Rights Groups Accuse IOC of Complacency

By Nora Boustany
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Less than a week before the Olympics, human rights groups are venting their anger over China's handling of the Games, saying the International Olympic Committee has only halfheartedly followed up on key causes of concern.

These groups say IOC representatives have failed to make good on pledges to press Beijing on the serious rights violations that have been reported in the run-up to the Games, which open Friday. Instead, they say, the IOC has stonewalled with bureaucratic responses.

"It is about capitulating to an abusive government for the sake of keeping the Games going, come hell or high water," said Sophie Richardson, China researcher and advocacy director for New York-based Human Rights Watch.

China has recently rounded up scores of citizens upset over government actions and others expressing discontent, according to rights groups. Foreign journalists in Beijing have complained that access to certain Internet sites -- those China deemed controversial -- has been blocked.

Activists now say they fear the legacy of the crackdown will last long beyond this year's Olympics.

"The IOC tried to tell the world that holding the Games in China was for the good, that they would do their utmost to use the Olympics to uphold respect for human rights," Richardson said. "Either they are a lot less powerful than they told us they were, or they have been quite disingenuous or their standards are unacceptably low."

Richardson added: "If there is any prospect for redemption on the horizon . . . the IOC should add a standing committee to take into account the human rights records of countries bidding to host the Games and to monitor if an independent judiciary and a free press get upheld in the run-up to the Games."

Mark Allison, a China researcher for Amnesty International, said his organization has been focusing on cases involving the death penalty, detentions and Internet access, as well as the treatment of human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers.

These areas were chosen because "they relate to the core value of the Olympic Charter and promises that human rights will improve," he said.

Chinese and IOC officials had declared that conditions would get better, Allison said, "but what we have seen is that things have tightened up for activists and lawyers because of, not in spite of, the Games."

IOC President Jacques Rogge told the BBC in April 2002 that the committee was convinced the Games would improve human rights in China.

He said the IOC would act "if either security, logistics or human rights are not acted upon to our satisfaction."

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