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IOC official urges statement on human rights in China

November 29, 2007

By David Brunnstrom
Reuters
Monday, November 26, 2007; 2:50 PM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior International Olympic Committee (IOC)
official and European parliament member Pal Schmitt said on Monday he
would urge the IOC to make a statement on human rights in China before
next year's Beijing Games.

Schmitt, 65, a fencing gold medalist for Hungary at the 1968 and 1972
Games, said the IOC had taken political stances before, such as when it
suspended South Africa in 1964 over its racial separation policies.

"It is time for a political statement," he said after hearing dissidents
and activists speak of a worsening human rights climate in the run up to
the Games.

"We can't just close our ears to what's happening. We did it for the
apartheid regime, so let's do it again."

Schmitt said he did not agree with some fellow MEPS, who were urging a
boycott of the Games.

"So far no boycott has ever actually helped. You would be just punishing
the athletes, and human rights activists themselves are saying we should
organize the Games.

"We want to give China an opportunity, it is a golden opportunity...but
we expect them in turn to respect human rights."

Schmitt told Reuters he had an obligation to pass European Parliament
concerns to the IOC president.

""There is a tremendous pressure from all directions in the world...We
have a shared responsibility," he said.

Schmitt said he did not think a statement on rights would hurt IOC ties
with China.

"I don't think it will poison our relationship, which it can be said is
excellent. Based on this we can raise some other issues that might be
inconvenient."

DISSIDENTS SPEAK

Schmitt spoke after hearing contributions to the debate from two Chinese
dissidents, including Hu Jia, who is currently under house arrest and
who accused the Chinese government of aiming to use the Games to bolster
its rule as German leader Adolf Hitler did with the 1936 Berlin Games.

"On one side you have Western society and the Chinese people who are
hoping the Games will bring openness and freedom, but the Chinese
authorities want to use them to solidify their rule," Hu said in an
audio link via an interpreter.

"They are persecuting many people and right now in China it is the peak
of that persecution."

Activists welcomed Schmitt's pledge and questioned why the IOC had not
made a statement already on China's failure to stick to its Olympic bid
pledge on media freedoms.

"We are going to be watching the IOC to see that they do follow through
on these issues," said Phelim Kine of Human Rights Watch, adding that
they should be dealt with just as concerns had been about air quality
and infrastructure.

"It's a deal, it part of the package. We want them to tell the Chinese
government: 'it's not working, fix it'."

Sharon Hom, director of Human Rights in China, said it was important for
the IOC to act. "We'll have to see what they come up with." she said.
"The proof of the pudding is in the eating."

(Editing by John Mehaffey)
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