Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
US Department of State
2201 C St, NW
Washington, DC 20520

Dear Secretary Rice,

We write first to congratulate the administration for its willingness to publicly award the Dalai Lama the Congressional Medal of Honor in October. Such a gesture, along with the June statement commemorating the Tiananmen Square protests, is an important way of demonstrating the United States’ ongoing interest in China’s human rights record.

We are concerned, however, that the administration does not yet appear to have a comprehensive strategy to address human rights abuses related to preparations for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. As you know, China continues to have a dismal human rights record. Many countries, including the United States, have lost momentum in their efforts to press for change. We believe that the period prior to the Olympics offers the potential for heightened willingness in Beijing to improve respect for human rights, and that this opportunity must be vigorously seized.

Yet President Bush and other senior administration officials have already accepted invitations to the Games’ opening ceremonies without articulating specific steps they expect the Chinese government to take to improve human rights. As you surely appreciate, the President’s and other heads of states’ presence at the Games will be portrayed by the Chinese government as providing a broad imprimatur of approval of its policies and practices. It is in the interest of the United States to act now to avoid such an outcome.

Human Rights Watch is documenting four kinds of abuses taking place specifically as a result of the Games:

1. Abuses of media freedom. The Chinese government in 2001 made a specific commitment to give the media freedom to report during the Olympics. As part of that pledge, in December 2006 the Chinese government unveiled new temporary regulations designed to give accredited foreign journalists expanded freedoms in the run-up to and during the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. That decision appeared to mark a significant easing of the tight official controls on reporting activities that have long constrained foreign correspondents’ freedom of expression in China. However, Human Rights Watch research indicates that these regulations are being persistently flouted and that foreign journalists continue to be routinely harassed, detained and intimidated by Chinese government officials, security forces and plainclothes thugs who appear to operate at official behest. Meanwhile, Chinese journalists, researchers, translators and assistants, and foreign correspondents continue to risk potentially vicious reprisals from state agencies for reporting that steps behind the dictates of the official propaganda system.

2. Abuses of the rights of migrant construction workers in Beijing. Beijing’s selection as the host of the 2008 Olympic Games in 2001 has sparked a building boom overwhelmingly powered by more than one million migrant construction workers who are routinely cheated of their wages, required to endure dangerous work conditions and denied medical and accident insurance as well as basic social services.

3. Mass eviction of Beijing residents and the demolition of residential areas for Olympic Games-related infrastructure. The redevelopment of large areas of Beijing for the construction of Olympics venues and related infrastructure including new roads and an expanded subway system has come at a huge human cost. Specifically, thousands of Beijing residents have been forcibly evicted from their homes without due process and without legally-stipulated compensation, and their homes have been subsequently demolished.

4. The increasing use of extrajudicial mechanisms including house arrest to silence and contain dissidents. Chinese citizens who challenge their government’s lack of respect for human rights ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing are increasingly being silenced and constrained by the use of extrajudicial mechanisms such as house arrest. House arrest and related mechanisms are open-ended curtailments of individuals’ personal freedom implemented directly by police on often ambiguous legal grounds/charges without allowing Chinese citizens the basic right of a public trial. Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, two of China’s best known dissidents, have been under house arrest in Beijing since May 2007 for challenging the Chinese government’s human rights record ahead of the 2008 Olympics.

In light of these developments, we wish to know specifically:

  • What steps is the US government taking to raise its concerns about human rights abuses related to the 2008 Olympic Games with the Chinese government? What is the State Department’s strategy for raising concerns over the remaining months before the Games open?
  • Are human rights issues being raised in the context of the ongoing discussions with the Chinese government about security for the Games? What specific security issues are being discussed, and is the US providing any sort of security assistance to the Chinese government which might be used before, during or after the Games to harass, intimidate or silence legitimate dissent in China?
  • What steps is the US government taking to ensure that US-based Olympic sponsors and suppliers are not contributing to human rights abuses, such as the forced evictions happening to make way for infrastructure projects, abuses of the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers laboring on Olympic constructions sites, or surveillance and censorship of athletes’, journalists’, activists’, and diplomats’ communications via the Internet?
  • What kinds of actions and statements do you envision by the President and other senior administration officials who may travel to China before and during the Games as part of your strategy to take advantage of the opportunity the Olympics present?
  • What will the US government do prior to and during the Olympic Games to ensure that the thousands of American journalists who will go to Beijing and their international and local translators, facilitators, photographers and other staff are not detained, harassed or otherwise abused for taking at face value the Chinese government’s commitment to press freedom?
  • What obligations do the State Department expect the US Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee to fulfill with respect to human rights in China?

Given some of the developments in China in recent months—the crackdown around the 17th Party Congress, ongoing abuses of prominent human rights activists, a systematic tightening of official surveillance and controls of the Internet and an ongoing move by the Chinese government to purge Beijing of any potential sources of public dissent ahead of the start of the Olympics on August 8, 2008—it now appears that the government is in fact retrenching in advance of the Games. But the modest progress on its policies towards Burma and Sudan, its growing awareness of the consequences of environmental degradation and lax regulatory frameworks, and the glare of the international spotlight may mean there is room to press for change over the coming months. To fail to act on this opportunity is to fail to advance key American interests in China.

We look forward to meeting with you to discuss these issues in greater detail.

Sincerely,

Tom Malinowski
Washington Advocacy Director

Sophie Richardson
Asia Advocacy Director