2021-03-29 05:27:00 Olympic Officials Dismissed Beijing Human Rights Concerns
Olympic Officials Dismissed Beijing Human Rights Concerns
Last fall, the International Olympic Committee hosted a video call with activists demanding that Beijing be removed as the host city for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Campaigners said during the call that the Beijing Games would legitimize the Chinese government’s escalating human rights violations.
According to contemporaneous notes obtained by BuzzFeed News, Juan Antonio Samaranch, chair of the IOC Coordination Commission for the upcoming Winter Games, responded, “You, ladies and gentlemen, have your own responsibilities.” “We’ve got ours.”
The activists cited the mass detention of Muslims in Xinjiang, Hong Kong’s crackdown on democracy, and Tibet’s ongoing repression. According to the notes and interviews with several activists involved, IOC officials dodged their questions by claiming that the 2008 Beijing Olympics resulted in improved air quality and public transportation.
Dubbed the “genocide Olympics,” dozens of human rights organizations have urged the International Olympic Committee to relocate the games to a different country, with some comparing the upcoming competition to one held in Nazi Germany in 1936. The United States and Canada have both publicly condemned China’s treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang as genocide.
In response to a detailed list of questions for this article, the IOC stated that it considered NGOs’ perspectives on issues such as human rights for the Beijing Games. The committee stated that it raised these concerns with the government and local authorities, who assured it that the Olympic Charter would be followed.
In an email, the IOC stated, “Given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political issues.” “Awarding the Olympic Games to a National Olympic Committee does not imply that the International Olympic Committee agrees with its country’s political structure, social circumstances, or human rights standards.”
According to the IOC, it upholds the Olympic Charter’s human rights principles and “takes this responsibility very seriously.”
“At the same time,” it added, “the IOC lacks the mandate and capability to change the laws or political system of a sovereign country.” This must continue to be the legitimate role of governments and relevant intergovernmental organizations.”
In response to questions about the ethics of holding the games in China, the IOC has repeatedly emphasized its neutrality. However, in a private video call on October 6, 2020, IOC officials went even further.
According to some of the activists on the call, the call, which lasted more than an hour and was attended by a group of six activists and five IOC officials, began hopeful but ended strained.
Officials argued that the Olympics could serve as a catalyst for improved infrastructure. They cited the Summer Olympics in 2008, claiming that when Beijing hosted that year, it spurred improvements in infrastructure and air quality.
According to the notes, “they still have issues with air quality, but for the first time, they were mentioning that the blue sky is called ‘Olympic Blue’ because… it was the first time they could see blue air in Beijing.”
Teng Biao, a well-known human rights lawyer in China, was on the line. He was not impressed, he told BuzzFeed News.
“Defending the Chinese government in terms of human rights or the rule of law is too difficult,” Teng told BuzzFeed News. “As a result, they can only find things like environmental policies.”
“Holding the Olympics in Beijing again can be seen as an endorsement of the CCP’s atrocities including the Uyghur genocide,” he said.
Teng lived in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics, and he claims that, like other human rights lawyers, he was barred from traveling, detained, and tortured while in police custody in the run-up to the games. He stated that he informed the officials that his experience shows that holding the Olympics in Beijing again could be detrimental. The police were unable to be reached for comment. But, according to Teng, IOC officials appeared unconcerned.
According to the notes seen by BuzzFeed News, Samaranch, the IOC’s coordination commission chair, said during the call that the games are “an extraordinary force for good,” bringing together people of different races and religions “and even political systems, ladies and gentlemen, even political systems.”
“The world is governed by a variety of political systems,” he added. “We cannot go out and say one or the other.”
Zumretay Arkin, program and advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, told IOC officials on the phone that she has relatives missing in Xinjiang. She said the officials apologized and said the world is a complicated place — a recollection echoed by the notes and other activists present at the meeting.
Arkin told BuzzFeed News that she disagreed strongly with IOC officials. “Everything has gotten worse since 2008,” she claimed. “We have a full-fledged genocide, people are being held in concentration camps, and you’re telling us the situation hasn’t gotten worse?”
“These policies are hurting us,” she added. “You would never consider holding the games in North Korea or other places. “What makes China unique?”
Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet, stated that he and others have risked retaliation for themselves and their families in order to publicly protest the IOC’s decision. He also stated that during the government’s decades-long campaign, many Buddhist monks and other ethnic Tibetans have been detained or killed. Violent protests erupted in Tibet ahead of the 2008 Games, prompting the IOC’s president to declare the situation a “crisis” for the organization. But the officials on the video call didn’t seem to care, according to Tseten.
“I was stunned,” he admitted. “How do I explain the frozen expressions? They weren’t even recognizing the pain.”
Arkin, Teng, and Tseten stated that discussions with the IOC have been ongoing since October, including a second call this month, but that nothing significant has changed. Politicians in the United States and Europe, including former US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, have called for governments to boycott the games in recent months. Critics argue that this could unfairly penalize athletes. However, activists say that a diplomatic boycott is their only option because the IOC is unlikely to move the games.
Human rights organizations are also attempting to persuade companies such as Airbnb to end their sponsorship of the 2022 Games.
Tseten and others involved in protests leading up to the 2008 Olympics say China’s crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, as well as abuses in Xinjiang, make them even less defensible this time.
“We told them that in the end, this would be a game of genocide,” Tseten said. “And the IOC will be remembered as a part of that.”