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US lawmakers urge Olympic Committee to ensure rights protections ahead of Beijing winter games

Police checkpoint in Xinjiang Uyghur autonomy district (农业学大寨/WikiCommons)
December 08, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

U.S. lawmakers have called on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to speed up implementation of an agenda requiring host cities to adhere to rights protections ahead of Beijing’s Winter Games in 2022, citing reports of widespread abuses in China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

In a letter dated Dec. 5, a bipartisan group of 10 U.S. Senators urged IOC President Thomas Bach to put the Olympic Agenda 2020 and the corresponding Host City Contract into practice in time for the 2022 Olympic Games instead of the current timeline of 2024, citing China’s “exploitation of human labor and violation of human rights.”

“We hold great concern that the People’s Republic of China, a country plagued with violent suppression of free speech, state-sponsored oppression, and human rights abuses, is set to serve as host to the 2022 Olympic Winter Games without proper guidelines or requirements,” said the senators.

“Rightfully present in the revised Host City Contract under the Olympic Agenda 2020 is an address of the host city’s respect of human rights,” they said.

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“These revised Host City Contract requirements include protection of human rights and labor-related protections, as well as the assurance that all violations of human rights, fraud, or acts of corruption are remedied in accordance with applicable international agreements, laws, and regulations.”

The letter noted that the Olympic Agenda 2020 and its corresponding Host City Contract requirements were adopted seven months before Beijing was awarded the 2022 Winter Games and the execution of its host contract, but years before full implementation was expected. China has implemented some of the non-human rights-related requirements in the contract, but not complied in totality, it said.

The senators warned that delaying implementation “leaves China free reign” to continue rights violations while hosting the Winter Games, and said that among Beijing’s worst abuses is its ongoing treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in the XUAR.

Authorities in the region are believed to have held 1.8 million people accused of harboring “strong religious views” and “politically incorrect” ideas in a vast network of 1,300-1,400 internment camps since April 2017.

While Beijing once denied the existence of the camps, China this year changed tack and began describing the facilities as “boarding schools” that provide vocational training for Uyghurs, discourage radicalization, and help protect the country from terrorism.

Reporting by RFA’s Uyghur Service and other media organizations, however, has shown that those in the camps are detained against their will and subjected to political indoctrination, routinely face rough treatment at the hands of their overseers, and endure poor diets and unhygienic conditions in the often overcrowded facilities.

Host of abuses

In Thursday’s letter, the lawmakers cited recent leaks of official Chinese documents that outlined the Communist Party’s “ruthless and extraordinary campaign” to organize mass incarcerations in the XUAR and included the first known “manual” for operating camps, which last week U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said are proof that Beijing is committing “very significant” rights abuses in the region.

But they also referenced the State Department as identifying that China had reached a peak in human rights abuses around the time it hosted the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing through forced relocations linked to the Games, house arrest for political prisoners, increased surveillance of civil society groups and NGOs, increased harassment of religious groups, and other restrictions, as well as child labor violations.

They called on the IOC to implement Host City Contract requirements as outlined in the Olympic Agenda 2020 to all contracts applied to the Olympic Games occurring after Jan. 1, 2020, noting that the guidelines have been prepared for six years and were publicly available prior to Beijing signing its July 2015 contract.

“Any nation enjoying the opportunity to ‘promote its image on the world stage’ should be held to the utmost standards of human rights and freedom,” the senators said.

Among the 10 senators who signed Thursday’s letter was Marco Rubio of Florida—a co-architect of the Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would authorize regular monitoring of the situation in the XUAR by various government bodies for the potential application of sanctions, and which cleared both houses of Congress earlier this week.

Joining Rubio were Senators Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Dick Durbin of Illinois, Josh Hawley of Missouri, Rick Scott of Florida, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Todd Young of Indiana, and Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Speaking to RFA’s Uyghur Service on Friday, Dolkun Isa, the president of the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress exile group, welcomed the lawmakers’ letter and urged the IOC to reverse its decision to award the 2022 Games to Beijing.

“At a time when the international community is fully aware of the crimes against humanity committed upon the Uyghur people in East Turkestan by the Chinese government, the IOC needs to seriously review its decision awarding China the right to host the 2022 Winter Olympics,” he said, using a name preferred by many Uyghurs to refer to their historic homeland.

“The Olympic Games are a global celebration of peace, unity, friendship and the human spirit. The hosting of such Games in China is contrary to the founding principles of the IOC and the spirit of Olympic Games. It will only darken the IOC’s global reputation and standing.”

Isa also called on members of the international community to follow the lead of the 10 U.S. senators to “express their concerns to the IOC and, if necessary, boycott the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.”