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China: Olympic Committee Fails to Honor Rights Pledge

IOC Squanders Opportunity to Leverage 2022 Beijing Games

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach (left) shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before proceeding to their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, January 31, 2019. © 2019 AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool

(New York) – The International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) failure to carry out its due diligence commitments for the 2022 Beijing Games is a missed opportunity to promote human rights in China, Human Rights Watch said today. Thus far, the IOC has given no indication that it has conducted or plans to publish a human rights risk assessment.

Human Rights Watch had urged the IOC to undertake this review by February 4, 2021, one year before the 2022 Games are scheduled to open.

“The IOC knows the Chinese authorities are arbitrarily detaining Uyghurs and other Muslims, expanding state surveillance, and silencing numerous peaceful critics,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Its failure to publicly confront Beijing’s serious human rights violations makes a mockery of its own commitments and claims that the Olympics are a ‘force for good.’”

The Chinese government had made numerous promises to improve human rights to secure the right to host the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Yet, during the 2008 Games, the authorities repeatedly violated the fundamental rights they had pledged to uphold, including by censoring the media and the internet, arbitrarily arresting journalists, and abusing workers’ rights.

Since that time, the Chinese authorities have deepened their repression. President Xi Jinping’s government has crushed nascent civil society, targeted labor rights activists, imposed draconian policies in Xinjiang and Tibet, and trampled fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. Although media freedom is a core requirement for Olympic hosts, the Chinese authorities have tightened their chokehold over domestic media and the internet, and expelled journalists from international media. China has also made it increasingly difficult for people inside the country to connect to Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), which international journalists rely on for their reporting. 

In 2015, when China was selected to host the 2022 Winter Olympics, Human Rights Watch detailed extensive concerns about the Chinese government’s human rights record. Human Rights Watch urged the IOC to “establish effective and independent monitoring mechanisms to track and report on regression on labor rights, press freedom, discrimination, and all areas where assurances were received, and commit to publicly speak out on and help ensure redress for these rights violations when they occur.”

The IOC Evaluation Commission’s January 2015 report on China states that the IOC “received assurances” from Chinese authorities on human rights in order to win the right to host the 2022 Games. Despite requests from civil society organizations whose work focuses on China, the IOC has not made the details of these assurances public, or how it is monitoring conditions in China.

In 2017, the IOC added human rights requirements aligned with the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (the “Guiding Principles”) in its host city agreements; those principles provide for entities to undertake human rights due diligence. Although Beijing was awarded the contract to host the Winter Olympics before the new human rights language was adopted, “Operational Requirements” included since then allow the IOC to negotiate for human rights protections and standards with the host city.

In December 2020, the International Olympic Committee published its expert report “Recommendations for an IOC Human Rights Strategy,” a plan for adopting human rights across its operations and integrating the Guiding Principles.

“The IOC can’t hold itself out as an exemplar on human rights when it only defends them where doing so is easy,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch. “Despite the IOC’s expressed commitments to push for positive change, there is no visible evidence it has pressed Chinese authorities to meet any human rights obligations.”

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