The Olympics: a celebration of human rights abuses? by underground

Amnesty International have said China’s human rights situation has deteriorated, not improved, despite being awarded the hosting rights of this years Olympic Games. Upon being awarded the games, China promised to uphold the values of human dignity associated with the Olympic tradition, promising increased freedom for journalists, better health and education programmes for its citizens and an improvement in human rights, but the international human rights organisation says this has not occurred. In a report entitled “The Olympics Countdown: Broken Promises”, AI has documented greater restrictions on dissidents, with the organisation’s deputy director Rosanne Rife saying the Olympics have led to a deterioration in human rights in China.

“Specifically we’ve seen crackdowns on domestic human rights activists, media censorship and increased use of re-education through labour as a means to clean up Beijing and surrounding areas,” said Rife.

So was it right for the International Olympic Committee to award the games to Beijing?

Along with criticism about air pollution, human rights have been central to concerns Beijing is not fit to host the world’s largest sporting event. The city has worked hard to fix its smog problems, but athletes are still concerned about the air quality, and some Australian athletes are considering whether or not they will compete. China has not managed to allay fears about human rights either, with some athletes contemplating political protests if they reach the podium. Concerns about China’s actions in Tibet have had heavy media attention, particularly during the torch relays. Such concerns have been largely swept under the carpet, with China employing a policy of not talking about it, or placing the blame for the recent violence on the Dalai Lama. China has now hit out against Amnesty International, claiming the group has “tinted glasses” and saying those that know China would not agree with AI. Foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said “I hope that Amnesty International can take off the tinted glasses they have been wearing for years and see China in a fair and objective way, and do something more constructive.”

Protesting at the Games is going to be tolerated, in a move to appease the international (read Western) community. However the sanctioned areas are far removed from the stadiums (the Chinese cite minimal disruption as the reason) and the surroundings of this areas have strangely been mocked to look like elsewhere, for example, one park has a large White House and other world monuments as a backdrop. What will be allowed to be protested against will also not doubt be restricted. I think the Herald’s David Leggat summed up the scope of what will be allowed at the protests quite nicely:

By all means bring your banners against petrol price rises, whaling or Winston Peters, but best leave those Tibetan flags, Taiwanese T-shirts and human rights banners behind.”

Many athletes from around the world have said they may protest against China, including New Zealand’s Mark Todd, but our Olympic teams Chef de Mission Dave Currie has discouraged athletes from speaking out, a message condemned by the Green Party’s Keith Locke.

As well as being an opportunity for the world’s best athletes to show their talents, the Olympics is hailed as a celebration of peace and an opportunity to encourage better relations between people. (I couldn’t find the official mission statement, but that is the sort of thing you often hear!) It is apparent that China represents no such things. Free speech does not exist for citizens, journalists or athletes at these games. Many political dissidents have been detained for simply disagreeing with their government. Many are imprisoned without trial. China has an atrocious execution record. The incredible stadiums are athletes will run around have been built with cheap labour, with few industrial rights.

I love the Olympics. I admit I will follow the games avidly. But I respect the right for those in attendance to stage protests, in fact I demand that they do. World leaders who attend have a duty to speak out. I believe the games should not be held in Beijing, but if they have to be, let China be deprived of their glory. China’s humans rights abuses are validated by the games being awarded to them, but only if critics are silenced. The spotlight is on Beijing and if protests and condemnation overshadow the sports, China will fail to be able to use the games for its propaganda.


2 Comments so far
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Woo hoo, Free Speech is a western luxury. Keep sports separate from politics – you dont want to spoil the Olympic spirit do you? If every western athlete kept their mouth shut and concentrated on winning their discipline the paying public would get their value for money.

Comment by JL

[…] The world’s attention is on Beijing and the country is under great scrutiny. Protests will no doubt occur and the world will be watching when they occur. No one is going to forget about China’s […]

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