere in the succession or reincarnation process will be subject to targeted financial, economic, and visa-related sanctions, including those contained in the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • Strengthen the role of the State Department Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues by including a mandate to work multilaterally to promote a genuine dialogue.
  • Mandate that no new Chinese consulates should be established in the United States until a U.S. consulate is established in Tibet’s historical capital of Lhasa.
  • Direct the State Department to begin collaborative, multinational efforts to protect the environment and water resources of the Tibetan Plateau. Support democratic governance in the Tibetan exile community.


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Dr Lobsang Sangay served as the Tibetan Prime Minister in exile from 2011 to 2021. He is the first person without a monastic background to hold this position. He was born in 1968 in a refugee community in Darjeeling, India.