Wednesday, June 04, 2008

IOC deserves embarrassment

Barrie Examiner:

The International Olympic Committee deserves this embarrassment.

It is something that was foreseen by many Western pundits back in July 2001 when the members of the IOC overwhelmingly supported Beijing as the host city for the XXIX Summer Olympiad.

But it was also something that was ignored by the IOC in making its selection. "It" is China's lack of regard for basic human rights.

When the IOC rendered its decision on the host city for this summer's games, it made no mention of human rights abuses in China.

The environment was a concern, particularly the air quality. But nothing on the jailing of dissenters, the huge rate of executions or the severe limits on free speech.

It was a glaring oversight back then, and continues to be one today -- and what makes the matter worse is the Chinese government doesn't seem care.

With a little more than two months until the opening ceremonies in Beijing, the Chinese government has issued a code of conduct of sorts for foreigners visiting during the Olympics.

To Canadians, the rules are shocking violations of freedoms we consider to be fundamental.

In an effort to keep out activists and students who may protest China's treatment of Tibet, there are tightened controls on visas and the warning that security will be tight, including undercover agents dressed as volunteers.

There is a warning against the display of insulting banners or slogans at sporting venues, and religious or political banners are prohibited.

So much for the athletes having any freedom of expression, at least, while they are in China.

There is also a ban on sleeping outdoors, which makes one wonder what will happen to the massive homeless population that is inevitable in a city of 12.5 million. It's been estimated that construction of the Olympic facilities has displaced 1.5 million Beijing residents. Where do they go?

These regulations underscore that being named host of the Olympics has done nothing to encourage China to address its horrible record on human rights abuses.

The Chinese Ministry of Public Security has reportedly ordered 43 categories of people be barred from attending the Olympics, including some based on political or religious beliefs.

Amnesty International reports at least 470 people were executed in China last year, and another 1,860 people sentenced to death, but also acknowledges the figures could be much higher because the Chinese government protects death penalty statistics as state secrets.

Torture remains widespread in China, and an estimated 500,000 people were detained without cause in 2007.

There are tight restrictions on the media and Internet, and public demonstrations are met with mass arrests.

None of this is new.

The IOC was aware of China's disregard for human rights when it awarded Beijing the Games, but it failed to question Chinese officials about any of it.

China's lack of regard for basic freedoms is an embarrassment for an Olympic venue, and the IOC deserves to share in that embarrassment.

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The IOC was aware of China's disregard for human rights when it awarded Beijing the Games.

OLYMPIC WATCH: Human Rights in China and Beijing 2008

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