180 human rights groups urge boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

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A coalition of 180 human rights groups urged governments around the world to boycott the Beijing Winter Olympic Games slated for next year, pointing to China’s reported human rights abuses toward minorities.

The group of organizations representing minorities in China, such as Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs, Inner Mongolians and residents of Hong Kong, released a public letter to world governments requesting they boycott the Olympics scheduled to start one year from Thursday.

The letter calls on countries to not participate in the games, “to ensure they are not used to embolden the Chinese government’s appalling rights abuses and crackdowns on dissent.

The coalition said its members and other human rights advocates have “repeatedly sought to inform” the International Olympic Committee (IOC) about the reported abuses for two decades, noting it “refused to listen in 2008,” when Beijing hosted the Summer Olympics. 

“As human rights experts predicted, this decision proved to be hugely misplaced; not only did China’s human rights record not improve but violations increased substantially without rebuke,” the coalition states. “Now, in 2021, we find ourselves back in the same position with the IOC who are refusing to act despite the clear evidence of genocide and widespread and worsening human rights failures.”

“It now falls on governments to take a stand and demonstrate that they have the political will to push back against China’s reprehensible human rights abuses,” the letter said, saying “anything less” than a boycott “will be seen as an endorsement of the Chinese Communist Party’s authoritarian rule and blatant disregard for civil and human rights.”

The IOC said in a statement that it’s policy for its organizing committees is to hear all concerns “directly related to the Olympic Games.” For the Beijing Winter Olympics specifically, the IOC said its Evaluation Committee listened to the views of several NGOs, including concerns about human rights.

“These issues were and are raised with the government and local authorities,” the statement said. “We received assurances that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games.”

The committee cited its position that it shared with groups that IOC “must remain neutral on all global political issues” although it may not agree “with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country.”

In its position, the IOC also pointed to two previous political boycotts of the Moscow Olympics in 1980 and the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 which “did nothing except harm the athletes.”

“Please note that there are no countries participating in the Olympic Games but athletes from National Olympic Committees who are supporting the mission of the Olympic Games to unite the world in peaceful competition,” the IOC’s statement concluded.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin labeled the calls for boycott as “highly irresponsible” in a statement obtained by The Associated Press.

“Attempts to interfere with and disrupt the normal preparation and holding of the Olympic Games out of political motives are highly irresponsible,” Wang said. “Such a move will not be supported by the international community and will never succeed.”

“We are full of confidence to hold an excellent and outstanding Winter Olympics,” he added. 

The boycott campaign comes as Secretary of State Antony Blinken has said he agrees with the Trump administration’s characterization of the alleged abuse of Uighurs in China as a genocide. Australia and U.S. officials called for an international investigation into China on Thursday after new claims of abuse against Uighurs have surfaced.

The pandemic also poses a threat to the Winter Olympics, although China expressed confidence in its ability to manage the virus with lockdowns, quarantines, contact tracing and mask wearing, according to the AP. 

The Tokyo Summer Olympics faces an uncertain future after it was pushed back a year because of COVID-19, although organizers say the games will happen “no matter what.”

Updated Friday at 8:19 a.m.

Tags Antony Blinken Beijing Winter Olympics China Human rights abuses human rights violations International Olympic Committee IOC Olympics Uighur Uighur Muslims Winter Olympics

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