Require Rights Guarantees From Olympic Hosts
|Wednesday, July 11, 2001
Sidney Jones -- Human Rights Watch
NEW YORK -- The International Olympic Committee may well award the 2008 Olympic Games to Beijing this Friday. If it does, the human rights controversy around the selection will not be over. From now until 2008, human rights issues will arise around every Olympic site constructed and every decision made about who will be able to attend the Games as athletes, spectators or reporters.
The IOC, should get out in front of the debate, even at this late stage, and set down some fundamental human rights principles about the conduct of the Games.
The IOC's pious rhetoric about how politics and sports don't mix is nonsense. Beijing is not a front-runner because of the clean air that the athletes will breathe or China's record of fairness in international sports. It is a favorite for a mixture of political and economic reasons, combined with what is probably the hardest sell in history on the part of the bidder.
If China believed that human rights considerations should not be a factor in Friday's decision, it should have stopped its ambassador to the United States from sending a letter to every member of the U.S. Congress in April arguing that "any attempt to deny China's right to host the Games is a challenge to the universal principle of human rights." The right to host the Games is not on any list of fundamental freedoms, but if the Chinese authorities want a discussion on rights, the IOC should give it to them.
This is not to say that a country's human rights record should be the determining factor in whether a city gets the Games. If rights were the main criterion, the bid of Mexico City might have fallen short. And it is possible that there can be a positive impact on a tightly controlled society from hosting an international event.
But the IOC has a responsibility for ensuring that the Games themselves take place in an atmosphere free of repression and discrimination. If China starts denying visas for Olympic events to Taiwanese, Tibetans, suspected Falun Gong members, human rights organizations or potentially hostile media; if it continues to harass foreign reporters for trying to cover Olympic-related stories; if it takes draconian measures against migrant workers and others living on designated building sites or along main thoroughfares - it won't be just Chinese authorities who look bad. The IOC will be complicit.
The IOC should consider adopting a code of conduct that includes both a clear set of principles and a method for verification and enforcement. One principle might be that any bidder for the Games should undertake to guarantee that no one will be denied access to the Games, as participant or spectator, on the grounds of political belief, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or other characteristics. Another might be that bidders should also ensure that land acquisition for and construction of Olympic sites, and all other matters related to the bid for the Games and implementation of a successful bid, take place in a situation of full transparency, with contracts and financial records made fully available to the public. It would be particularly important to ensure that no restrictions be placed on nonviolent protests that take place in connection with the Games.
A city's bid should be evaluated in part in terms of the plan it puts forward to apply these principles, together with the bidder's willingness to accept an independent monitoring team to check how the plan is implemented. The development of such a code will take time. As an interim measure, the IOC could and should seek written commitments along these lines from all contenders before making a final choice on Friday. No commitments, no Games.
The writer, Asia director at Human Rights Watch in New York, contributed this comment to the International Herald Tribune.