A coalition working to end the nine-year persecution of Falun Gong in China has called on the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) to allow Canadian athletes to wear yellow ribbons during the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.
The Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong (CIPFG) says the ribbons would symbolize freedom of religion and expression in communist-ruled China.
"This small moral contribution on the part of Canadian athletes would send a message of hope and justice along with a reminder to the Olympic host that they broke their 2001 promise to improve human rights and that we are still hoping for positive change," said Clive Ansley, chair of CIPFG.
CIPFG says the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual group has escalated in the lead-up to the Games, resulting in the arrest of almost 2,000 adherents since January. In its letter to the COC, the coalition said it has "serious concerns" about China's oppression not only of Falun Gong but also of Tibetans and religious groups.
"We believe that those human rights abuses are in direct conflict with the Olympic charter and this urgently needs to be addressed before August 2008," Ansley said. "It is becoming clearer that Beijing has overlooked the most fundamental basis of the Olympic charter—to increase international friendship."
But Richard Pound, Canada's senior IOC member, said Friday that athletes who may be tempted to speak out about human rights during the Games should just stay home, according to a Vancouver Sun report.
"The moral dilemma, you solve it before you get on the plane. If it is so tough for you that you can't bear not to say anything, stay at home," Pound said at a COC board meeting in Calgary.
On Thursday Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), for the first time mentioned China's human rights record in relation to the Olympics. Rogge reminded the Chinese regime that when awarded the Olympics initially, it promised to allow more access to foreign media and improve human rights. "We definitely ask China to respect this moral engagement," he said.
Rogge reiterated earlier statements that while athletes will be able to speak freely in "mixed zones," the Olympic Charter forbids them from making political, religious or racial comments inside Olympic venues.
However, Peter Kutilek of Olympic Watch, a Prague-based NGO that has been monitoring the human rights situation in China since Beijing was awarded the Olympics in 2001, called on the IOC this week to "affirm explicitly that peaceful promotion of human rights at Olympic venues is in no way in contradiction to the Olympic Charter."
"Human rights is not politics, it is a universal concept endorsed by the Olympic Charter," said Kutilek. In an interview with CBC Radio earlier this week, retired Olympic swimmer Nikki Dryden said it's important to take into consideration the parts of the Olympic Charter that promote peace and human dignity.
"In that vein, taking a stand on the humanitarian crisis in Darfur or the human rights violations going on in Tibet is totally compatible with Olympic ideals. [The charter] has to be read as a whole piece."
Athletes have used the Olympics as a platform for protests in the past, one of the most famous being the clenched fist salute by American sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith on the podium in Mexico City in 1968.
"Those are the kind of things that are not allowed under the Olympic charter," Dryden told CBC. "Being interviewed after you win a race and using that moment to talk about something such as the crisis in Sudan is very different than making that political statement on the awards stand."
Dryden, a human rights lawyer now living in New York, is a member of team Darfur, a group of current and former athletes seeking to raise awareness about China's complicity in the genocide in Darfur and its links to the government of Sudan.
Olympic Watch said it soon plans to release specific recommendations "that will promote respect for human rights and the Chinese people."
"We hope the IOC continues to show its capacity to promote the Olympic ideal of human dignity and human rights. An open, honest and peaceful dialogue between the Chinese, Tibetan and Uyghur people and an improvement of the human rights situation in China, Burma and Sudan can indeed be the greatest legacy of this year's Olympic Games," said Kutilek.
In an effort to stop what it calls crimes against humanity occurring in China, CIPFG launched the International Human Rights Torch Relay in Athens last August. The Human Rights torch has since traveled to 25 countries and is scheduled to arrive in Halifax on May 4. It will stop in 10 Canadian cities and finish its journey in Vancouver on May 25.
Dates for the Canada route are: Halifax, May 4; Quebec, May 8; Winnipeg, May 9; Montreal, May 10; Ottawa, May 14; Toronto, May 17; Kingston, May 18; Calgary, May 19; Edmonton, May 21; and Vancouver, May 25. http://www.humanrightstorch.org.
Letter from the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong to the Canadian Olympic Committee.
Dear members of the Canadian Olympic Committee:
While Beijing, as host of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, currently focuses its energy on security, smog problems, and keeping the torch flame alive on its world tour, it has clearly overlooked the most fundamental purpose of the Olympic charter —to increase international friendship.
In light of the recent escalation in the persecution of Falun Gong, including the arrest of almost 2000 practitioners since January 1, 2008, CIPFG has serious concerns about China's on-going oppression of Tibetans and Christians as well as other faith based groups. All these human rights abuses are in direct contradiction to the Olympic Charter and this contradiction urgently needs to be addressed before August 2008.
As a starting point, we believe that in order to meet the minimal standard of Olympic ideals the host nation must terminate its nine-year policy of genocide against Falun Dafa, cease the illegal incarceration of dissidents in Chinese gulags, cease the capricious and ubiquitous executions of "criminals," cease the systematic persecution of all independent religious groups, and above all end the mass murder of healthy Chinese citizens for the sole purpose of facilitating the theft of their organs.
Amnesty International's website states that it had "…hoped that the Games would act as a catalyst for reform but much of the current wave of repression against activists and journalists is occurring not in spite of, but actually because of the Olympics. (See AI report entitled China: The Olympics Countdown—Crackdown on Activists Threatens OlympicsLlegacy" .)
