• Beijing threatens to punish athletes who dare speak out against abuses; 
  • Joint EU-Egypt bid to head counterterrorism body affront to rights defenders;
  • New sanctions needed to block gas revenues for Myanmar’s abusive junta; 
  • Critical women’s voices are being eradicated in Afghanistan; 
  • Why protecting human rights is crucial in the fight against corruption; 
  • Australia backflips on its "Where is Peng Shuai" T-shirt ban.


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Designed to “sportswash” the Chinese government’s abysmal human rights record, the Winter Olympics in Beijing, scheduled to begin on February 4, are a centerpiece of President Xi Jinping’s effort to burnish China’s image on the world stage. They take place against a backdrop of Chinese government crimes against humanity targeting ethnic Uyghurs, repression in Hong Kong and Tibet, and risks to athletes unprecedented in the modern Olympic era. Athletes have been warned against speaking out; the right to protest is severely curtailed. And for the third straight year, China remains the worst jailer of journalists in the world, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The IOC says that the Olympics “celebrate humanity.” In Beijing22, the opposite is the case. To put the Beijing Winter Games in context, Human Rights Watch has launched a video series with Chinese-Australian artist Badiucao. One focuses on the Chinese government’s demand that global athletes shut up about human rights abuses in China.

A joint bid by the European Union (EU) and Egypt to co-lead the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum, a multilateral platform with far-reaching influence on global counterterrorism policy, would be an open affront to the peaceful Egyptian critics who have paid a high price for their efforts to secure human rights and a democratic future for their country. Since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power in 2013, Egypt’s security forces have severely repressed civil society and committed horrendous abuses against scores of human rights defendersjournalistslawyersprotestersopposition politiciansbusinesspeople, and families of activists, often groundlessly labelling them as “terrorists”. Tens of thousands of real or perceived Muslim Brotherhood members have been jailed since the government outlawed the group as “terrorist” in 2013. Thousands of members were sentenced to long prison terms following grossly unfair mass trials before military courts. Other alleged dissidents didn’t make it to trial, as they were instead executed by security forces in operations poorly disguised as shootouts. Given this abhorrent record of human rights violations in the name of counterterrorism, how can the EU even consider a joint bid with Egypt? It should rather start taking meaningful action to address it and intensify efforts to create a long-overdue human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt.

Myanmar’s military will continue to collect massive revenues from natural gas and other extractive sectors unless new targeted sanctions block foreign currency payments supporting the junta’s abusive rule. While TotalEnergies and Chevron recently announced plans to leave the country, natural gas revenue to the junta will continue as other companies will take over their operations. Revenue from natural gas projects in Myanmar, which amount to over US$1 billion annually, are the single largest source of foreign currency revenue for the military, which since staging a coup on February 1 last year has carried out a nationwide crackdown on protesters, activists, and the political opposition. The widespread killings, torture, and other abuses by the junta may amount to crimes against humanity. Following the coup, the US, Canada, UK, and EU member states imposed targeted economic sanctions on junta leaders and companies controlled by the military, but not on payments it receives. This has allowed the junta to continue to commit horrific abuses without facing significant costs from the international community. 

Arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances of women activists in Afghanistan lay bare the Taliban’s intent to eradicate critical women’s voices by force. After having participated in a protest in Afghanistan’s capital Kabul against Taliban abuses of women protesters and other restrictions on women in mid-January, Tamana Paryani, along with three of her sisters, was abducted from her home by armed men claiming to be Taliban intelligence. Another activist, Parwana Ibrahimkhel, was similarly abducted from her home. Her whereabouts remain unknown. Taliban leaders have denied arresting the women, claiming that bad elements among the Taliban may have detained the women. This denial not only heightens concerns for the women’s safety and prompt release. It also indicates that Taliban leaders are failing to hold their forces accountable, thus approving such human rights violations against women activists and others. The United Nations and all countries meeting with the Taliban should press for an immediate end to these and other abuses. 

For the tenth year in a row,  and despite multiple commitments, few countries have made significant progress against public sector corruption, according to Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Two-thirds of countries, the report finds, score below 50, indicating that they have serious corruption problems. While top scoring countries in Western Europe and the European Union wrestled with transparency and accountability in their response to COVID-19, threatening the region’s clean image, the pandemic has also been used in many countries as an excuse to curtail basic freedoms and side-step important checks and balances. Countries with well-protected civil and political liberties generally score better, with countries who violate civil liberties generally scoring lower on the CPI. Corruption, meanwhile, enables human rights abuses, the report emphasizes. However, rights and checks and balances are increasingly being undermined not only in countries with systemic corruption and weak institutions, but also among established democracies, the report states referring to stagnating or declining civil liberties scores on the latest Economist’s Democracy Index. There is an urgent need to accelerate the fight against corruption if we are to halt human rights abuses and democratic decline across the globe, the authors conclude. As Daniel Eriksson, Chief Executive Officer of the Transparency International Secretariat, says: “It is the collective power held by ordinary people from all walks of life that will ultimately deliver accountability.”

And lastly: Australia has backflipped on its ban of "Where is Peng Shuai?" T-shirts at the Australian Open, following another wave of massive criticism worldwide concerning a decision related to the tennis tournament. Tennis fans had donned the T-shirt to draw attention to the fate of Chinese tennis player and three-time Olympian Peng Shuai who disappeared after stating on social media that she had been sexually assaulted and forced into a sexual relationship with 75-year-old Zhang Gaoli, one of the Chinese Communist Party’s former top officials and leader of a State Council working group overseeing preparations for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics. The move to ban the T-shirts was widely interpreted as a form of censorship and a sign of capitulation by Tennis Australia to China and its attempts to suppress all information about Shuai’s whereabouts. Chinese authorities have continued to impose a media and internet blackout of the case, and words such as “tennis” and “Peng” have been censored or restricted. Australian  human rights activists who were involved in the initial T-shirt protest welcomed the news and said 1,000 T-shirts would be handed out on Saturday at Melbourne Park ahead of the women's final. 

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