In 2001, the International Olympics Committee voted to award the 2008 Olympics to China, despite its human rights record and the fact that Beijing achieved a top rating in only one out of ten selection categories. In the nearly decade and a half since, not only has China failed to improved its human rights practices, it has, since Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, launched campaigns and introduced legislation designed to shrink China’s civil society space, control information flow and expression, and obstruct the rule of law. Yet notwithstanding its broken promises and human rights abuses, the government of China is again a contender to host the Olympic Games.
In late March this year, the IOC Evaluation Commission conducted a mission to China to assess its suitability to host the 2022 Olympics. Earlier that month, China had made international headlines for detaining five women’s rights activists merely for advocating for gender equality and against sexual harassment in public transportation. In early July, Chinese authorities again captured international attention and concern by disappearing, detaining, interrogating, and putting under residential surveillance more than 250 human rights lawyers and activists in 23 provinces and municipalities across China. This national mass crackdown—combining police actions with a smear campaign in state controlled media targeting rights lawyers—has raised alarm in the international community and triggered strong statements of concern by many governments, UN independent experts, professional organizations such as bar and lawyers’ associations, as well as civil society organizations around the world. To date, 25 individuals are still missing or in custody, held on suspicion of “inciting subversion of state power” or “picking quarrels and provoking troubles.”
Criminalizing lawful citizen activism and lawyers—key actors to ensure the protection of rights and the integrity of a legal system—undermines any efforts to promote “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity,” the core goal of the Olympic Movement. The flouting of past Olympic promises and rights protected by Chinese and international law should not be rewarded. At risk of damaging the Olympic brand, IOC credibility, and unique Olympics spirit, the IOC cannot continue to ignore a record of broken promises and still move forward, ignoring the current crises in China.
We urge the IOC to postpone its Host City election for 2022 Olympics scheduled for July 31, 2015—in order to reconsider the Host City candidates in light of the serious ongoing human rights deterioration in China. A postponement will also afford the government of China the opportunity to take concrete actions to demonstrate its commitment to abide by its international promises and the Olympic pledges.
We call upon the government of China to take immediate action prior to the IOC Host City election to demonstrate its commitment to respecting human rights; one concrete step is to release all lawyers and activists still in custody who are being targeted for the lawful exercise of their fundamental rights.