Sunday, February 3, 2008

Human Rights Torch-Iceland's Move

Morgunbladid, Iceland: Jan. 26, 2008 - Get the latest here.

( In the run up to the Olympic games to be held next summer, the nations of the world are faced with the challenging question: "How can the Games support the human rights situation in China?" The Olympic Charter states that the goal of the Olympics is to place sports at the service of the harmonious development of man, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity. The Olympic committee's justification for choosing the People's Republic of China for the 2008 Summer Olympics was based on the conviction that doing so would be a way to press for positive change in the country. The choice was therefore made on the precondition that human rights would finally be respected in China.

For the past few years, independent international organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights in China, and Human Rights Watch have maintained that the human rights situation in China has not only not improved but worsened. Many other organizations concerned about this issue, such as the International Society for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders, Doctors Against Forced Organ Harvesting, the China Aid Association, and Olympic Watch also support those claimes. An independent organization that investigates the persecution of Falun Gong in China (CIPFG) has protested the increase in human rights violations in the country. They point to crimes against peace and the Olympic Spirit, organ harvesting for profit, the persecution of Christians, oppression of the Tibetian people, the suppression of the freedom to speak, and the sabotaging of efforts to stop the genocide in Sudan's Darfur region and the regime's violent crackdown on monks in Burma.

Disturbed by this situation created by the Chinese government, the organization has initiated a global "Human Rights Torch Relay" that began a world tour in the heart of Athens on the evening of August 9 a year before the Olympic Games. At the initial ceremony in Athens, participants came from different corners of the world. A planned series of events throughout Europe, Australia, and the United States dedicated to the cause has motivated mayors, members of parliaments, atheletes, and those concerned about human rights to officially express their concerns.

Besides a commitment to international human rights agreements, all fundamental human rights are listed in the Constitution of The Peoples Republic of China, including freedom of expression and the press, freedom for organizations and religious groups, and freedom from being held in custody without due process. In reality, lawyers that try to hold the Republic responsible through the legal system when these rights are violated can expect duress and persecution. Gao Zhisheng, a highly respected Chinese lawyer who has been nomitated for the Nobel Peace Prize, disappeared from his home on September 22. Earlier this year he published the book, A China More Just. My Fight as a Rights Lawyer in Communist China, and wrote a 16-page report to the US government, an invocation to the international society, two days before his disappearance.

In the name of The Human Rights Torch, Australian lawyers have called for the immediate release of Zhisheng and other prisoners of conscience, also for those whose rights have been violated in the name of the Olympic Games themselves. Ye Guozhu, an organizer of peaceful protests on behalf of the 1.5 million residents of Bejing whose homes have been taken away to be replaced by Olympic construction without fair compensation, has been imprisoned and tortured for four years and the organization suppressed.

Icelandic journalists that intend to report from the Olympic games next summer might have to accept illegal impingment of their journalistic freedom to tell the story of what is really going on in this populated country.

The Chinese Communist Pary has already openly admitted that detailed personal information about all journalist that intend to visit China next summer is being collected into a database. Truth is a liberating force, but repressive authorities that need to constantly cover up for their own actions live in fear of the truth and the will of the people. The existence of 30,000 Chinese Internet police that "protect" the Chinese public from informed discussion about democracy, human rights, and religion is a real testimony to such fear. By the beginning of the 2008 Summer Olympics, The Human Rights Torch Relay will have visited 35 countries and 150 cities, reflecting the solemn spirit of the Olympic Games and their status as a symbol for human dignity and respect for life.

Before the media spotlight shines on the atheletes' accomplishments in Bejing next summer, sports organizations, governments, journalists, and the general public around the world have to take a stance concerning the misuse of the Olympic vision. How can the Olympic vision assist a nation that is more interested in benefitting from the abuse of basic human rights than honoring human rights at the biggest sporting event in the world?

The Olympic Games and crimes against humanity cannot coexist. In Iceland, where human rights, peace and developmental aid are cornerstones, the goverment will undoubtedly take an explicit stance on this issue in the new year.

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