European Parliament (Press Release): Keep up human rights pressure on China in the run-up to 2008 Olympics

Human rights

With next year's Olympic Games in Beijing just around the corner, the world must keep up the pressure on China over its human rights record, a hearing of the European Parliament's Human Rights Subcommittee attended by over 200 people was told on Monday. Several NGOs, including a Chinese dissident speaking live via Internet telephone conference, described the widespread human rights violations still being perpetrated by the authorities.

Opening the hearing, subcommittee chair Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR), pointed out that it was taking place two days ahead of the 10th EU-China summit. She regretted the absence from the hearing of a representative from the Chinese embassy.

A "human rights disaster" in China

The first guest speaker was cyber-dissident Hu Jia, who with his wife Zeng Jinyan was one of the candidates for the EP's Sakharov Prize this year (see link below). Speaking from house arrest in Beijing on a webphone link via an interpreter, Hu Jia told the hearing that "a human rights disaster" was taking place in his country. A million people had been persecuted for fighting for human rights, many being detained in camps or mental hospitals. He highlighted the "irony" that the head of China's Olympic Games body was also head of the National Security Bureau, which he likened to "the mafia being in charge of the games". There was a conflict between the West's hope that holding the games in China "would foster democracy and openness" and the Chinese authorities' hope that the games would legitimise their rule. He urged Europe to "stand firm" and in particular not sell arms to China.

Hu Jia was unable to answer questions from Ana Gomes (PES, PT), who asked whether it was true that a senior party official had called for the authorities to "come clean on Tiananmen Square" and how many people were still detained in prisons or hospitals because of those events.

IOC must not duck the issue

Former Olympic fencing champion Pál Schmitt (EPP-ED, HU), who is now an MEP but spoke on Monday in his capacity as a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), initially insisted that the IOC "does not take the lead in human rights and political matters" and is "not in a position to pressure China on issues outside the Games". The IOC's view was that it was best "to hold open a new door to China". This view was questioned by Hélène Flautre and openly challenged by Edward McMillan-Scott (EPP-ED, UK), who said "Article 1 of the Olympic Charter refers to fundamental ethical principles, so the IOC does have a mandate to look at these matters". Moreover, the IOC had once banned South Africa from the games because of apartheid, thus showing that "it can take political positions". Indeed, Mr McMillan-Scott argued "it is time for the IOC to make a political statement" on the situation in China. Mr Schmitt then agreed to this, saying he would speak to the IOC board, which he admitted "cannot close its ears" to these demands any longer.

Phelim Kine (Human Rights Watch, Hong Kong) focused on the issue of media freedom, pointing out that in order to be awarded the 2008 games, China had promised that the media would be able to operate freely. But, he said, "the IOC is failing to ensure that China lives up to its promises" and is "turning a deaf ear" to Human Rights Watch's reports.

Mr McMillan-Scott read out a speech on behalf of Hong Bing Yuan, a Chinese human rights defender now resident in Australia who was unable to travel to Monday's hearing. According to this statement, "people are still being imprisoned and murdered", the treatment of Falun Gong is a "human rights disaster", "90 million people are working as slave labour" and overall the situation will "bring shame and disgrace to the Olympic spirit".

"The struggle for human rights in China is a marathon"

Sharon Hom (of the New York based NGO Human Rights in China) spoke of the authorities having a "blacklist of 42 categories of banned individuals", which she described as "a chilling tool for social control and intimidation". This, she said, "should be of concern to the IOC". She also said the government was "having trouble maintaining domestic control while presenting an open image to the world" and urged the EU to maintain the pressure in bilateral meetings with China. "The struggle for human rights is a marathon", she said, but if successful it would be "good for China and the world".

The final speaker was Vincent Metten (International Campaign for Tibet), who highlighted the clampdown on Buddhism, the "demographic colonisation" and environmental deterioration of the region and the socio-economic marginalisation of Tibetans.

Subcommittee on Human Rights
In the chair : Hélène Flautre (Greens/EFA, FR)

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