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UK Members concerned China human rights being “sports-washed” by Beijing Olympics

On 9 February, BGIPU hosted a roundtable discussion on human rights in China against the backdrop of the Beijing Olympics, with particular focus on the Uyghur crisis. The meeting was chaired by Tim Loughton MP and heard from Dr Ewelina Ochab from the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute and Alkan Akad from Amnesty International who had been invited by BGIPU to speak on the topic.

Mr Akad focused on China suppressing freedom of speech, specifically on Uyghur supporters and journalists, and expressed the importance of reminding people that even though the medals being won are a great achievement for the athletes, there are many people in China at the same moment are being oppressed. Dr Ochab told the attendees that a report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, was expected soon. She also noted that cases brought against human rights violators in third country jurisdictions, like in Germany in the case of Syria, might also provide a precedent for abuses occurring in China, so long as evidence is able to be collated given the obstacles to visit the country to investigate. Dr Ochab also noted increasing resort at the UN to the passing of General Assembly resolutions, such as in the case of Myanmar, when UN Security Council action was being stymied by China or Russia as veto-wielding permanent members.

There was also consensus among the experts and parliamentarians that the International Olympics Committee (IOC) should adopt the UN guiding principles and standards for human rights, as many businesses had done internationally. There were fears that by disregarding human rights issues, the IOC was exposing the Olympic movement to huge political risks in actively enabling skewed counter-narratives by countries where human rights abuses were so evident and this would damage the reputation of the Olympics each time it occurs.

The meeting noted with concern the increasing prevalence of such cases of alleged abuses being “sports-washed” by countries seeking to distract from their internal human rights conditions and enhance their reputation through hosting major global sporting events. The meeting agreed that while it may be a hard fight in defence of the rights of others and hold perpetrators to account, it remained of utmost importance as even small steps by the few could make big change for the many. BGIPU would like to thank Dr Ochab, Mr Akad and the MPs and Peers who attended this very important discussion.

BGIPU Secretariat