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Irwin Cotler is the Canadian co-chair of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, a former federal justice minister and a long-time parliamentarian. Yonah Diamond, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights’ legal counsel, made contributions.

In early 2001, as the member of Parliament for Mount Royal, I announced in the House of Commons a list of categories of human-rights violations that could serve to measure China’s international standing. On the eve of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, I released a report indicting China’s failure to meet those bars. I also warned that those Beijing Games risked turning into the “Genocide Olympics” following reports of China’s complicity in the Darfur genocide, as Sudan’s principal small-arms supplier.

Emboldened by the international community’s indifference and indulgence, the Chinese government has gone on to perpetrate its own crimes against humanity and genocide against Uyghurs and other indigenous peoples, as concluded by expert reports, rights organizations and an independent tribunal. After the United States determined that China is committing genocide, Canada’s House of Commons became the first Parliament to unanimously recognize it; followed by others, including Britain, the Netherlands, France and Lithuania.

What we were already witnessing in 2001 and 2008 were China’s pervasive assaults on human rights, which fly in the face of the Olympic values of excellence, friendship and respect. What we are seeing today, as China hosts the games for a second time in 14 years, is the utter betrayal and abandonment of the Olympic Charter.

In preparation for the 2008 Olympics, China intensified its crackdown on journalists, lawyers and activists. In 2006, Uyghur Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan and sent to China, where he was sentenced to life in prison for championing Uyghur rights – much of which was spent in solitary confinement. No one has heard from him since 2016. Practitioners of the spiritual group Falun Gong were also forcibly disappeared in the thousands in the lead-up to the 2008 games. In 2019, an independent tribunal found that China was committing crimes against humanity against the group, including forced organ harvesting. Canadian Sun Qian was arrested in 2017 and, three years later, was sentenced to eight years in prison after being subjected to torture – all for practising Falun Gong.

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In 2008, China was violently suppressing protests in Tibet, a region already subject to severe restrictions. Since then, the government has systematically separated Tibetan children from their families, with nearly 80 per cent now in state-run boarding schools that erase their cultural identity. Tibetans are subjected to widespread forced labour programs, military-style training and “thought education.” More than half a million people went through such training in the first seven months of 2020 alone.

Another dramatic development since 2008 has been China’s frontal assault not only on the democracy movement in Hong Kong, but on democracy itself.

Recently, China has forcibly disappeared women for speaking out about sexual assault, including Huang Xueqin, a journalist and leading voice in China’s #MeToo movement. Beijing also appears to have coerced former world No. 1 tennis star Peng Shuai into silence and recanting her allegations that a former vice-premier of China, Zhang Gaoli, had forced her into sex.

During the initial outbreak of COVID-19, China punished or disappeared truth-tellers sounding the alarm. Dr. Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist at the Central Hospital of Wuhan, was detained for “spreading false rumours” and forced to sign a document denouncing his forewarning of a SARS-like virus in December, 2019. He contracted the virus and died weeks later. Citizen journalist Zhang Zhan is serving a four-year prison term for documenting the COVID-19 outbreak, including overflowing hospitals and Wuhan’s crematorium in constant operation.

China went from tightly controlling the internet in 2008 to enhancing surveillance through facial, emotion and even ethnicity-recognition technology, including a Huawei-tested “Uyghur alarm.” In 2008, China at least demonstrated a pretense for tolerating protest during the Olympics. Today, there has been a complete clampdown on dissent.

In 1936, the fencer Helene Mayer was the only German athlete of Jewish ancestry that the Third Reich allowed to participate in the Berlin Olympics, as a token to Western countries alarmed by the Nazis’ rise. So when China chose an Olympian of Uyghur descent to light the Olympic cauldron, the similarities were chilling.

When asked about the International Olympic Committee’s position on the Uyghurs, president Thomas Bach deemed their plight to be a “political issue” – a mockery of his own oath “to fight against all forms of discrimination.” Mr. Bach added that if the IOC were to take a stand, the Games would lose their “mission” – one that purports to “place sport at the service of humanity.”

But taking a stand is the only way to protect that mission and redeem these “Games of Shame” – for our athletes, and for our common humanity.

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