When the International Olympic Committee formally awarded Beijing the privilege of hosting the 2008 Olympic Games seven years ago, they accepted assurances from the historically repressive government of China that the country would dramatically expand its commitment to protecting human rights within its borders.
The vice president of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games Bid Committee, Liu Jingmin, was explicit on this point.
As his city was making a final appeal for the games, Lie Jingman announced that, “By allowing Beijing to host the Games you will help the development of human rights.”
The president of the IOC, Jacques Rogge, was equally explicit.
“We are convinced that the Olympic Games will improve the human rights record in China,” said Rogge, who announced that the IOC would rely on international human rights organizations, the most prominent of which is Amnesty International, to monitor the human rights situation on the ground in China and issue periodic reports on whether conditions were genuinely improving.
Rogge and his aides said back in 2001 that, if evidence of serious violations of human rights standards were uncovered, the IOC would be forced to take appropriate action.
China has failed.
The IOC has failed.
The Olympics will open without progress when it comes to upholding even the most basic standards for individual liberty in China.
A new Amnesty International report, issued as the countdown to the opening of the games began, argues that, “The Chinese authorities have broken their promise to improve the country’s human rights situation and betrayed the core values of the Olympics.”
The report, The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises concludes that four areas related to the core Olympic values of ‘universal fundamental ethical principles’ and ‘human dignity’ — persecution of human rights activists, detention without trial, censorship and application of the death penalty – China has reduced rather than increased its commitment to human rights as the games have approached.
“By continuing to persecute and punish those who speak out for human rights, the Chinese authorities have lost sight of the promises they made when they were granted the Games seven years ago,” says Roseann Rife, Asia-Pacific Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
“The Chinese authorities are tarnishing the legacy of the Games. They must release all imprisoned peaceful activists, allow foreign and national journalists to report freely and make further progress towards the elimination of the death penalty.”
Of immediate concern is the censorship of communications, even at the Olympics press center in Beijing, although any momentary complaint is drawfed by the ongoing reality of China’s occupation of Tibet and its support for the dictators who brutally oppress Burma and Darfur.
Amnesty International (AI) has learned that journalists working at the center have been denied access to amnesty.org, the AI website that links to “The China Debate,” a site established by the group as a forum to discuss human rights conditions in China.
Additionally, access to Taiwanese, German and British news media websites has been blocked.
The IOC’s Rogge continues to cover for China, claiming that his committee’s “quiet diplomacy” had brought about human rights reforms, including a reduction of censorship in Beijing.
But no serious human rights monitoring group agrees.
The reality is that the promises made by Chinese officials and the IOC have been broken.
And world leaders, including President Bush, who will attend the opening ceremonies without sincerely or effectively challenging the collapse of China’s human rights commitments, do a grave disservice not merely to the people of China — and to the oppressed peoples of Tibet, Burma and Darfur — but to the reputation of the Olympics.
As Amnesty International’s Roseann Rife explains, this failure sends “the message that it is acceptable for a government to host the Olympic Games in an atmosphere of repression and persecution.”
That is an unacceptable message.
We can cheer the athletes from every country – including China – who achieve great things at the Olympics this year.
But we should not lie to ourselves about the healing power of the Olympic spirit.
That spirit has been crushed – along with the hopes of human rights activists in China and around the world — by the crude cynicism of the Chinese government, and by the determination of the the International Olympic Committee and too many world leaders to turn a blind eye to the broken promises that disminish and demean the Summer Olympics of 2008.