Thursday, November 29, 2007

IOC official urges statement on human rights in China

Via Pema

Reuters [29 Nov 07]
by David Brunnstrom

Pal SchmittBRUSSELS, November 26 - Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC) official and European parliament member Pal Schmitt said on Monday he would urge the IOC to make a statement on human rights in China before next year’s Beijing Games.

Schmitt, 65, a fencing gold medalist for Hungary at the 1968 and 1972 Games, said the IOC had taken political stances before, such as when it suspended South Africa in 1964 over its racial separation policies. “It is time for a political statement,” he said after hearing dissidents and activists speak of a worsening human rights climate in the run up to the Games. “We can’t just close our ears to what’s happening. We did it for the apartheid regime, so let’s do it again.”

Schmitt said he did not agree with some fellow MEPS, who were urging a boycott of the Games. “So far no boycott has ever actually helped. You would be just punishing the athletes, and human rights activists themselves are saying we should organize the Games. “We want to give China an opportunity, it is a golden opportunity … but we expect them in turn to respect human rights.”

Schmitt told Reuters he had an obligation to pass European Parliament concerns to the IOC president. “There is a tremendous pressure from all directions in the world… We have a shared responsibility,” he said. Schmitt said he did not think a statement on rights would hurt IOC ties with China. “I don’t think it will poison our relationship, which it can be said is excellent. Based on this we can raise some other issues that might be inconvenient.”

Dissidents speak

Schmitt spoke after hearing contributions to the debate from two Chinese dissidents, including Hu Jia, who is currently under house arrest and who accused the Chinese government of aiming to use the Games to bolster its rule as German leader Adolf Hitler did with the 1936 Berlin Games. “On one side you have Western society and the Chinese people who are hoping the Games will bring openness and freedom, but the Chinese authorities want to use them to solidify their rule,” Hu said in an audio link via an interpreter. “They are persecuting many people and right now in China it is the peak of that persecution.”

Activists welcomed Schmitt’s pledge and questioned why the IOC had not made a statement already on China’s failure to stick to its Olympic bid pledge on media freedoms. “We are going to be watching the IOC to see that they do follow through on these issues,” said Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch, adding that they should be dealt with just as concerns had been about air quality and infrastructure. “It’s a deal, it’s part of the package. We want them to tell the Chinese government: ‘it’s not working, fix it’.”

Sharon Hom, director of Human Rights in China, said it was important for the IOC to act. “We’ll have to see what they come up with.” she said. “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”

(Editing by John Mehaffey)

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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