Over 160 rights groups call on IOC chief to revoke 2022 Beijing Winter Games

BEIJING (Reuters) - Over 160 human rights advocacy groups have delivered a joint letter to the chief of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) calling for it to reconsider its choice to award China the 2022 Winter Games in light of Beijing’s human rights record.

IOC President, Thomas Bach, holds the IOC Executive Board Meeting at Olympic House, in Lausanne, Switzerland September 9, 2020. Greg Martin/IOC/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES

It is the largest coordinated effort following several months of similar calls from individual rights groups, and comes as Beijing is facing increased international backlash over policies including its treatment of ethnic Uighurs in Xinjiang and new security laws in Hong Kong.

“The IOC must recognise that the Olympic spirit and the reputation of the Olympic Games will suffer further damage if the worsening human rights crisis, across all areas under China’s control, is simply ignored,” said the letter, which was released on Tuesday.

The letter argues that the prestige of the Beijing 2008 Olympics emboldened the government to take further actions, including programmes targeting Xinjiang Uighurs and other ethnic policies.

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the move as an attempt to politicise sport.

“This is against the spirit of the Olympic charter and China firmly opposes it,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters.

Among the letter’s signatories are Uighur, Tibetan, Hong Kong and Mongolian rights groups based in Asia, Europe, North America, Africa and Australia.

In a response to a Reuters query on the letter, the IOC said that they remain neutral on global political issues, and that awarding the Olympic Games to a national committee “does not mean that the IOC agrees with the political structure, social circumstances or human rights standards in its country.”

The IOC had raised human rights and other issues with China’s government and local authorities, they said.

“We received assurances that the principles of the Olympic Charter will be respected in the context of the Games.”

Last month, prominent Uighur rights group World Uighur Congress launched a similar appeal to the IOC over what it said were crimes against humanity in Xinjiang.

China has already made extensive preparations for the Games, which they say are on track to be held from Feb. 4-20, 2022.

There was similar outcry from rights groups ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. At the time, the IOC defended the choice, saying the Games were a force for good.

Separately, in an open letter released Wednesday, a coalition of over 300 civil society groups including Human Rights Watch called for the U.N. to set up an independent international mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in China.

“We support the call that UN member states and UN agencies use all interactions with Chinese authorities to insist that the government comply with its international human rights obligations,” said the letter.

Western diplomats in Geneva told Reuters they do not expect a resolution on China at the next session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, starting on Sept. 14.

Some states are expected to refer to concerns on Hong Kong and Xinjiang in their speeches, they said.

Reporting by Cate Cadell; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva and Gabriel Crossley in Beijing; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Pritha Sarkar