OTTAWA—On the eve of the Beijing Olympics, Liberal MP Irwin Cotler released a report that highly criticizes China’s ongoing human rights abuses despite promising to make improvements when awarded the Games in 2001.
“What we are witnessing today in China is a persistent and pervasive assault on human rights — a betrayal of the Olympic Charter, the modern Olympic movement, and China’s pledge to respect both,” said Mr. Cotler at a press conference on Parliament Hill.
The report identifies 11 key areas of human rights violations by the Chinese regime. They include Tibetans, Falun Gong practitioners and other persecuted groups; the crackdown on press freedom; mistreatment of prisoners; the death penalty; and complicity in genocide and rights abuses in countries such as Darfur, Zimbabwe, Burma, and Nepal.
“China undertook, in their words, to respect human rights, to respect media freedom, and then they added, ‘we will translate these words into deeds,’” Mr. Cotler said at an interview following the press conference. “Yet seven years later, the deeds mock the words.”
Mr. Cotler urged foreign governments to “speak up and speak out” and in particular asked world leaders attending the Beijing Olympics to call publicly for the release of political prisoners.
His report includes names of specific prisoners and makes recommendations with respect to each category.
“It concludes both with the need to hold China to account to end the culture of impunity, and to secure the promises that China originally gave that it would have press freedom and advance the cause of human rights,” said Mr. Cotler
At the press conference he was accompanied by former Secretary of State for Asia-Pacific David Kilgour, international human rights activist and Miss World Canada 2003 Nazanin Afshin-Jam, and Beryl Wajsman, president of the Institute for Public Affairs of Montreal.
Mr. Cotler is a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada and currently the Official Opposition Human Rights Critic. He noted that “there is an inter-relationship between trade and human rights and we cannot proceed in terms of business as usual.”
Mr. Kilgour agreed. In dealing more effectively with China, one of the areas that should be explored is trade laws, he said.
“If we all act together, Canada with all the trading partners of China doing the same thing, for example not allow fraudulently made goods or counterfeit goods to come to any of our countries, … I think we will be a lot more effective.”
Mr. Cotler added that “we can’t just be sending trade missions — we should be sending human rights missions to China as well.”
Commenting on the attendance of U.S. President George Bush and Foreign Minister David Emerson at the Games, Mr. Cotler said what is important is what these world leaders do and will continue to do whether they attend or not.
After the press conference the speakers joined a demonstration at the Chinese embassy that drew over 250 people, including representatives from Reporters without Borders and the Uyghur, Dafrurian, Tibetan, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Burmese, and Falun Gong communities.
“It’s been close to my heart to try to help all the oppressed in the world,” said Ms. Afshin-Jam, whose idea it was to hold the event.
“We decided to organize an event here in our capital to show Canadian people’s solidarity for the people of China. Simultaneously around the world other groups are gathering at various Chinese embassies and other meeting points.”
Mr. Wajsman’s institute, in conjunction with the Canada-Tibet Committee (CTC), gave support by providing transportation for participants coming from Montreal.
This event shows the government of China that “unlike other protests this is a protest that is bringing diverse groups together to speak with one single voice,” said Dermod Travis, CTC’s executive director.
Ms. Afshin-Jam said she is seeing the Olympics as a “blessing in disguise.
“Our journalists are finally seeing just how restrictive the satellites are… This will get our journalists to spread the message and put more pressure on the Chinese government to make change.”
Pamela McLennan of the Coalition to Investigate the Persecution of Falun Gong noted that her organization has provided a journalists’ guide to forced labour camps near Olympic venues where thousands of Falun Gong adherents are incarcerated for their belief.
She encouraged international journalists attending the games to investigate human rights abuses in China.