GENEVA: Beijing is using its upcoming Winter Olympics to “sports wash” and gloss over its “horrible” human rights record, the head of Human Rights Watch warned, urging countries to join a diplomatic boycott.
The US, Britain, Australia and Canada have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Games, set to begin on Feb 4, over what they consider to be widespread rights abuses by China, including against the Muslim Uighur minority in Xinjiang province.
HRW executive director Kenneth Roth insisted that other countries should also refrain from sending senior officials to the Olympics to help “spotlight the mass atrocities” in the province, as well as China’s “crushing of basic freedoms in Hong Kong”.
“The Chinese government is clearly trying to use the Beijing Olympics to whitewash or to sports wash its horrible repression,” he told AFP in an interview ahead of today’s publication of HRW’s annual report.
He said HRW was not calling for athletes to boycott the Games, but insisted that countries could not just “pretend that everything is normal”.
“At a minimum, the international community should join the diplomatic boycott of the Olympics.”
Tesla ‘utterly tone deaf’
Roth also insisted that Olympic sponsors should take a stand.
“Rather than in a sense announcing this whitewashing, (they) should be spotlighting what’s going on in Xinjiang,” he said.
Campaigners say at least 1 million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim minorities have been incarcerated in “reeducation camps” in the far western region.
Beijing has defended the camps as vocational training centres aimed at reducing the appeal of Islamic extremism.
Beyond diplomacy, Roth said companies also had a moral obligation to resist the abuses taking place in Xinjiang.
“Every company should be doing what it can to avoid endorsing or legitimising the Chinese government’s repression,” he said, slamming carmaker Tesla’s recent decision to open a dealership in the province as “utterly tone deaf”.
He emphasised in particular that “every company should ensure that their supply chains are not complicit in the forced labour that has become so prevalent in Xinjiang.”
Roth hailed Washington’s decision to ban the import of goods from the province unless it can be demonstrated that no forced labour was used in the production, and urged other countries to do the same.
The HRW chief said there seemed to be a growing willingness among some countries to criticise China before the United Nations in New York and Geneva.
He voiced hope that the office of UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet would soon publish a long-delayed report on rights abuses in Xinjiang, potentially inspiring a broader coalition of countries to speak out.
At the same time, Roth lamented that UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres, who is scheduled to attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony, “has been absolutely silent and refuses to speak critically about the Chinese government”.
“This is an enormous world failure.”