The International Olympic Committee is facing fresh criticism from human rights groups who have accused it of hiding behind political neutrality to stage the Beijing Winter Olympics in a country that is “actively committing a genocide”.
A number of representatives of the No Beijing 2022 campaign said on Friday that they had met the IOC last October to give detailed insight into the abuses being faced by Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang province, as well as in Hong Kong and Tibet, and urge them to move the Games – but left feeling the IOC had “completely dismissed our experiences and sufferings”.
More than one million Uighurs are believed to be in re-education camps, and on Thursday the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, confirmed that “the genocide against Uighur Muslims” is something that would be a topic of discussion when US officials meet China directly next week.
There have been growing calls for a boycott of Beijing 2022 because of the human rights abuses. But Zumretay Arkin, the program and advocacy manager at the World Uyghur Congress, said the IOC had dismissed her concerns.
“When we met with the IOC in October, we asked them to listen to our voices but instead they completely dismissed our experiences and sufferings,” she said. “They conveniently hedge behind political neutrality when it comes to China.
“They also repeatedly told us that the IOC’s mission was to create a better world – a world with absolutely no discrimination based on race, religion, gender, sexual orientation,” she added. “A better world to us means a free and democratic world where there are no camps, no forced labour, no cultural and religious repression, no arbitrary arrest, no police brutality. A better world is a world without genocide.
“Our question was simple, does the IOC accept hosting the Olympic Games in a country that is actively committing a genocide? The answer we received was also very simple. Yes, the IOC is willing to host genocidal Olympic Games.”
Frances Hui, a Hong Kong activist in exile, said she had a similar experience when meeting the IOC. “I talked about the fact that more than 10,000 protesters in Hong Kong were arrested in just a year, and the fact that China is violating international human rights obligations. And the first thing we heard from the IOC is: ‘It is a very complicated world.’
“And I asked again: ‘How are you going to legitimise a Games in a country practising genocide and murder?’ and the IOC again replied to me: ‘It’s a complex world.’
“Ironically, that is the same kind of rhetoric that people from China always tell me when I bring up the fact that two million Uighur workers are in camps,” she added. “When I talk about Tibetans as having their lands occupied by China, all they say is: ‘It’s complicated.’ But no, it’s not complicated.”
However, the IOC president, Thomas Bach, insisted one of the key principles of the Olympic charter is political neutrality – adding that the IOC is not equipped to solve all the world’s problems. “We are taking this very seriously,” he said. “But we are not a super world government where the IOC can solve or even address issues for which the UN security council, G7 and G20 has no solution.
“We have to fulfil our role and to live up to our responsibilities within our area of responsibilities, and the governments have to live up to their responsibilities in their remits.
“Human rights and labour rights and others will be part of the host city contract. And on this, we are working very closely with the organising committee that we are also monitoring. This includes, for instance, supply chains or labour rights, and their freedom of press and many other issues.”
Bach said a boycott of the Winter Olympics over China’s human rights abuses would not work. “We can only repeat and give advice to learn from history – a boycott of the Olympic Games has never achieved anything,” he said.
“Be mindful of the boycott in Moscow in 1980 because of the intervention of the Soviet army in Afghanistan. The Soviet army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989 – nine years after.
“So it really served nothing but punishing the athletes and then led to the counter-boycott in Los Angeles. It also has no logic, why would you punish the athletes from your own country if you have a dispute with athletes from another country? This just makes no real sense. The athletes would be the ones who are suffering.”