Rights groups slam top IOC official's stance on Beijing

July 15, 2007 - 0:0

GENEVA (AFP) -- Two leading human rights groups on Friday sharply criticized a senior Olympic official who warned social activists not to use the Beijing 2008 Games to highlight their concerns.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) said the remarks last week by the IOC's chief Beijing organizer, Hein Verbruggen, encouraged abuse in China. In an open letter to Verbruggen, they said he had repudiated the Olympic movement's own ideal and the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Code of Ethics. They called on him "to clarify that the situation of human right defenders in China cannot be imperiled in the name of the Games." The independent rights and anti-torture watchdogs also urged the IOC to publicly declare its support for a UN declaration upholding the rights of human rights defenders. "Your questioning of those who use the Olympic Games as a platform on which to advocate human rights, as well as your calling upon the Beijing Organizing Committee to 'take steps to negate' human rights agendas, may serve to embolden the Chinese authorities who already systematically oppress human rights defenders," the groups told Verburggen. "The statement will certainly further endanger the already precarious personal security of these individuals," they added. The human rights and anti-torture groups said the Games were "a force for good" thanks to Olympic movement's ethical principles, which say that "safeguarding the dignity of the individual is a fundamental requirement of Olympism." The FIDH and OMCT told Verbruggen they were "alarmed to hear your statement that the 'agendas' of organizations based on these principles have no place in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and must be 'negated'." "In our opinion, actions taken in actions taken in the 'spirit of humanism, fraternity, and respect for individuals,' which inspires the Olympic ideal, can never be characterized as 'regrettable'." Verbruggen told the IOC's Congress in Guatemala City on July 5 that the Beijing 2008 games were "being used as a platform for groups with political and social agendas which is often regrettable." "We cannot allow those albeit important agendas to distract us from our primary position which is of course to ensure that a successful Games is hosted," the head of the IOC coordinating commission said. "BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games) must also take steps to negate these agendas," Verbruggen added, calling the Olympic Games "a force for good." Verbruggen was likely to respond to the statement by the human rights groups next week, underlining a common desire to see improvements in the human rights agenda by all those involved in Beijing, a source close to the IOC said