Thursday, September 18, 2008

“Human Rights in Post Olympics China: Has Anything Changed?”

Carroll Bogart, of Human Rights Watch, spoke at the IPJ last night. Here’s what she had to say:

A little history:
• In 1993, China applied to host the Olympics but was turned down due to human rights issues.
• In 2001, they applied for the 2008 Olympics and made some promises regarding human rights in order to get approved.

Did they keep their promises?
• China promised freedom of speech.
- The Chinese government set up three protest zones. In order to protest, one had to be a Beijing resident and apply five days in advance to get a permit. Seventy-seven people applied and many were arrested and went straight to jail for merely applying.
• China promised complete freedom for the foreign press.
- Journalists reported that there was always someone from the Chinese government with them during interviews so that Chinese people couldn’t voice their real opinions.
- Many foreign correspondents received death threats.
- There was no freedom of access to Tibet.
• China promised fair practices in the building of Olympic sights.
- Six people died building the Bird’s Nest.
- One million migrant laborers came to Beijing from poorer provinces to build sights. Because they were not Beijing residents, while working in the city they received no health or accident insurance. Many were only paid once a year and were often not paid what they were promised.
- People were evicted from their homes to make way for new buildings. Many homes were bulldozed and no compensation was given. Most of the time private developers did this, but the government did nothing to help these people.

The bottom line:
• China did not keep their promises regarding human rights.
• The International Olympic Committee did nothing about this.

What can the United States do?
• We need to uphold human rights as a universal idea and try to delink it from being a Western idea.
- This means that we can’t use it as a tool when we engage in power politics or only when it is convenient for us.
• We need to try harder to live up to human rights standards ourselves, which we are failing to do by detaining people without a trial and engaging in acts of torture.
• Our legitimacy in the world depends on our ability to follow universal laws about human rights issues, especially if we expect others to do so.

There are many other thought-provoking upcoming events at the IPJ like this one. If you are interested, it’s free, and there was even free dessert and coffee!

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