Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Boycott Beijing?

When China was making its bid for the 2008 Olympics there was a general expectation , reinforced by Communist Party officials, that these would produce a climate of greater openness, freedom and respect for human rights. Instead, figures from Human Rights Watch suggest that violations have increased markedly in the last seven years.

In Beijing the beefed-up security bureau, run - not uncoincidentally - by the same man in charge of the Olympics, is clamping down on dissenters, with many placed under house arrest or even in mental institutions. Workers on Olympic sites have been labouring in conditions of modern slavery while Beijing residents have been evicted, and their homes demolished, to make way for sporting venues. And media freedom - a key commitment from the Chinese hosts to the International Olympic Committee - is nonexistent despite a new 'temporary regulation' that supposedly guarantees this to the international press corps, if not Chinese journalists.

Not only are these developments entirely against the spirit of the Olympic Charter which demands hosts uphold "fundamental ethical principles" like human dignity and freedom of expression - for undermining which, apartheid South Africa was banned from competing - but they are in direct contravention of Chinese government commitments.

China is a signatory to the International Declaration on Human Rights and revised its constitution recently to include a Human Rights clause. Most damning of all, its Host City Contract, signed with the IOC, commits it to improving its record on democracy, human rights and free speech prior to the 2008 Olympic Games.
It is telling that this contract - made public by all other Olympic Hosts - has remained outside the public domain . And equally telling that the international community - which never loses an opportunity to eulogise Human Rights - has steadfastly avoided demanding that the Chinese authorities publish it and respect the commitments it contains. For such demands could lead to only one conclusion: a boycott. Failing to live up to their promises in the contract would make it difficult for the IOC to give the go-ahead, so both sides, it seems to me, have agreed to keep it quiet.

As such, the Chinese have pulled off an amazing coup. Not only do the Olympics legitimise the ruling Communist Party in the eyes of the world and Chinese citizens but they have gone some way towards convincing dissenters that the international community is on the side of their oppressors instead of standing up for democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

Even the IOC, jointly responsible for the conduct of the games, has stated that there is 'no proof' of deteriorating human rights conditions in China and that it is too soon to measure the effects the Olympics will have on the political situation there.

This is clearly nonsense. The Chinese have had seven years to clean up their act, seven years in which the IOC and the international community should have been pressurising them to uphold their commitments. They failed to do this and now we are told that the threat of a boycott would fatally undermine Western relations with the People's Republic.
As such, EU leaders are now keeping well and truly stum. Keeping quiet while a blacklist is prepared that will keep media and NGO representatives, as well as vaguely defined 'dangerous elements' (for which read any and all critics of the Communist Party) out of the country during the Games. Keeping quiet as the clampdown on dissenters intensifies, condemning AIDS patients, starving villagers and jailed Tiananment victims to a future without hope. Keeping quiet while state-sponsored slavery, murder, genocide and torture carry on unabated.

The only issue on which the West has been prepared to lift this veil of silence is over CO2 pollution levels in the Beijing air which, they claim, will negatively affect their athletes. Thanks to last minute pressure from governments Sarkozy now claims he has clinched a deal on environmental standards that will resolve this problem. It is a shame similar pressure could not be brought to bear by the self-proclaimed champion of human rights to ensure China respects its international obligations and protects its citizens.

Should we boycott the Olympics? Morally speaking yes. But then, morally speaking, we should have agitated much longer ago for the fulfillment of China's empty promises. At this late stage in teh game, the West is implicated as much as the Chinese are. With less than a year to go, the lease they can do is say, "A Deal is A Deal" and demand that Beijing publish, and accept responsibility for, its Host City Contract and the commitments made therein.

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