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Uyghur Exile Group Urges IOC to Reconsider Holding Winter Games in Beijing, Citing Xinjiang Abuses

Demonstration for the rights of the Uyghurs (Leonhard Lenz/WikiCommons)
August 16, 2020

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

The World Uyghur Congress (WUC) exile group has demanded that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) reconsider holding the 2022 Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, citing state-sponsored rights abuses against Muslims in northwest China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR).

The Munich-based WUC said it had filed a formal complaint with the IOC’s Ethics Commission on Thursday alleging that the committee had acted in violation of the Olympic Charter by refusing to reconsider Beijing as host of the games despite “verifiable evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity taking place against the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslims.”

The complaint, submitted by London-based rights lawyer Michael Polak, referred to evidence the WUC said proves that a number of crimes against humanity are taking place in the XUAR, including arbitrary detention in internment camps, torture, repressive security and surveillance, and forced labor and slavery.

It also included a June report about a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of forced sterilizations and abortions targeting Uyghurs in the XUAR, which German researcher Adrian Zenz concludes may amount to a government-led campaign of genocide under United Nations definitions.

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Authorities in the XUAR are believed to have held up to 1.8 million Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities in a vast network of internment camps since April 2017.

Beijing describes its three-year-old network of camps as voluntary “vocational centers,” but reporting by RFA and other media outlets shows that detainees are mostly held against their will in poor conditions, where they are forced to endure inhumane treatment and political indoctrination.

Amid pressure from the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, the European Union and the United Nations, experts believe that China has begun sentencing Uyghurs held in internment camps to prison, providing legal cover to the detentions.

Some Uyghurs and other detainees are being relocated to factories inside and outside of the XUAR as forced labor, under the guise of gaining employment connected to their purported vocational training.

‘Shameful decision’

The WUC said that holding the Olympics in Beijing could be seen as support for repression in the region and, given the opacity of supply chains in China, “it is likely that the IOC will be directly involved in the international crimes committed against the Uyghur and other Turkic Muslim people” because it will not be able to ensure that technology used in the games or textiles in merchandising are free of forced labor.

Polak said holding the games in Beijing is contrary to the IOC’s obligation under Article 2 of the Olympic Charter’s Code of Conduct not to “act in a manner likely to tarnish the reputation of the Olympic Movement.”

“We hope that the Ethics Committee will engage with the issue we have put before them and call for the 2022 Olympic to be moved if international crimes continue to be carried out against the Uyghurs,” he said.

WUC president Dolkun Isa said that if the IOC allows China to host the games, “it will go down as a historically shameful decision.”

“The IOC can no longer claim ignorance of China’s genocide against the Uyghur people,” he said.

“If the IOC allows China to host the 2022 Winter Games, it is willfully and intentionally abandoning the values and principles that underpin the Olympic Movement.”

In response to the WUC’s complaint, the IOC told Reuters news agency that it “must remain neutral on all global political issues,” adding that it had received assurances from Chinese government authorities “that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games.”

The Chinese foreign ministry, in a response to Reuters, accused the WUC of having “multiple ties with terrorist organizations” and dismissed its claims as “ridiculous.”

US pressure

The IOC has also faced pressure from U.S. lawmakers for allowing Beijing to host the Olympic Games.

In December, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a vocal critic of China’s policies and a co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC), and nine other members of Congress called on the committee to speed up implementation of an agenda requiring host cities to adhere to rights protections ahead of the Winter Games, citing reports of widespread abuses in Xinjiang.

Later that month, Rubio and Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri urged U.S. broadcaster NBC, which paid U.S. $7.75 billion five years ago for the rights to air the Olympics through 2032, to refuse to show the games because of China’s treatment of Uyghurs in the XUAR and other rights violations.

The left-leaning opinion journal The Nation also weighed in, with sports editor Dave Zirin noting in a column on Aug. 3 that China’s treatment of Uyghurs and its crackdown in Hong Kong “clash mightily with the principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter.”

He faulted the IOC, which he said “handed the 2008 Summer Olympics to Beijing after receiving assurance from China that hosting would spur improvements on the human rights front. To state the obvious, that didn’t happen.”

Nury Turkel, who in May was appointed to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), told RFA’s Uyghur Service at the time that the international community must not “repeat the mistakes of the 1936 Berlin Olympics that glorified Hitler’s Nazi Germany.”

Hitler had sought to use the games as an opportunity to promote his ideology of racial supremacy and antisemitism and the Nazi party proclaimed that Black and Jewish athletes should be prevented from competing. Only when participating nations threatened to boycott, did he relent.

Turkel said that if Beijing failed to comply with calls to end its abuses in the XUAR, the U.S. Olympic Committee should consider boycotting the games, “unless it wants our American athletes to compete in the shadow of concentration camps.”

At the end of July, the Trump administration sanctioned the quasi-military Xinjiang Production and Construction Corp (XPCC) and two of its current and former officials over rights violations in the XUAR.

The move followed similar sanctions last month against several top Chinese officials, including regional party secretary Chen Quanguo, marking the first time Washington targeted a member of China’s powerful Politburo.