Skip to main content

China: Letter to Ethics Commission of International Olympic Committee

Mr. Youssoupha Ndiaye
Chairman
Ethics Commission
International Olympic Committee
Villa du Centenaire Avenue de l'Élysée 28
1006 Lausanne
Switzerland
Sent Via facsimile to +41 21 621 63 81

Dear Mr. Chairman,

On April 10, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will meet in Beijing. The meeting will take place less than four months before the scheduled opening of the Games in China, and amidst growing international alarm over China’s human rights record, particularly after the recent events in Tibet. There is also broad concern about the jailing of dissidents who publicly linked human rights and the Olympics, and other abuses directly related to preparations for the Games.

We are deeply concerned about the official position on human rights articulated by the executive body of the Olympic movement: that respect for human rights is in essence a political matter that falls outside of its mandate.

Although Human Rights Watch has not called for a general boycott of the Games, we do believe that the Olympics is a unique and appropriate moment for world to pay attention to China’s human rights record, and an important opportunity for China’s government to make improvements. We are documenting abuses that are taking place as a result of China’s hosting the Games, including:

  • Jailing on charges of subversion advocates who dare criticize the Olympics;
  • Massive uncompensated forced evictions to make way for the construction of Olympic sites and related infrastructures;
  • Systemic and uncorrected abuses of construction workers’ labor rights, including denial of any remuneration and access to basic health care;
  • Sweeps of the poorest and most vulnerable groups from Beijing, including petitioners, vagrants, beggars and other marginalized communities; and
  • Pervasive practical restrictions on foreign media, in contravention of specific commitments made to the IOC in 2001. In addition, as of today foreign media are barred from freely accessing Tibetan areas.

In meetings and by correspondence, Human Rights Watch has raised these and other chronic abuses, such as restrictions on basic freedoms of assembly and expression, directly with the IOC. We have urged the IOC to take up these matters, both privately and publicly. As we said at out last meeting in Lausanne, we do not expect the IOC to become a human rights organization, but we do expect the IOC to become an advocate for improvements, to display some public concern, and to directly address the many abuses that have resulted directly from the staging of the Games in China.

Thus far, there has been little sign of such initiatives. To the contrary, officials have recently stated that the IOC is “a sports organization, not a political one,” and that, "We are not a government, we are not the representative of all the NGOs of the world.” In response to international calls for IOC intervention in the wake of the Tibetan protests, IOC President Jacques Rogge said that he would only conduct “silent diplomacy” with the Chinese government.

These remarks are in stark contrast with earlier pledges to discuss human rights issues with the Chinese government. In April 2002, President Rogge told the BBC News Hardtalk program: “I said to the Chinese political leaders, the IOC urges you to improve as much as possible human rights, as soon as possible … The IOC is a responsible organization, be it in the field of human rights, be it in the field of just logistics.”

Indeed, Human Rights Watch is concerned that the recent silence of the IOC on developments in China may have emboldened that government to reject any scrutiny by the international community of rights violations, including the on-going large-scale, military-backed suppression in Tibetan areas of Tibet, Qinghai and Sichuan provinces, which have led to hundreds of detentions.

Human Rights Watch believes that the current position of the Olympic movement on human rights is inconsistent with the Olympic Charter, which identifies “respect for universal fundamental ethical principles" as a core principle of Olympism. Moreover, international organizations of such influence and economic power as the IOC’s are expected by contemporary society to support social accountability and responsibility.

Human Rights Watch further believes that the Olympic movement cannot operate in a moral void. Attempting to do so makes the movement as a whole vulnerable to manipulation by governments with poor human rights practices who seek to burnish their reputation by hosting the world’s most prestigious sport event.

The IOC’s position that human rights is a political matter outside of its mandate creates the impression that the Olympic movement refuses, both in principle and in fact, to accept any responsibility for violations that may occur in the preparation of an IOC-supervised event. Indeed, the position is alarmingly similar to that articulated by the Chinese government to dismiss evidence of human rights abuses linked to the preparation of the Olympics.

In light of these developments, Human Rights Watch urges the Ethics Committee to take the following steps:

  • Articulate the ethical obligations of the Olympic movement with respect to human rights in line with the values and principles enshrined in the Olympic Charter;
  • Examine the extent to which Beijing has fulfilled its commitments to the IOC when bidding for the Games;
  • Recommend a course of action to the IOC regarding Hu Jia and Yang Chunlin, the two critics of the Beijing Olympics who have been jailed under state security charges;
  • Considered the implication of the Chinese government’s failure to uphold its commitment to allow unrestricted media access ahead of the Games; and
  • Alert the IOC to the existence of serious risks of human rights abuses around the Games, particularly on issues where Chinese government policies are in conflict with international law, such as the right to demonstrate, worship, or impart information, and recommend a course of action.

A selection of Human Rights Watch documents on China and the organization of the Beijing Games are appended to this letter for reference.

We appreciate your attention to these matters.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Roth
Executive Director

Cc : President Jacques Rogge

HE Judge Thomas BUERGENTHAL

Mr Guy CANIVET

Mr Kurt FURGLER

HE Mr Javier PÉREZ DE CUÉLLAR

Sir Craig REEDIE

The Rt. Hon. Sir Ninian STEPHEN

Ms Pernilla WIBERG

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country