Lobsang Sangay LL.M. ’96 S.J.D. ’04 named prime minister of the Tibetan government in exile

Lobsang Sangay LL.M. '96 S.J.D. '04

Lobsang Sangay LL.M. ’96 S.J.D. ’04

Lobsang Sangay LL.M. ’96 S.J.D. ’04, the first Tibetan to attend Harvard Law School, has been certified as the new Kalon Tripa—a position often referred to as “prime minister” of a “Tibetan government-in-exile” headed by the Dalai Lama—following elections in March. Sangay was a research fellow at HLS’s East Asian Legal Studies Program.

In 1995, Sangay was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and obtained his masters of law degree at HLS, writing his thesis on Buddhism and Human Rights. In the summer of 1996, he received a fellowship from the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva, Switzerland and helped research the report “Tibet: Human Rights and Rule of Law, “ which was published in 1997. In 1996, he received a prestigious Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the Pacific Basin Research Center and wrote a chapter on the Tibetan Educational System for a book titled “Human Rights and Human Values in Asia-Pacific Region.“

As a doctoral candidate at HLS in 2004, Sangay was a co-recipient of the Yong K. Kim Prize, awarded annually at Commencement in recognition of the best student writing intended to foster U.S.-East Asian understanding. His dissertation was entitled “Democracy in Distress: Is Exile Polity a Remedy? A Case Study of Tibet’s Government in Exile.” Dongsheng Zang LL.M ’96 S.J.D. ’04,  from the People’s Republic of China, also won for his dissertation, entitled “One-Way Transparency: The ‘Rule-Based’ International Trade Order and the Predicament of Its Jurisprudence.”

Professor William Alford ’77, director of EALS, and Professor Emeritus Henry Steiner were Sangay’s two principal advisers for his doctoral dissertation.

“I have known Lobsang Sangay since he entered Harvard Law School as a student in 1995,” said Alford. “He is a person of principle committed to non-violence and someone with many friends throughout the world, including in the Chinese community.  He has worked hard over many years to foster understanding and bring people together.  I wish him well in the arduous responsibilities he has undertaken.”

Watch an interview with Steiner on Sangay’s doctoral thesis, which explored the potential relationship between the exiled Tibetan community and democracy [see video below].

In 2006, Sangay was selected as one of the twenty-four young leaders of Asia by Asia Society, a global organization based in New York City. He has given numerous lectures on Sino-Tibet issues in various institutes and venues around the world. He organized major conferences on Tibet between Chinese and Tibetan scholars at Harvard University including an unprecedented meeting between 35 Mainland Chinese scholars and the Dalai Lama in 2003 and with 100 Chinese scholars in May 2009. In April 2008, he testified as an expert before the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs examining the crisis in Tibet focusing on a path to peace. [Video of the hearing and a pdf of Sangay’s testimony are available on the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations website.]

During his time at HLS, Sangay has been profiled several times in Harvard Law School publications. See excerpts below from those interviews:

Excerpted from the forthcoming profile of Lobsang Sangay, which will appear in the Spring 2011 Harvard Law Bulletin:

“In 1995, Sangay enrolled at Harvard Law School on a Fulbright scholarship. After completing an S.J.D., he became a fellow in the East Asian Legal Studies Program.

Professor William Alford ’77, director of EALS, who taught Sangay and was one of two principal advisers for his doctoral dissertation, says he stood out as ‘thoughtful, open-minded and eager to engage a wide range of people, including those from China’

Nowhere was that more evident, Alford says, than during the unprecedented series of seven conferences Sangay organized for Tibetan scholars and those from mainland China. The meetings on Harvard’s campus provided a rare opportunity for attendees to hear each other’s point of view. ‘It was a real breakthrough,’ Alford says.” 

In January 2003, Sangay was profiled in Harvard Law Today on his work to bridge the divide between China and Tibet.

“Lobsang Sangay first took to the streets to demonstrate against Chinese occupation of his family’s native Tibet at the age of 14. In a conversation with some older Tibetans, Sangay heard one of them say, ‘Look at the way that the Chinese are treating us. What we Tibetans need is a lawyer to defend us.’ … Since arriving at HLS, Sangay has worked to temper his approach, if not his views. ‘When I first came to Harvard, I saw everything in black and white. When I discussed issues with Chinese students, in particular, I was always banging the tables,’ says Sangay. ‘It didn’t lead anywhere. I could sense that, but it was my background as an activist. I don’t think I have compromised my principles or values since coming to HLS, but what I have learned is the most effective way to talk and to make an argument.'” … Read the full profile, “Peace Broker: Student Works to Bridge the Divide Between China and Tibet,”

In Spring 1997, Sangay was profiled in the Harvard Law Bulletin on his research at Harvard Law School.

“The first Tibetan at HLS, Lobsang Sangay LL.M. ’96 has never set foot in his own country and would risk imprisonment if he did. ‘In Tibet, simply having a copy of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be a pretext for the Chinese to put you in jail,’ says Sangay, who is here this year as a visiting scholar, writing about the little-examined subject of the educational systems under the Chinese government in Tibet and under the Tibetan government in exile in India. … Cosponsored by East Asian Legal Studies and the Kennedy’s School’s Pacific Basin Research Center, Sangay’s project on the education of Tibetans will highlight human rights violations and the segregation of Tibetan students in Chinese schools in Tibet and the lack of vocational training in schools run by the Tibetan government in exile. He is also writing an article on ways in which Buddhist beliefs can lend strength to the human rights movement.” … Read the full profile, “Lobsang Sangay: Perspectives of East Asia” (pdf)

Sangay has also been profiled in a number of local and national media. See excerpts below:

“Sangay: Reaching out to China, via Harvard,” (from the Boston Globe, March 23, 2011)
“Medford and Harvard Law School have a right to be proud of Lobsang Sangay, the scholar-activist who is a strong favorite to emerge from Sunday’s balloting in Tibetan expatriate communities as the next prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile, which is working to help Tibet obtain greater autonomy from China. From his modest apartment in Medford and his perch as a research fellow at Harvard Law, the 43-year-old devotee of Buddhist non-violence has brought academics from China together with their Tibetan counterparts. At conferences he organized at Harvard, Chinese and Tibetan participants were able to hear each other out with courtesy and respect. If leaders in Beijing ever decide to grant true autonomy to Tibet, the seeds will have been planted in those classrooms where Sangay’s belief in the value of dialogue was put to the test.” … Read the full article on Boston.com

In an interview with British Broadcasting Corporation, Lobsang Sangay speaks with BBC’s Adam Brookes at the Kurukulla Buddhist Center in Medford, Mass. about his hopes for a “genuine autonomy” for Tibet within the framework of the Chinese constitution. [View the interview]

From the Harvard Gazette:
Harvard-trained Tibetan leader: Sangay elected prime minister of government in exile,” (from the Harvard Gazette, April 27, 2011)

See also Harvard Crimson:
Harvard Law School Grad Runs For Tibetan Office,” (from the Harvard Crimson, Feb. 16, 2011)