Tibetan justices resume duties after two-month hiatus

Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo (center), Justice Karma Damdul (left), and Justice Tenzin Lungtok pose for a photo before announcing the resumption of their duties after a two-month hiatus due to the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile unlawfully expelled them in March, at the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission, Dharamshala, India, on 24 May 2021.

Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo (center), Justice Karma Damdul (left), and Justice Tenzin Lungtok pose for a photo before announcing the resumption of their duties after a two-month hiatus due to the Tibetan Parliament-in-exile unlawfully expelled them in March, at the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission, Dharamshala, India, on 24 May 2021. Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission

By Lobsang Wangyal

McLEOD GANJ, India, 24 May 2021

Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo and the two Justice Commissioners Karma Damdul and Tenzin Lungtok of the Tibetan Supreme Justice Commission announced resumption of their duties from today after a two-month hiatus.

The Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, citing Article 58 of the exile Tibetan Charter, had terminated them from their posts on charges of interfering in the business of the House.

Later it came to light that the termination had violated Article 54 of the Charter, as due process was not followed. By this Article, for the termination of the justices, a parliamentary committee should have been formed, and their report submitted to the Parliament for discussion. This was never done.

However, just a few hours after the justices’ announcement, the Standing Committee of the Parliament criticised the justices for resuming their duties, saying the act would be in defiance of the Tibetan Charter. They didn’t give any reference to which Article the commissioners are violating. They further said that they will not follow up on the issue of the decision that terminated the three commissioners.

In reading the press statement online, Chief Justice Sonam Norbu Dagpo said that the three justices had temporarily halted their duties, recusing themselves because of conflict of interest, and have now decided to resume their duties considering various factors.

They had been urged to do so by thousands of people as well as the former Chief Justice and justices, former Kalon Tripas (post now known as Sikyong), and former ministers, former parliamentarians, former CTA staff, former NGO leaders, and various organisations.

A signed letter from 21 members of the Parliament was sent to the justices, admitting violation of the Charter in taking the 25 March decision terminating the justices. All 21 members have expressed their support for withdrawal of the unlawful decision, and assured the justices of their support in rejoining their duties.

“We resumed our duties to support continuation of the exile administration, save the democratic system, uphold the exile Tibetan Charter, protect the three pillars of Tibetan democracy, maintain peace and harmony in the Tibetan community, and particularly to prevent causing concern to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to avoid anguish among the Tibetans in Tibet.” Dagpo said in the statement.

He said that the resolution of their termination doesn’t hold legitimacy as it now lacked the required support of 2/3 of the members, and doesn’t see any basis to recuse themselves any longer.

Attempts to hold an extra session by the Parliament on the 24th of this month to resolve the crisis didn’t go through due to lack of quorum of 30 members out of 45, as 22 members have sent in their application to not attend the session. The session would have been another breach of the Charter, violating Articles 6 and 41.

With no Parliament session, there’s no way to officially withdraw the termination decision, as well as to amend the Charter to find a way to administer oath to the new Sikyong and the 17th Parliament.

Seeing no options, the Standing Committee had decided to consult the Dalai Lama in accordance with Article 1 of the Charter. In their public announcement, the Standing Committee has withdrawn that decision to approach the Dalai Lama.

However, without the Chief Justice and the two justices resuming their duties, the Tibetan administration would be without the full three pillars of democracy. The new Sikyong Penpa Tsering has to be administered oath of office by the Chief Justice on a date decided by him. Incumbent Sikyong Lobsang Sangay ends his term in two days on the 26th, and the 16th Parliament completes its term on the 29th of this month.


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