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Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games

The bipartisan congressional commission responsible for monitoring human rights in China is calling on the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to postpone the 2022 Beijing Winter Games and find a new location for the international event, citing China's reported human rights abuses. 

In a letter sent Friday to IOC President Thomas Bach, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chair and co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, specifically cited China's treatment of its Uyghur Muslim minority in pressing the IOC to postpone the Games.

The U.S. under the final days of the Trump administration declared China's alleged actions, including reeducation and forced labor camps in the Xinjiang region, a "genocide." 

"No Olympics should be held in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was also signed by former chairs and current ranking members Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.). 

They went on to say that they "believe that it would reflect extremely poorly on the Olympic movement, and the international community in general, if the IOC were to proceed with holding the Olympic Games in a country whose government is committing genocide and crimes against humanity as if nothing were wrong." 

The lawmakers specifically noted that in 2018, while serving as chairs of the commission, Rubio and Smith sent a letter to Bach "asking you to use the good offices of the IOC to press for human rights improvements in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR)." 

"We received no reply," the Friday letter added. 

"Since the 2018 letter, the situation facing Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic communities in the XUAR has deteriorated further," the elected officials continued. 

"We have seen no evidence that the IOC has taken any steps to press the Chinese government to change its behavior," they added. 

The leaders argued that postponing the Games will "allow a period of time for the host government to take concrete steps to end its gross violations of human rights, including genocide and crimes against humanity in the XUAR." 

The letter said that the IOC should also make a "commitment to move the Olympic Games to another country unless fundamental improvements in the human rights situation in the XUAR are verified by the IOC and an impartial and independent United Nations mechanism." 

In response to the letter, the IOC said in a statement to The Hill that "given the diverse participation in the Olympic Games, the IOC must remain neutral on all global political issues." 

"Awarding the Olympic Games to a National Olympic Committee (NOC) does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country," it added. 

The statement went on to say, "At all times, the IOC recognises and upholds human rights enshrined in both the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter and in its Code of Ethics.We are responsiblefor ensuring the respect of the Olympic Charterwith regard tothe Olympic Games and take this responsibility very seriously."

"We firmly believe the Olympic Games can serve as a platform for cooperation and constructive engagement," the IOC said. 

Some public figures have called on the U.S. to boycott the 2022 Games, including former Vice President Mike Pence, who said last week that "the Olympics should only take place in countries that respect fundamental human rights and the well-being of mankind." 

A group of Republican lawmakers on Monday sent a letter to the United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee expressing concerns about U.S. athletes using digital yuan during the Beijing Games, citing "the Chinese Communist Party's use of new and emerging technologies to suppress the Uyghur minority, the people of Hong Kong, and those across China who strive for freedom of expression."

Updated: July 24 at 10:45 a.m.

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