(Washington, DC) - The State Department should explain publicly how it intends to promote human rights in China in the months before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Human Rights Watch said that President Bush’s accepting of an invitation to the Games’ opening ceremonies ahead of any demonstrated improvement in the human rights climate may be premature.

“The president’s and other heads of states’ presence at the Games will certainly be portrayed by the Chinese government as an imprimatur of approval of its policies and practices,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director of Human Rights Watch. “To avoid that perception, the administration should be talking publicly now about how it’s raising ongoing abuses with the Chinese government.”

Human Rights Watch outlined four areas of particular concern with respect to the Games, including media freedom, abuse of migrant construction workers, mass evictions for Olympics-related infrastructure projects, and the use of house arrest to silence dissidents. Human Rights Watch urged the US government to clarify its involvement in discussions with the Chinese government on security for the Olympics, its scrutiny of US-based Olympic sponsors and suppliers, and its use of high-level visits by US officials to raise human rights issues.

“There is a window of opportunity now to address abuses, especially those tied directly to the arrival of the Games in Beijing,” said Richardson. “We expect top US officials to set out what improvements they want the Chinese government to make before August, and what they hope others, such as the US Olympic Committee and US-based corporate sponsors of the Games, will do to make positive changes.”