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Human Rights Watch issues IOC warning ahead of 2022 Olympics vote

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the International Olympic Committee to fully respect human rights commitments in preparing for and hosting the 2022 winter Olympic Games, adding the forthcoming decision over whether Almaty or Beijing will stage the event will provide an “extreme test” of the IOC’s new Agenda 2020 measures.

The IOC is set to choose between China and Kazakhstan at its 128th Congress in Kuala Lumpur on July 31. Ahead of the vote, HRW has sought to remind the IOC that both countries have “extremely poor” human rights records.

“Whether China or Kazakhstan wins the honour of hosting the 2022 winter Games, the IOC will face an extreme test of its new commitment to improve human rights protections,” Minky Worden, global initiatives director at Human Rights Watch, said. “The International Olympic Committee should insist that the host country rigorously comply with the Olympic Charter and basic human rights rules – or risk losing the right to host the Games.”

HRW said Chinese and Kazakh authorities are “openly hostile” to media and activists who criticise the government and fail to protect freedom of expression, assembly, and association and other basic human rights. It said discrimination and labour violations, and government failure to combat them, are serious concerns. HRW added that neither country provides effective, independent judicial mechanisms for people seeking protection from abuse.

The IOC adopted its Agenda 2020 reforms package in December, which include specific requirements for host cities to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and ensure labour rights and other human rights protections. The Olympic Charter requires all hosts to uphold press freedom and identifies “human dignity” as an essential part of the Olympic Movement. However, HRW highlighted that the IOC has no human rights monitoring mechanisms in place to measure a host country’s respect for these rules.

“The 2022 Winter Games are when the rubber meets the road for the IOC in terms of backing core principles,” Worden said. “Knowing that either way the selection process goes, a serious rights abuser will host the Games, the IOC should require meaningful rights protection in host city contracts, and monitor those commitments as rigorously as it monitors stadium construction, telecommunications, and other requirements.”

HRW has said the IOC should ensure that the 2022 host city contract includes specific provisions on the city’s commitment to ensure that human rights are respected and protected in the preparations for hosting and staging the Games as well as sanctions for not complying. It added the IOC should also establish in-house human rights expertise and an independent human rights monitoring body to report to it regularly on the implementation of the human rights requirements in the host city contract.

Writing in response to HRW’s report, IOC president Thomas Bach said: “In the context of the evaluation for the Games, the IOC’s Evaluation Commission sought assurances from both Candidate Cities and their local Government authorities that the Host City Contract and Olympic Charter would be fully respected for all participants of the Olympic Games and in Olympic-related matters.”

He added: “As a sporting organisation, we are not in a position to dictate the wider laws of any sovereign nation. This is not our role. Our role is that when it comes to evaluate Candidate Cities and to elect Host Cities, we have the necessary guarantees that there is no discrimination of any kind at the Games.”