Opinion: The IOC and sponsors of the Beijing Games are complicit in China’s human rights abuses
China last hosted the Olympic Games in 2008 — while a genocide was raging in Sudan’s Darfur region. Beijing was underwriting that genocide through the billions it paid Sudan for oil. Much of that oil revenue was used to fund bombings, destruction of villages and the slaughter of innocents in Darfur.
Although oil was the strongest link in relations, Beijing also sold weapons to the regime in Khartoum and maintained diplomatic relations even as Sudan was otherwise shunned by the international community. Before the 2008 Summer Games opened, I co-wrote an op-ed with my son Ronan Farrow urging China to use its considerable influence to persuade the regime in Khartoum to halt the killings in Darfur and permit entry of international peacekeepers.
Now, 14 years later, an emboldened Beijing is orchestrating a genocide on its own soil. Some 3 million Uyghur, Kazakh and other Turkic Muslim peoples in the Xinjiang region of China have been seized and imprisoned in camps. By 2019, more than 880,000 Uyghur children had been taken from their parents and placed in state facilities. Survivors of the camps report atrocities of the worst kinds.
The U.S. government has identified human rights abuses in China as including “arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government; forced disappearances by the government; torture by the government; harsh and life-threatening prison and detention conditions,” forced sterilizations and coerced abortions. The State Department’s 2020 country report cited China’s “pervasive and intrusive technical surveillance and monitoring; serious restrictions on free expression, the press, and the internet, including physical attacks on and criminal prosecution of journalists, lawyers, writers, bloggers, dissidents, petitioners, and others as well as their family members.” It also cited forced labor, child labor, trafficking in persons and “severe restrictions and suppression of religious freedom.”
Yet China is about to again bask in the honor of hosting the Olympic Games.
The athletes who will compete in the Games have worked long and hard to merit their inclusion — an achievement that no one should begrudge them.
But I hope that they will find ways to speak out for human rights on behalf of those who cannot.
Major sponsors of the Games — those the International Olympic Committee refers to as partners — include Airbnb, Alibaba Group, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Toyota and Visa. As Human Rights Watch and others have noted, many of these multinational businesses have corporate policies expressing their commitment to national and international human rights standards.
Their silence is complicity.
One has to wonder why the IOC has, in the midst of a genocide, again chosen China to host the Games.
When Chinese tennis star Peng Shuai disappeared last year after she accused a retired Communist Party official of sexual assault, the Women’s Tennis Association suspended tournaments in China and Hong Kong, citing concerns about Peng’s safety and well-being.
But the IOC led by Thomas Bach did worse than nothing. A body we might have expected to support athletes instead repeated Beijing’s claim that all was well, citing a video call with Peng that was not itself made public.
The IOC, an entity whose values we should be able to respect, has pledged to abide by globally recognized standards such as those defined in the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It says on its own website: “At all times, the IOC recognises and upholds human rights, as enshrined in both the Fundamental Principles of the Olympic Charter and the IOC Code of Ethics.”
The commencement of another Beijing Olympics makes a mockery of this statement, given not only the horrors in western China but also the Communist Party’s silencing of democracy advocates and its brutal crushing of protesters, politicians and journalists in Hong Kong and Tibet.
The deafening silence of the Games’s corporate sponsors and the International Olympic Committee certifies complicity in the ultimate human crime — genocide.
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