We suggest that the COC urge Canadian athletes to wear yellow ribbons at the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games—symbolizing freedom of religion and freedom of expression. This small moral contribution on the part of Canadian athletes would send a message of hope and justice along with a reminder to the Olympic host of its cynical trashing of the 2001 promise to improve human rights and the fact that the world still hopes for positive change.
In response to comments made by the IOC on April 10, Olympic Watch said that the IOC should explicitly affirm that peaceful promotion of human rights at Olympic venues is in no way in contradiction to the Olympic Charter.
In closing, we would like to address the oft-repeated sacred mantra of the International Olympic Committee that the Games are "non-political," that the Games are exclusively about sport, and that "politics" should be kept entirely separate from sport.
This mantra, of course, is quite simply false as a matter of historical fact and the fallacy of the position is illustrated by simple reference to Articles 1 and 2 of the Olympic charter itself. For Beijing, hosting the 2008 Summer Games has from the outset been about nothing other than politics! In the great tradition of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Beijing has used the recognition and honour of hosting the Games to shower glory upon itself and convince China's citizens that the international community accepts and approves of the regime's repressions.
But the IOC's sacred mantra on separating "politics" from sport must be addressed on a deeper level and recognized for its inherently dishonest logic and for its moral bankruptcy. At the municipal level, argument over whether a new river crossing should take the form of a bridge or a tunnel is "political"; at the provincial level, argument over whether religious schools should receive public funding is "political"; at the federal level, arguments for and against free trade agreements are "political".
The attempt to relegate Crimes Against Humanity, ranking with the Holocaust, to the same level as the "political" issues set out in the preceding paragraph is frankly obscene.
All over the world, decent people of conscience who uphold basic moral standards are demanding that bestial, benighted, barbaric murderers and torturers not be rewarded for their Crimes Against Humanity. Are their actions and statements "political"? If so, then all moral human activity must be dismissed as "political."
To speak out against genocide, forced organ harvesting, and torture is not "politics"—it is just basic human decency.
We recognize that from 1936 to 2008 the International Olympic Committee has courageously resisted all appeals based on decency or conscience, but surely the IOC cannot sustain its current argument that to hold the host country to the most basic principles of the Olympic Charter as set out in Articles 1 and 2 would be "political."
When the IOC awarded the 2008 Games to China in 2001, Beijing signed a pledge that it would in return improve the human rights situation in China and that significant changes would occur before 2008. Significant changes in human rights have indeed occurred, but those changes have not constituted improvements. On the contrary, every international human rights organization has documented the steady deterioration of human rights in China since 2001.
Ironically, there have in fact been massive human violations occurring directly because of the Games, as thousands of Beijing residents have been rendered homeless, as their homes have been demolished without compensation to make way for Olympic construction.
But if we understand the IOC's position correctly, holding Beijing to the promises it made in order to procure the 2008 Summer Games would be "political."
The Olympic Charter forbids discrimination against any individual or group on the basis of race, creed, or religious belief. (Strictly speaking, this would probably be construed as a "political" statement.) But Hitler forbade the participation of any German Jews in the Nazi Olympics of 1936.
The courage of the IOC perhaps reached its zenith at this juncture; the IOC made a request to Hitler that he include one Jew on the German Olympic team in order to assuage the international outcry against this injection of Nazi racism into the Games. Hitler refused. Many historians might be forgiven for thinking that the IOC's meek, hat-in-hand approach to Hitler, though patently ineffectual, was nevertheless a "political" action.
Today, Beijing has prohibited participation in or attendance at the Games by any adherent of the spiritual group, Falun Gong. That prohibition, too, has a definite odour of "politics." Perhaps more important, it is a flagrant transgression of the Olympic Charter. But the IOC has studiously avoided pointing out this most fundamental of transgressions, apparently in the belief that to do so would be "political."
Torsten Trey is the spokesperson for Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting . He is also a German citizen and very conscious of his country's Nazi past. He has recently argued that the situation in China today is worse than that in Nazi Germany in 1936. He has also pointed out that the moral position of the IOC and all who support the 2008 Games in Beijing is substantially more indefensible than was that of their forerunners in 1936. This is because in 1936 the world was not aware of Hitler's planned genocide against the Jews.
After the gates of Belsen, Dachau, and Auchwitz were opened, the whole world said "Never Again!" and "If only we had known!" 2008 is different in that this time we won't be able to say later, "If only we had known!" We do know! The Matas/Kilgour report, "Bloody Harvest", leaves no reasonable doubt that for the past seven years, tens of thousands of Falun Gong practitioners have been systematically murdered on the operating tables of Chinese hospitals so that their hearts, livers, kidneys, lungs, corneas, and even skin could be harvested and transplanted for profit. The Matas/Kilgour report would meet any legal standard of probative evidence.
The United Nations Rapporteur on Torture, Manfred Nowak, has recognized the validity of this report and of the reality of Chinese organ theft from Falun Gong practitioners. Moreover, the Beijing regime has been quite open about its determination to completely eliminate Falun Gong practitioners from Chinese society.
But the IOC equates these huge moral issues to "political" debates over fiscal policy and traffic control.
We look forward to meeting with you to address these issues.
Clive Ansley, Chair