07 November 2007

Human Rights abuses shadow Olympic Games

When in 2001 the International Olympic Committee awarded the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing, it did so as the Beijing bidding committee pledged that the hosting of the Games “will help the development of human rights” and most notably, “there will be no restrictions on media reporting and movement of journalists up to and including the Olympic Games”.

Nevertheless, the Chinese government has shown little substantive progress in addressing long-standing human rights concerns.

China has a well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including widespread torture, censorship of the media and internet, controls on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang. China continues to lead the world in executions. The government classifies the number of people executed as a state secret, but it is believed that China executes many more people than the rest of the world combined each year.

But the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labour rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence political opponents. The government is continuing its crackdown on lawyers, human rights defenders and activists who dedicate themselves to rule of law and the exposure of rights abuses. Fear of citizen activism has led to government obstruction of local activists and grassroots organizations working to stem China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic. Fears of harm to China’s national image have even led Chinese officials to stop prominent activists from leaving the country.

In 2006, an international coalition of human rights organizations has issued a joint statement, saying the International Olympic Committee has failed to protect Olympic ideals and calling on national Olympic committees, athletes and sponsors to take action. Citing continuing human rights violations and political propaganda abuse of the Games by the Chinese authoritarian government, they say boycott is one of possible options of protest.

Being tomorrow China's official Journalists’ Day, the International Olympic Committee was urged by Human Rights Watch to end "its silence on the Chinese government’s ongoing violations of its pledge on media freedoms, a commitment it made to the IOC to win its bid to host the 2008 Olympics Games in Beijing".

This organisation has identified the following major areas for human right reform in the Olympic run-up:
  • Forced evictions and school closures
  • Labour rights abuses
  • Repression of ethnic minorities
  • Controls on religious freedom
  • The death penalty and executions
  • HIV/AIDS rights advocacy obstruction
  • Use of house arrest system
  • Ties with rights violators
Somehow it seems more likely that little will change, and that the IOC will close its eyes at these abuses, which undermine the "preservation of human dignity" that lies at the heart of the Olympic Charter...

Beijing 2008 - China's Olympian Human Rights challenges, Human Rights Watch
The Olympics countdown - failing to keep Human Rights promises, Amnesty Int.
Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008, Olympic Watch

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