China: Olympic Success Warrants Human Rights Improvements
The Uyghur American Association calls upon China to honour its human rights obligations after successful Olympics.
Below is a press release issued by the Uyghur American Association:
The Uyghur American Association (UAA) welcomes the successful and peaceful conclusion of the Summer Olympic Games in Beijing, China on August 24, 2008. In addition, the UAA asks the Chinese government to use this occasion to honor its pre-Olympic promises for greater respect of human rights. Such a move would, along with the hosting of the Olympic Games, facilitate the Chinese government’s entry into the international community as a responsible global leader.
In statements made in 2001, the Chinese government pledged to improve its human rights record in order to secure its winning bid for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games. In contrast, the build-up to the Olympics was characterized by increased repression across China, particularly in East Turkestan, also known as Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Tibet.
Amnesty International stated that:
“…the crackdown on human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers has intensified because Beijing is hosting the Olympics. The authorities have stepped up repression of dissident voices in their efforts to present an image of ‘stability’ and ‘harmony’ to the outside world. This has resulted in the detention and imprisonment of those who wish to draw attention to the other side of the picture, which includes human rights violations perpetrated in preparation for the Games.”
In June , thousands of Uyghurs were detained and twenty were sentenced to death on Olympics-related charges in the months leading up to the Olympic torch’s arrival in East Turkestan. When the torch arrived in Urumqi and Kashgar, it did so under heavy security, including police checks of vehicles, snipers and warnings to residents to stay inside their buildings with their windows shuttered.
The Olympics Games period itself witnessed a number of human rights abuses, including the sensational case of two senior citizens in Beijing who were each sentenced to one year of re-education through labor. The two women were given the harsh sentences because they had applied for a protest permit in one of three “protest zones” set aside by the Chinese government during the Olympic Games.
The Uyghur Human Rights Project received reliable reports that non-resident Uyghurs in the city of Korla were detained, and were told that they would be released after the Beijing Olympics had ended. The detention of non-resident Uyghurs in Korla followed violent attacks that took place in Kucha on August 10 .
UAA unequivocally condemns the attacks in Kucha and another attack in Yamanya, which happened during the Olympics, along with an attack in Kashgar on August 4 . In a statement issued during the games period, Rebiya Kadeer, leader of the Uyghur freedom movement, said “the goal of our organization, and of the vast majority of Uyghurs around the world, is to peacefully resolve the problems facing Uyghurs in East Turkestan. We advocate the principle of non-violence, and the promotion of freedom, democracy and human rights through peaceful means.”
In the post-Olympics period and with the world’s attention moving from China, UAA fears that the Chinese government will continue and further intensify its human rights abuses. UAA believes that the Chinese government will follow through on its threat of a “life and death struggle” (in Chinese, literally a “you die, I live” struggle) in East Turkestan. An article published on August 15  says that diplomatic sources in Beijing are anticipating that “enhanced military action would begin immediately after the Olympics end on the 24th.”
The World Uyghur Congress has stated that the stepped-up campaign of repression has already begun in East Turkestan, with the detention of 500 Uyghurs across the region. One hundred of those detained are from the city of Kashgar.
The Chinese government has used the Olympic Games as an instrument to demonstrate its weight as a global power and to showcase its progress as an economic power. However, in order to be a responsible global stakeholder, the Chinese government should also respect the human rights of its citizens, as it said it would before the Olympic Games. In addition, the Chinese government should initiate democratic political reform in East Turkestan so that Uyghurs are brought into the political process. UAA asks the international community to maintain its vigilance on human rights issues in China and in particular towards events in East Turkestan.