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Olympics: Don't Skate Over Rights Violations

Abuses in China, Russia, Brazil Show Games Need Human Rights Standards

(New York) - The Olympic Movement urgently needs to focus on human rights reform, Human Rights Watch said today as the 2010 Winter Olympics opened in Vancouver.

One ugly legacy of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games is the continued imprisonment in China of those who protested forced evictions or called for human rights improvements there.  The next Winter Games are scheduled to take place in the Russian town of Sochi, where preparations for the Olympics have already generated concerns about the potential for rights violations linked to these preparations, Human Rights Watch said.

In view of the murders of human rights defenders and journalists in Russia in 2009, Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about possible rights violations ahead of the 2014 Winter Games.  Human Rights Watch also issued a recent report documenting thousands of extrajudicial killings in Rio, host of the 2016 Summer Games.

"The bottom line is that successful Olympic Games cannot take place in an environment where serious human rights abuses are occurring," said Minky Worden, media director at Human Rights Watch.  "The International Olympic Committee and corporate sponsors have a clear responsibility to anticipate and address human rights abuses linked to the Olympics."

In 2007 and 2008, Human Rights Watch extensively documented human rights abuses linked to China's hosting of the 2008 Beijing Games, including forced evictions, abuses of migrant workers, media censorship, and a clampdown on civil society. Despite the Chinese government's pledges to the International Olympic Committee that the Games would bring rights improvements, these Olympics led to an overall deterioration of human rights in China.

The rights abuses engendered by China's hosting of the 2008 Olympics, as well as concerns about potential rights violations by future host countries, including Russia,  led Human Rights Watch to submit a proposal for rights reform and monitoring to the International Olympic Committee. Human Rights Watch presented this proposal at the Olympic Congress  in Copenhagen in October 2009.

Human Rights Watch has outlined particular concerns about the upcoming Sochi Games in letters to the International Olympic Committee, including:

  • Human Rights Watch's letter of May 7, 2009, on the problems of expropriation and worker grievances;
  • Human Rights Watch's letter of August 28, 2009, on the killings of journalists and rights defenders in Russia, and in particular in the Caucasus region, where the Sochi Games will take place;
  • Human Rights Watch's letter of October 1, 2009, providing an update on the topic of expropriations and information on potential health issues.

"The Olympic Charter describes Olympism as based on the ‘respect for universal fundamental ethical principles,'" Worden said.  "The International Olympic Committee needs to make sure that future host countries do not violate the Olympic Charter by allowing rights abuses to occur while preparing for the Games."

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