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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Why China's Olympics is Good for Tibet, Darfur, and Puppies and Kittens

April 5, 2008

The Huffington Post, NY
April 4, 2008

'The most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle'.
- Pierre de Coubertin, Founder of the modern Olympic Games

Seven years ago, I was nursing a sunburn in a tent on a sidewalk outside
the offices of the Vice President of the United States Olympic Committee
in a rough neighborhood near downtown Los Angeles. I was one of a
handful of activists there to protest the 2008 Summer Olympics being
handed to Beijing.

When the verdict came down in favor of China, it felt like a low point
in the struggle for human rights. Little did we know back then that
these Olympics would become a lightening rod for social causes across
the planet--from human rights to animal rights, to labor rights and the
environment. The Beijing Olympics has engaged and inspired activists
like never before, and made activists out of those who were only
sideline sympathizers. It is simply the best thing to have happened to
the Tibetan cause in 50 years. And I find myself asking, 'What were we
thinking?' But as long time Tibet activist, Tseten Phanucharas says, "It
was important to protest then, and it's important to grasp the
opportunity now."

The opportunity now is loaded with potential. The Olympics is good for
Tibet, and Darfur, and puppies and kittens, but not for the reasons that
the IOC thinks. IOC president Jacques Rogge buoyantly proclaimed his
conviction that the Olympic Games "will improve human rights in China".
But it seems the opposite is true. Amnesty International is reporting
that China's human rights record has actually deteriorated since being
awarded the Games as it engages in a pre-Olympic Spring-cleaning of
potential troublemakers.

The IOC said that the Olympics would open China up. It's opened China up
all right--not to a relaxation of their repressive policies, but to the
scrutiny and attention of the free world. And this is what is creating
pressure for change in China. It's thanks to the journalists on the
front line of our much-maligned media, and the bureau chiefs at CNN,
BBC, Reuters and AP, who are bringing the stories to our attention that
then creates public pressure on politicians to act.

And, now, like a scenario dreamed up by Human Rights Inc., the torch is
being carried across the continents of the globe, looking less like a
glowing beacon of the human spirit than a symbol of violence and
repression. The torch's journey is igniting protests, discussion and
debate, and shedding even more light on the issues that China would
rather ignore (including the grievances of middle-American blue collar
workers who are waking up to find their jobs have relocated to Jiangsu).

And carrying the torch is feeling, well.... icky. The captain of India's
national soccer team has refused to carry it, as has a disabled British
comedienne. It's getting harder to find people who want to touch the
thing. San Francisco's Board of Supervisors have said that the city will
receive the torch in a spirit of "alarm and protest"--not exactly the
reaction China had in mind, I'm guessing.

Separating politics from the 2008 Beijing Games will be like trying to
separate heat from fire. Who is going to watch the opening ceremonies in
August and not think about Chinese police firing live ammunition into
crowds of Tibetan monks, or the torture of prisoners, or the horrors of
Darfur, or the muzzling of journalists?

Tibetans know that this is their year; that the Olympics have given them
a once in a lifetime opportunity to be heard among the ka-ching! of
trade interests that always seems to drown out the calls for freedom and
decency. The IOC has repeatedly said that it doesn't want to involve
itself in politics. It keeps talking about something called the "Olympic
spirit". But in trying to crush the human spirit, it is China's leaders
who have made the Games political. And they couldn't have done a better job.

Rebecca Novick is the Executive Producer of The Tibet Connection radio
program thetibetconnection.org
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
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