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Questions & Answers : China and the Olympic Games 2008

1. What is Human Rights Watch's position on China getting the 2008 Olympics?

We think that the human rights record of a country should be taken into serious consideration by the International Olympic Committee in selecting the site for the 2008 Olympics, but we are not opposed a priori to China getting the Games. Experience with the 1995 U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing has shown that having thousands of people from around the world in China can focus attention on the country, including on the degree of state control and fear of political protest.

2. What kind of human rights commitments should the I.O.C. seek from the Chinese government?

We want the I.O.C. to seek written assurances that if Beijing is selected, the international media covering the Games will have unrestricted access to the country and that there will be no discrimination against journalists or participants based on their political or religious views or country of origin. We also want the I.O.C. to seek a commitment that if Beijing is selected, independent monitors will be able to have regular access to building sites to ensure that migrant workers and other residents of the areas in question are treated in accordance with international human rights standards. We want the I.O.C. to get Beijing's assurance that no one will be arrested or otherwise punished for peacefully protesting against the Games or actions taken by the government in relation to them, and that suspected dissidents will not be rounded up in advance of the Games. At past international events in China, like the 1990 Asian Games, such violations occurred.

3. As part of its bid for the 2000 Olympics, China assured the I.O.C. that it could keep order in the city. Experience shows that the Chinese government's methods of keeping order often involve violations of human rights, yet security is clearly an issue for any city in which the Games are held. How do you see the problem being resolved?

The I.O.C. should consider setting up a monitoring committee that includes at least one human rights expert to review security plans for the Games and try to ensure that safeguards against human rights violations are built in. Realistically, however, monitoring is more likely to come from independent journalists, another reason for urging the I.O.C. to insist on unrestricted access.

4. Do you think realistically that I.O.C. members will raise such issues?

If they don't, it raises serious questions about their commitment to the spirit of the Games.

5. What if the Chinese government refuses to give such commitments?

Then that should be a factor against the selection of China and, indeed, we would take the same position with respect to all contenders.

6. This is a different position than HRW took when China was trying to get the 2000 Olympics. Why?

The first Games of the new millennium were highly symbolic; we did not think they should go to a country that had such a poor human rights record, especially when the selection was taking place when the memory of Tiananmen Square was so fresh.

7. Does this mean that HRW believes that there has been significant progress in human rights since China's last Olympics bid?

No. China's human rights record remains poor, far below international standards, with arbitrary detention, torture, and violations of freedom of expression, association, assembly, and religion still widespread. In recent years, as China has tried to avoid censure at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights and prepared to join the World Trade Organization, it has taken some positive steps such as ratifying one key U.N. human rights treaty and signing another, and enacting certain legal reforms. But the treaties have yet to be implemented, and many legal reforms are not fully enforced. 

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