At an April 3 press conference in Beijing, International Olympic Committee Hein Verbruggen asked about human rights in China, said comfortably, as reported by Human Rights Watch, that the IOC "can easily prove that bringing the Games here has led to improvements." But after the Olympic torch came close to being extinguished by thousands of protesters in Athens, Paris, London and San Francisco, the shaken IOC President Jacques Rogge told The New York Times (April 11) that the tumultuous reaction is creating a "crisis" for that august institution.
A demonstrator in San Francisco, speaking of the torch-relay reception, called that symbol "the flame of shame." To prevent further crises, Rogge finally called for China to hold to the guarantees it gave to get the games: "a 'moral engagement' to improve human rights in the months leading up to the Games" and an assurance there would be unfettered press freedom for international media before and during the Olympics.
But as the world has seen, hundreds of Chinese human-rights activists and journalists have been imprisoned, and foreign telecommunications companies have been banned from showing live shots of Tiananmen Square (site of the 1989 massacre of Chinese pro-democracy students) during the games while foreign reports from Tibet are being blacked out.
The Chinese response to Rogge's request that it live up its guarantees was indignant rejection, and a demand that the IOC stop meddling in China's internal affairs.
Rogge, while not at all demanding that the torch relay, which began in 1936 to celebrate the coming of the Olympics to Nazi Germany, be stopped, is aware that his long silence on China's broken pledges has led to such attacks on his organization as a charge by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders that "It is your silence that has unfortunately made all these human rights abuses possible."
Rogge has broken that silence because not only China's standing in the world has been further blackened, but the IOC is fast losing stature, endangering the credibility for years to come of its mission, as proclaimed in its charter, to promote "a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity."
In a further blow to China, and to the IOC's startling decision to award the games to that grim state, the European Parliament (BBC, April 10) passed a nonbinding (but resonating) resolution that its members' leaders consider not attending the opening ceremonies of China's "One World, One Dream" events (now a nightmare) unless that imperious nation engages in a dialogue with the Dalai Lama (who has not called for a boycott of the games), and stops it repressions in Tibet.
How long will this surge of moral concern by the European Parliament and the International Olympic Committee last? Long before Rogge's sudden recognition of this "crisis," Human Rights Watch had urged him to raise with the Chinese government the jailing for 3-1/2 years of China's leading human rights activist, 34-year-old Hu Jia.
As Human Rights Watch's Asia advocacy director, Sophie Richardson, had reminded Rogge: "Hu Jia's sentence shows that you can't defend human rights in China without becoming a case yourself."
The charge against Hu Jia and many other brave Chinese who have reported to the world their struggles to begin an opening for democracy, is "incitement to subvert state power." Hu Jia's wife, Zeng Jinyan, is also a fearless, internationally known human-rights champion. Their daughter born last November, a few weeks before her father's imprisonment is under house arrest along with her mother.
Will IOC president Rogge try to pay a visit to them between the Beijing sporting events in August?
Unintentionally, of course, having the Olympics in China has shone harsh light on China's crimes in Tibet and its complicity in the genocide in Darfur conducted by Sudan, China's primary business partner, protector and arms supplier. Present at the protest in San Francisco was Muhdy Bahradin, a Darfur refugee, who told the New York Sun (April 10):
"I lost a lot of my students, my family members, my relatives in the genocide. This (demonstration) isn't political. ... This is about human beings. This is about human lives."
However, on Sept. 11, Coca-Cola spokesman Kelly Brooks (a corporate sponsor of the Olympics) told The New York Times: "We firmly believe the Olympics are a force for good that celebrates the best in sports, and we are proud to support the Beijing 2008 Olympics.
The Wall Street Journal (March 17) reports that Coca Cola and other corporations have paid as much as $120 million, according to some estimates, to sponsor Beijing's Olympics. President Bush will be there.
Happy viewing, Mr. President!