Calls for boycott of Beijing Winter Olympics

Human rights groups and political leaders are calling for a boycott of the Winter Olympics in Beijing over the Chinese Government’s atrocities against Uyghur citizens in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.

The Chinese government is estimated to have held between 1 to 1.8 million people in detention and forced labour camps in the region – the largest internment of an ethnic and religious minority since World War II.

In September, more than 160 human rights groups wrote to the head of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), urging them to reverse their decision to hold the 2022 Games in China, due to the state’s human rights abuses in the Uyghur Region, Tibet, Hong Kong and Inner Mongolia.

In February, 180 organisations reiterated the call, saying that any hopes that the Games would be a catalyst for change in the country when it was chosen in 2015 had been ended by the recent abuses.

“Since then … President Xi Jinping has unleashed an unrelenting crackdown on basic freedom and human rights,” the coalition of human rights organisations stated.

Decades of human rights violations

China is targeting ethnic minorities in the Uyghur Region with torture, forced separation of families, and compulsory sterilisations and abortions for Uyghur women. Hundreds of thousands of people are being forced to work in detention camps, and others have been transferred to factories across China, which they are unable to leave and where they are under constant surveillance. They are subjected to ‘ideological training’ to abandon their culture and beliefs.

Experts say that China’s actions may amount to crimes against humanity and genocide.

The Chinese government has also arrested multiple protestors and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong over recent months, effectively ending the region’s autonomy. The state introduced a new security law in 2020, which stated that any person ‘undermining national unification’ of Hong Kong with China would face up to a lifetime in prison.

The violations follow decades of human rights abuses by the Chinese state. The authoritarian government has repeatedly sought to suppress religious, cultural and political expression, violently targeting ethnic minority groups and regions.

China annexed Tibet in the 1950s and has violently refused religious, cultural and political freedoms in the region since. It is accused of ‘cultural genocide’ in Inner Mongolia (known as Southern Mongolia by ethnic minority and independence groups), where it has attempted to forcibly assimilate ethnic minorities into Chinese Han culture.

Boycott calls

Civil society organisations and MPs are calling for a boycott of the 2022 China Olympics in light of the abuses.

Over 100,000 people signed a petition to Parliament calling for a boycott in October. The petition was rejected on the grounds that it is the British Olympic Association that is responsible for deciding whether to participate. However, UK foreign minister Dominic Raab said that he would not rule out a boycott of the Games. Ed Davey, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and Labour MP Chris Bryant have joined the call.

In its letter to the IOC, the coalition of 180 human rights groups stated: “The IOC refused to listen in 2008 [when China previously hosted the Olympic games], defending its decision with claims that they would prove to be a catalyst for improved human rights. As human rights experts predicted, this decision proved to be hugely misplaced; not only did China’s human rights record not improve but violations increased substantially without rebuke.

“Now, in 2021, we find ourselves back in the same position with the IOC who are refusing to act despite the clear evidence of genocide and widespread and worsening human rights failures.”

The IOC claims to be apolitical and states that it does not condone any chosen country’s actions. Yet critics have called on the committee to repeat its 1964 human rights stance, when it banned South Africa from the Tokyo Olympics, over apartheid.

Other organisations are calling for a diplomatic boycott, which would allow players to compete, but would see governments refusing to send high-level officials to the games. Proponents say it could provide an opportunity to engage with the athletes, sponsors and broadcasters of the games and raise awareness of the issues.

Peter Irwin from No Rights No Games told Ethical Consumer:

“A country that commits atrocities should have nothing to do with the Olympics, but the IOC doesn't seem to care all that much. If the IOC does everything in its power to make sure the Games go forward, we'll do everything in our power to ensure that the world knows what's happening to Uyghurs at the same time.

“The power still lies with governments not to send officials that would legitimise Beijing's policies, athletes who should have the ability to exercise their speech rights securely, sponsors who can choose not to endorse widespread rights abuses, and broadcasters who can ensure journalists can write about critical issues while in China.”