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Positions within the IOC concerning the question of human rights

The IOC tried not to make the question of human rights and democratization the focal point of the selection procedure for the Games in 2008. This was mainly due to the fact, that Beijing had an important supporter in IOC president Juan Antonio Samaranch, who was not interested in having a discussion arise within the IOC which would have thrown a bad light on Beijing.

Among the IOC members there were two lines of thought. According to one of them Beijing should not be elected until it had achieved a certain standard concerning human rights. The other was convinced, that the election of Beijing as host city would promote the improvement of the political situation and the human rights not until it really happened. Further isolation would not be helpful according to this opinion. These are the two basic approaches in the discussion.

The inspectors of the IOC who visited Beijing in February 2001 stressed upon the request of journalists that they had only assessed the organisational ability of the 5 Candidate Cities to stage the Olympic Games during their inspection tour. Questions concerning politics were not considered in their report.

The human rights issue in China was used as an argument for (more human rights through the Games) as well as against a placing of the Games to Beijing (first human rights, them the Olympic Games).

On July 13th 2001 during the 112th IOC plenary meeting Beijing was entitled to host the Olympic Games. While people celebrated in the streets of Beijing the decision was criticized by many human rights organizations, dissidents and exile Tibetans. The reactions to the decision spoke of "historical misjudgement" and "reward for a corrupt regime". It was even compared to the Olympics of 1936 which were abused as a mean to propaganda by the Nazis.

Whereas other reporters welcomed the decision to elect Beijing as Host City. Instancing the example of the Olympics in 1988 in South Korea which had helped to abolish the authoritarian military regime and democratization the hope was uttered that the Games would induce the Chinese government to forward economic and democratic reforms based on the western model and to further respect human rights.

First human rights then the Olympics

Human rights were used as an argument by the opponents as well as the advocators of Olympic Games in Beijing. Especially Beijing's opponents in the USA often compare the situation with the Games in Berlin in 1936 and Moscow in 1980. There is fear of the Chinese government using the Olympic Games as a propaganda move and thus strengthen their regime and make the human rights situation worse. The Californian republican Congressman Tom Lantos said as follows:

"Hitler benefited enormously from the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. And we know what happened in the years following. The Soviet Union had the Olympics in 1980, and there came nine years of Soviet suppression. I would love to see the Olympics in China... Once their human rights record is cleaned up."

Particularly at the instance of Lantos the US House of Representatives passed a resolution, which pronounced against the Olympic Games in Beijing. The main argument were the violations of human rights in the PRC. The European Parliament also passed a resolution announcing that the strings attached to the approval of Beijing as Host City was the improvement of the human rights situation:

"[The European Parliament] Invites the International Olympic Committee to reconsider Beijing's candidacy when the authorities of the PRC have made a fundamental change in their policy on human rights, and the promotion of democracy and the rule of law"

Positive effects on human rights

The hope that the Olympic Games will lead to an improvement of the human rights situation in China is uttered by the supporters of Beijing. The human rights organization "Human Rights Watch" hopes, that the attention China will get as a result of the Olympic Games will help to improve the human rights situation:

"We think that the human rights record of a country should be taken into serious consideration by the International Olympic Committee in selecting the site for the 2008 Olympics, but we are not opposed a priori to China getting the Games. Experience with the 1995 U.N. Women's Conference in Beijing has shown that having thousands of people from around the world in China can focus attention on the country, including on the degree of state control and fear of political protest."

The organizations fighting for human rights hope that while hosting the Games and due to Beijing's assurance to allow for free coverage of the Games and their environment as well as the heightened attention of the western public the Chinese government would respect human rights. The persecution of Falungong- supporters, dissidents and the adherence to censorship could destroy the positive image China wishes to create. The hopes of the west are summarized in the following comment from the German newspaper "Süddeutsche Zeitung":

"More important is the argument, that the Olympics could further open up the country and smuggle in human rights piggy-back. After all Beijing will be in the limelight of the international public and therefore try to be good."

Optimistic voices also hope for a stabilising effect of the Olympics on the Taiwan issue as the Games would reduce the chance of an attack on Taiwan until 2008.

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