China’s worsening rights record in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Hong Kong has disqualified Beijing from hosting the 2022 Winter Olympics, more than 180 rights groups and activists said in a letter sent to the International Olympic Committee this week.
Participation in the Games will only encourage China to commit further abuses, the joint letter signed by rights campaigners told the Lausanne, Switzerland-based IOC while calling on foreign athletes and governments to boycott the event, scheduled to be held in Beijing from Feb. 4 to 20, 2022.
“The IOC refused to listen in 2008, defending its decision with claims that they would prove to be a catalyst for improved human rights,” read the letter, referring to controversy surrounding Beijing’s hosting the 2008 Summer Games.
“As human rights experts predicted, this decision proved to be hugely misplaced; not only did China’s human rights record not improve but violations increased substantially without rebuke. Now, in 2021, we find ourselves back in the same position with the IOC who are refusing to act despite the clear evidence of genocide and widespread and worsening human rights failures,” it said.
Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Jan. 19 announced that China’s abuses in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) met the definition of genocide -- a designation that Uyghur exile groups have advocated since the revelation in 2017 of mass internment camps that have held as many as 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.
In a protest held outside IOC offices in Lausanne on Feb. 3, members of the Tibetan Youth Association in Europe (TYAE) shouted slogans calling for freedom in Tibet, where Chinese authorities have jailed activists for cultural and religious freedoms, environmental protection, and language rights, and where over 150 Tibetans have burned themselves to death to oppose Chinese rule.
“The IOC knows full well the extent of China’s human rights abuses,” TYAE member Tashi Shitsetsang told RFA’s Tibetan Service during the protest, adding, “We have told them directly.”
“But they have actively chosen to ignore us and to turn a blind eye to the brutal occupation of Tibet, the crackdown in Hong Kong, and the genocide that is happening in East Turkestan,” he said, referring to the XUAR.
“The IOC has the blood of our people on its hands,” Shitsetsang said.
Also speaking to RFA, Tibetan activist Tenzin Netsang added that without strong IOC polices put in place to address Beijing’s abuses, “the Games will be [only] an effective endorsement of its failure to improve human rights since 2008, not an incentive for future improvements.”
Many broken promises
In a Feb. 3 statement, New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that China had made “numerous promises” to protect human rights in its successful bid to host the 2008 Summer Olympics, also held in Beijing.
“Yet, during the 2008 Games, the authorities repeatedly violated the fundamental rights they had pledged to uphold, including by censoring the media and the internet, arbitrarily arresting journalists, and abusing workers’ rights,” HRW said.
Since that time, the Chinese authorities have only deepened their repression, the rights group said, adding, “President Xi Jinping’s government has crushed nascent civil society, targeted labor rights activists, imposed draconian policies in Xinjiang and Tibet, and trampled fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”
China imposed a draconian national security law on Hong Kong in mid-2020, effectively ending the autonomy the city was promised through 2047 under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement that governed the former British colony’s handover to China.
Now the IOC has failed to conduct a human rights risk assessment ahead of the 2022 Winter Games, and has ignored detailed expressions of concern sent by HRW about the Chinese government’s rights record, the rights group said.
“The IOC knows the Chinese authorities are arbitrarily detaining Uyghurs and other Muslims, expanding state surveillance, and silencing numerous peaceful critics,” said HRW China director Sophie Richardson. “Its failure to publicly confront Beijing’s serious human rights violations makes a mockery of its own commitments and claims that the Olympics are a ‘force for good.’”
“The IOC can’t hold itself out as an exemplar on human rights when it only defends them where doing so is easy,” added Minky Worden—director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.
“[And] despite the IOC’s expressed commitments to push for positive change, there is no visible evidence it has pressed Chinese authorities to meet any human rights obligations,” Worden said.
Reported and translated by Tashi Wangchuk for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.