Boycotting the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

The following letter ended up in my inbox today from Huang Jinming of the Central Committee of the Social Democratic Party of China. Their website is under construction and there wasn’t much I could find out about them online. However, their letter lays out some principled, well-reasoned arguments, so I thought it was worth sharing.

For continued coverage and commentary on China, the Olympics and Human Rights, check out Human Rights Watch’s China Olympics website.

Continue reading Boycotting the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

Commentary on the Olympic Torch Protests

Human Rights Watch Asia Advocacy Director Sophie Richardson on The Newshour.

Human Rights Watch Media Director Minky Worden on Democracy Now!

The Olympic Torch Relay dates back to the Nazi Olympics in 1936.

Minky Worden:

There is a wonderful new academic book called Nazi Games, which gives a concise history of this. The torch relay itself is essentially a PR invention of the Nazi era, and the point of it was to run the torch through parts of Europe that Nazi Germany hoped to take over, including the Sudetenland. So I think if the corporate sponsors of the torch relay really knew the history of this, I can’t imagine that they would want to be associated with it. And the sponsors are Coca Cola, Lenovo, and Samsung…There certainly will be a price to pay in terms of corporate reputation if the torch relay inside China turns into a major human rights debacle.

Minky’s upcoming book: China’s Great Leap: The Beijing Games and Olympian Human Rights Challenges.

My view: The Olympics are essentially about political propaganda and making money. The role of activists and people who are simply engaged and concerned with the issues, both in China and people standing in solidarity with the people living in/under the PRC, is to exploit the inherent weaknesses and flaws of authoritarian propaganda (and it’s private sector corollaries, corporate branding and marketing) and to communicate an alternative message of respect for rule of law, human rights, and basic universal freedoms. We need to brand-jack and culture jam the marketing/propaganda of the Olympics to refocus attention on real issues of human rights and freedoms.

On “danger” tourism

What do you think?

Burma, China, North Korea – should travelers visit oppressive countries with bad human rights records?  I read this article this morning while I was waiting at the dentist’s office.

In her April 2008 article, “See Mo’ Evil,” Outside senior editor Stephanie Pearson rebuts Nobel Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi’s call for tourists to stop visiting Myanmar. What does Pearson think is the best way to respond to a travel boycott in a human-rights-violating country ruled by an oppressive regime? Go there and check it out.

Every country in the world, including the US, is guilty of human rights abuses to one extent or another, so if I wanted to be totally consistent, then I wouldn’t travel anywhere. With all the photos, video and reports of human rights abuses in Burma, I don’t think it is necessary to go and visit to “see for myself.” I find the whole idea of “disaster tourism” a little bit distasteful. I guess it is ultimately an individual choice. Personally, I would respect the wishes of Aung San Suu Kyi and avoid traveling to Burma until there is real substantive change.

Yogyakarta Principles and rude, racist guard at the UN

LS outside the UN with Human Rights Watch colleagues

I went to the New York launch of the Yogyakarta Principles on LGBT rights in the international human rights context on Wednesday. It was my first time inside the UN, so it was very exciting. I was very upset by a very rude and racist security guard working at the security entrance, but it did not damper my spirits at this historic event in the struggle for international human rights for ALL people.

From the Yogyakarta Principles website:

In 2006, in response to well-documented patterns of abuse, a distinguished group of international human rights experts met in Yogyakarta, Indonesia to outline a set of international principles relating to sexual orientation and gender identity. The result was the Yogyakarta Principles: a universal guide to human rights which affirm binding international legal standards with which all States must comply. They promise a different future where all people born free and equal in dignity and rights can fulfill that precious birthright.

So here is the story of the security guard: He was a white man and most likely an Eastern European immigrant based on his heavy accent. There was a woman ahead of me in line wearing metal bracelets. He told her to lift her hands up while going through the metal detector, because the machine indicates where the metal objects are. If she beeps only because of her bracelets, then he would let her through. But he did not convey this in a clear manner, or the woman did not understand him well. So the security guard cracks a not-so-funny comment: “You know, I’m not speaking Japanese here you know!” I cringe.

Then it is my turn to go through the metal detector. I take off my coat and empty my pockets and place my belongings on the conveyor belt x-ray. Then I walk through the metal detector. My belt buckle sets off the metal detector. He tells me to take off my belt. “What!?” I retort. I have been in airports countless times, and NEVER have I had to take off my belt or seen anybody take off their belts. That is why they have wands. Taking off one’s belt in public is 1 step too close to a strip search. Ok, maybe that is overexagerating, but it is undignified in any case. “Don’t you have a wand?” I ask. “No, I’m kidding when I tell you to take off your belt!” he snaps back. I would have gladly taken off my belt the first time if he had asked nicely, without sarcasm and spite in his voice. I say, “well, you could at least ask nicely…”

“Please, thank you” was his curt reply.

If I were to give this guy the benefit of the doubt, perhaps his English abilities were not good enough to convey instructions in a polite way. Or maybe he is just rude. Either way this is still unacceptable, especially at an institution such as the UN. In addition, we were not tourists; we were invited guests to a special event. Not that we should get preferential treatment in any way, but the UN does belong to the people of the world after all. Racist comments and unnecessary rudeness have no place. Also, if you are going to work in a customer service position that deals with the public, it should be expected that you can communicate politely.

Sorry for the rant. In any case you can read more about the Yogyakarta Principles New York launch on the Human Rights Watch website and visit the official Yogyakarta Principles homepage.

Avaaz: Burma campaign update

This is an email I received today from Avaaz.org. They are on a staff retreat right now in the South of Spain, but it seems like they are keeping busy with this Burma campaign and trying to get ads placed in newspapers. I can’t wait to see what the ads look like. Hopefully, they will make a splash.

Dear friends,

Our emergency petition to stop the crackdown on peaceful protesters in Burma is exploding, with nearly 500,000 signers from every nation of the world. But the situation in Burma remains desperate, with reports of hundreds of monks being massacred and tortured. Burma’s rulers have also killed and expelled international journalists, cutting off global media coverage of their cruelty.

China is still the key – the country with the most power to halt the Burmese generals’ reign of terror. We’re delivering our message this week with a massive ad campaign in major newspapers, beginning Thursday with a full page ad in the Financial Times worldwide, and in the South China Morning Post. The strength of the ad comes from the number of petition signers listed – can we reach our goal of 1 million signatures this week? The link to sign the petition and view the ad is below, forward this email to all your friends and family!

http://www.avaaz.org/en/stand_with_burma/u.php

China continues to provide key economic and military support to Burma’s dictatorship, but it has been openly critical of the crackdown. Now we need the government to match words with actions. Our ad paints a powerful moment of choice for China in its relationship with the world – will it be a responsible and respected member of the global community, or will it be associated with tyranny and oppression?

People power, on the streets of Burma, and around the world, can triumph over tyranny. Our strength is in our numbers, spread the word!

With hope and determination,

Ricken, Paul, Ben, Graziela, Pascal, Galit and the whole Avaaz team.

For the best local reporting on the situation in Burma, try these links:

http://www.irrawaddy.org

http://www.mizzima.com