Over 240 groups say Olympics corporate sponsors aiding China’s human rights violations, demand answers

'The spectacle of the Olympics cannot cover up genocide'

The Olympic Rings are seen inside one of the Athletes Villages for the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics before the area was closed on January 3, 2022, in Chongli county, Zhangjiakou, Hebei province, northern China. The area, which will host ski and snowboard events during the Winter Olympics and Paralympics was closed off to all tourists and visitors as of January 4, 2022, and will be part of the bubble due to the global coronavirus pandemic for athletes, journalists and officials taking part in the games. The Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics are set to open February 4. | Kevin Frayer/Getty Images

More than 240 nonprofits from around the world, including Christian groups, have come together to demand answers from corporate sponsors of the Beijing Winter Olympics, which include Airbnb, Coca-Cola, Intel and Visa, amid criticisms that their sponsorship "creates or contributes to human rights violations." 

The Games will begin Feb. 4 “amid atrocity crimes and other grave human rights violations by the Chinese government, 243 non-governmental organizations said in a joint-statement released by Human Rights Watch on Friday.

Governments should join a diplomatic boycott of the Olympics, and athletes and sponsors should not legitimize government abuses in China, it added.

The groups, which include Christian Solidarity Worldwide, ChinaAid and Religious Freedom Institute, called out the Games’ sponsors — Airbnb, Alibaba, Allianz, Atos, Bridgestone, Coca-Cola, Intel, Omega, Panasonic, P&G, Samsung, Toyota, and Visa — for not fulfilling their human rights due diligence responsibilities.

“These Games are taking place during a period of intense repression of fundamental human rights in the Uyghur Region, Tibet, Hong Kong, and even the very city where the Games will take place,” CSW’s founder and President Mervyn Thomas said.

“Across China, human rights lawyers have been disbarred, banned from leaving the country, detained and tortured, and Christians and other religious communities are facing unprecedented restrictions on their online religious activities even as their physical meeting spaces are shut down,” Thomas added.

The Chinese Communist government is committing genocide against the Uyghurs (a Muslim ethnic minority) of approximately 12 million people heavily concentrated in the Western province of Xinjiang, Dr. Richard Land, president emeritus and an adjunct professor of theology & ethics at Southern Evangelical Seminary, wrote in a recent column for The Christian Post.

“It’s been estimated that over 1 million residents of China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region have been detained in internment camps for the alleged purpose of ‘re-education’ and ‘de-radicalization,” wrote Dr. Land, who has also served as an executive editor and columnist for The Christian Post since 2011. “Those who have fled the region have spoken of the horrors of forced abortions and torture. There is no doubt that the impetus for this crime against humanity started at the very top of the CCP food chain.”

China has also often been accused of rights abuses against other religious minorities such as Christians, Tibetan Buddhists and Falun Gong practitioners. 

The International Olympics Committee has received much criticism for placing the Winter Games in China.

“It’s not possible for the Olympic Games to be a ‘force for good,’ as the International Olympic Committee claims, while the host government is committing grave crimes in violation of international law,” said HRW’s China Director Sophie Richardson.

“That the Winter Olympics is held in Beijing sends a signal to the world that Xi Jinping’s government is normal,” said Renee Xia, director of Chinese Human Rights Defenders. “When the world rationalizes away such an abusive situation, it makes it harder for victims to stand up against injustice.”

Since the Chinese government was awarded the Olympics in 2015, numerous serious human rights violations by Chinese authorities have been documented, the signatories to the statement added, noting that the IOC “has said that its human rights obligations, announced in 2017, do not apply to the 2022 Winter Games.”

The IOC “has not met its responsibilities under the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights by carrying out human rights due diligence despite the well-documented abuses in China,” the groups said.

“The spectacle of the Olympics cannot cover up genocide,” said Omer Kanat, executive director of the Uyghur Human Rights Project. “It’s hard to understand why anyone feels it’s even possible to celebrate international friendship and ‘Olympic values’ in Beijing this year.”

China has warned the participating athletes against speaking out about rights issues, especially against Chinese laws and regulations.

“Any behavior or speeches that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment,” said Yang Shu, deputy director general of Beijing 2022’s International Relations Department, during a virtual briefing last Wednesday.

The United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia have announced diplomatic boycotts of the Beijing Olympics. 

Last year, the Trump administration designated China’s persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang — including mass internment, forced labor and forced sterilization — as “genocide” and “crimes against humanity.” The genocide designation has been maintained under the Biden administration. 

China has been labeled for years by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for egregious religious freedom violations.

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