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Rights Advocates Press Olympic Committee

Haider Rizvi

NEW YORK - The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has drawn fire from one of the world's most prominent rights advocacy groups for not speaking out about the human rights situation in China.0402 08

"The IOC should articulate human rights standards for host countries to end the moral void in which it operates," said New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) in an open letter to the Olympic Committee Tuesday.

The HRW criticism came as the Olympic Committee decided not to get involved in the controversy over China's handling of political dissent in its Himalayan region of Tibet.

The 115-member Olympic Committee is beginning a series of meetings today to discuss preparations for the Olympic Games to be held this summer in the Chinese capital of Beijing. The meetings, also in Beijing, will conclude Apr. 12.

In its letter, HRW charged that the IOC's stand on abuses amounted to undermining human rights in China and that it flouted the spirit and the letter of the Olympic Charter.

"The question isn't whether the IOC is a human rights organization," said Sophie Richardson, HRW's Asia advocacy director. "It's whether the Olympic movement respects human rights. If it does, remaining silent as China's crackdown intensifies isn't acceptable."

Richardson and other human rights activists have also charged that, by cracking down on political opponents and placing strict restrictions on foreign media, China may have violated the formal commitments it made in winning the right to host the Olympic games.

The Chinese government has repeatedly denied these charges and asserts that linking the Olympics with the Tibet issue is an unfair politicization of the world's grandest sporting event.

Officials in Beijing have also dismissed calls for a possible boycott of the Olympic games.

"If anyone wants to take the world people's grand event as a stage for political show, he or she has found a wrong place, and will only ask for an insult," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu told reporters Tuesday.

Chinese officials claim the wave of protests that erupted across Tibetan areas recently was part of a well-thought-out plan ahead of the Olympic games and that it was aimed at seperating Tibet from China.

"Back in 2007 the Tibetan independence forces in the United States plotted this very concept," the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) quoted the Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping as saying.

"They believe it will be their last chance to realize Tibetan independence," he added, referring to the publicity that could be attracted ahead of the Olympic games.

China claims that Tibet was always part of its territory, but many Tibetans see themselves as a culturally distinct entity. Some of them -- including the Nobel Peace Prize winning Dalai Lama, who serves as Tibetans' spiritual leader and head of state -- seek greater autonomy under Chinese rule; others aspire for complete independence.

On Tuesday, HRW said it wants the IOC to publicly assess the extent to which current human rights violations linked to the preparation of the games were violating the commitments made by China at the time of its bid to host the Olympic games.

The rights group is also calling for the IOC to establish "a standing mechanism" to address human rights concerns.

"The IOC seems determined to take the Chinese government's line -- that human rights are a political matter and shouldn't be discussed," said Richardson. "But that's inconsistent with the Olympic movement's original aim of fostering 'respect for universal fundamental ethical principles.'"

Meanwhile, the Olympic flame arrived Tuesday afternoon at Kazakhstan's largest city, Almaty, the first stop of the global torch relay. The Beijing relay is considered to be the longest and most ambitious ever planned, lasting 130 days and involving over 20,000 torchbearers.

© 2008 One World

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