Neve: We need a human rights game plan for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Good suggestions. Latest Angus-Reid poll shows 55 percent support boycott compares to 27 percent opposed:
As the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing draw nearer – less than eleven months to go – calls for a boycott grow.

Every day, grave human rights violations suffocate freedom in Hong Kong; brutalize Tibetan, Falun Gong, pro-democracy and other prisoners because of who they are or what they believe; and jeopardize the survival of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities. Worry for unjustly imprisoned Canadians, including Huseyin Celil, Sun Qian, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – and four Canadians currently sentenced to death in China – is top of mind. Understandably, there is much debate about holding the Olympics in a country responsible for a human rights crisis of this magnitude.

Immediately there is pushback. We hear indignation that a boycott politicizes the Olympics. But concern for universal human rights is anything but political. These are international obligations binding on all nations, including China.

The Olympic Charter itself affirms that: “The goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.” Surely championing universal human rights is true to the essence of that vision.

What is particularly galling is for governments and the Olympic movement to dismiss boycott calls as inappropriate, then go no further. That is an utter abdication of responsibility. Boycott or not, there must be a forceful human-rights game plan for these Olympics.

With the House of Common’s recognition of China’s genocide against the Uyghurs; with an iron grip of repression closing around Hong Kong; with Canadians unjustly locked up in Chinese prisons; and with the Chinese government determined to bask in a favourable international spotlight – if this is not the time to sharpen the world’s focus, build pressure, and set out clear expectations for human rights change in China, when will that time be?

Here is the beginning of a three-part game plan for Canada.

First, work with other governments to hold China accountable within the United Nations human rights system. The UN Human Rights Council is in session and will meet two more times before the flame is lit in Beijing. Governments need to find their resolve and use the world’s premier human rights body to call out one of the world’s most egregious human rights violators.

Second, take steps that are readily available. Canadian law and policy already provide for a range of meaningful measures such as more robust bans on products made through forced labour; targeted sanctions on Chinese government officials; concrete initiatives to protect activists in Canada facing threats for their Chinese human rights advocacy; and dedicated programs for refugees fleeing this repression. House of Commons committees on the Canada-China relationship, international human rights and immigration have explored and proposed those and other recommendations in recent months. It is time for action.

And third, all stakeholders need human rights-focused Olympics strategies. That includes the government, the Canadian Olympic Committee, media, corporate sponsors and individual athletes.

There needs to be a coherent response with other governments, including maintaining pressure with respect to key human rights concerns throughout the lead-up to and during the Olympics. Coordinated decisions as to which officials will attend and who will pointedly stay away from the lavish opening ceremony should be publicized.

Attention will be needed to ensure that journalists have freedom and are encouraged to report about China’s human rights reality. Similarly, marketing campaigns cannot gloss over China’s grim human rights record. Television networks with Olympic broadcast rights, and companies paying big bucks to use the logo, need to figure out how they will lift up human rights.

And there must be assurances of safety and support for individual athletes who will feel compelled by conscience to show solidarity.

If governments and the Olympic movement are going to rebuff boycott suggestions, it is incumbent upon them to demonstrate they are nonetheless committed to addressing the harrowing human rights backdrop behind the Beijing Games’ fanfare.

This is not playing politics. It is about respecting what the Olympics aspire to be.

Above all, it is about honouring the Uyghur people, the people of Hong Kong, Tibetans, Mongolians, Falun Gong practitioners, democracy campaigners, human rights defenders, journalists, labour activists, imprisoned Canadians, and countless others.

For them, the Olympic flame offers no inspiration or comfort.  For them, we must set the flame ablaze with concern, solidarity and action for human rights.

Alex Neve is a Senior Fellow with the University of Ottawa’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Source: Neve: We need a human rights game plan for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

Latest Angus-Reid poll showing 55 percent favouring a boycott, 27 percent opposed.

Source: https://angusreid.org/china-meng-kovrig-spavor-trial/

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

2 Responses to Neve: We need a human rights game plan for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics

  1. Robert Addington says:

    Canada and other Western countries should boycott the opening and closing ceremonies

  2. Andrew says:

    At least…

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