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Tashi Namgyal remembers fleeing his homeland of Tibet in 1957, when he was 5 years old. The Chinese invasion had just reached his nomadic encampment when he set out on foot with a neighbor to make his way to Nepal. “We came by foot, by horse, by yak,” he says, on a trek that lasted two years. Namgyal was lucky; many refugees don’t survive. Namgyal told his story and that of the Tibetan people at a brown-bag lunch sponsored by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. The lunch, held at Heller Ehrman White & McAuliffe, highlighted the committee’s “commitment to providing pro bono counsel to refugees worldwide,” says Yvonne Troya, legal assistant at the Lawyers’ Committee. “It was a great opportunity, when we heard he was going to be in town, to inform our volunteers and the general public about the ongoing human rights violations in Tibet.” In a 31st floor conference room overlooking the bay were gathered two dozen lawyers, paralegals, and others interested in doing what they can to help Tibetan refugees and other victims of human rights violations. Namgyal recounted some of what he’s seen in positions that include joint secretary of the Department of Security for the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, deputy secretary of the Department of Health and officer of the Tibetan settlement in Mainpat, Central India. He told the committee members that China neglects the education of Tibetan children. He described the discrimination against Tibetans in their homeland and told of the destruction of Tibetan monasteries. “When these particular institutions are closed, then it denies the Tibetan people [the right] to preserve and promote their own culture, religion and intelligence,” Namgyal says. “The Chinese see these monasteries as a center of the resistance movement.” Namgyal says that approximately 6,500 of the 7,000 monasteries in Tibet have been destroyed since the Chinese took control of the country. His stories helped remind the pro bono group in the conference room why the work it does is so important. And as harsh a world as Namgyal described in both his homeland and Nepal, one attorney sitting beside him said Namgyal was still holding back. Refugees who leave Tibet for Nepal often find more hardship and heartache. “He’s being too nice in talking about the Tibetan situation in Nepal — it’s horrendous,” says John Burgess, a solo practitioner who volunteers with the human rights committee. “They suffer terribly, they have no rights, they are an oppressed minority and there is absolutely no resettlement.” For more information about the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, call (415) 543-9444.

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