Human rights given low profile in 2022 Games debate

Human rights given low profile in 2022 Games debate

The International Olympic Committee has strengthened human rights demands for cities vying for the Olympics, but has little choice when deciding between China and Kazakhstan for the 2022 Winter Games on Friday.

Both countries have "extremely poor" records on basic rights, according to Human Rights Watch which has called on the IOC to force the winner to stick to commitments made under the Olympic deal.

The IOC passed reforms in December which included a demand that host cities ban sexual discrimination and guarantee free reporting of the Olympics. That came partly after outrage over Russia`s anti-gay law introduced just before it hosted the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi.

But the Olympic leadership can do little about government action against opponents.

IOC president Thomas Bach often says that national laws have to be respected, and rights have not figured strongly in the public debate about whether the 2022 Games should go to Beijing or Almaty, the former Kazakh capital.

China, the favourites for the 2022 vote by the IOC, this month detained or called for questioning more than 130 lawyers in its latest crackdown, according to Chinese rights groups.

In Kazakhstan, there were "between 350 and 400 complaints of torture and other ill-treatment... annually in 2013 and 2014," according to rights group Amnesty International. Nursultan Nazarbayev, the authoritarian president, regularly faces criticism from abroad.Oil-rich Kazakhstan`s Prime Minister Karim Massimov said that holding the Olympics could improve the political atmosphere.

"We have 100 different ethnic groups and 40 different confessions" and have created "peaceful development", Massimov told reporters Thursday while lobbying in Kuala Lumpur for the Olympic bid.

"I strongly believe in the fact that Almaty 2022 and the direction of the Olympic movement will influence the human rights development in the country and I will do whatever it takes to make it happen.

"We will do everything in accordance with international Olympic movement direction. It`s not because of the IOC, its because we mean that."

China, which was hailed for its 2008 summer Olympics, has long insisted that politics should be kept out of sport.

"While it is only normal for different groups to raise specific interests around major sporting events, we believe in the Olympic Charter`s vision to protect the power of sport from political influence," said a statement sent to AFP by the Beijing bid committee when asked about human rights.

"Beijing 2022 will continue to follow the Olympic Charter and stand by the effort to keep politics and sport separate."

The IOC`s evaluation commission said after a visit to Beijing this year that the bid committee had given "written guarantees" about human rights and the right to demonstrate, without giving details.

"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," said Minky Worden of HRW.

The New York based group reportedly signed a letter sent by a group of Chinese lawyers and activists, including leaders of the 1989 student protests, calling on the IOC not to award the 2022 Games to Beijing.

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