IOC Convenes Human Rights Committee

(ATR) The IOC tasked a new committee with improving human rights at Olympic events.

(ATR) The IOC wants to promote human rights around the world with respect to the organization’s "sphere of work".

An "advisory committee on human rights" was set up by the IOC Executive Board in its meeting in Tokyo. It will be chaired by Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the well-respected former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The committee will have six to nine members when it is finalized in March. ,

The committee's remit concerns issues related to protecting the human rights of athletes in international sporting competition, as well as those who participate in Olympic events in other capacities. This includes everyone from workers in construction of related venues, to journalists and officials entering countries to work at events.

However, IOC President Thomas Bach made it explicitly clear that the purview of the committee will not extend outside the Olympic Games.

"The IOC has neither the mandate, nor the authority to solve human rights problems which are going beyond our mandate, which are a political issue and have to be addressed by the competent authorities in this regard," Bach said in response to a question from Around the Ringsabout the council.

"We should not even pretend that we have the possibility to address these issues in an efficient way. We should concentrate on what we really can achieve and what we can do."

To Host or Not to Host

What role the IOC should play in countries that have histories of human rights abuses have once again come to the forefront as Beijing prepares to stage the 2022 Winter Olympics. Activists flagged China’s spotty record on human rights and environmental promises during Beijing’s Olympic bid.

Beijing became the first city to host the Summer and Winter Olympics by narrowly beating Almaty, Kazkahstan, for the 2022 Winter Olympics. Since then human rights groups have raised internarional pressure about reports of mass detention centers in the country’s Xinjiang province.

"I guess we are about to find out where the IOC won't and will hold Games," Sophie Richardson, the China Director at Human Rights Watch, told ATR following the last Beijing 2022 Coordination Commission.

"There is a certain irony that senior IOC officials are allowed in the country to inspect the Olympics, at a time when the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling for access to Xinjiang."

"Appalling" Landscape

Al-Hussein resigned his position as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in late 2017, telling his staff that he would not seek a second term. He said the world is facing an "appalling" landscape of human rights in a memo first reported by Foreign Policy.

In his final address as High Commissioner to the UN Human Rights Council al-Hussein blasted Chinese officials for a lack of access to Tibet and Xinjiang. He said he was "dismayed by China’s continuing efforts to prevent independent members of civil society from engaging with human rights mechanisms".

The former commissioner will now work with the IOC to broaden its protection of human rights. While the committee he chairs is unlikely to address the situation in Xinjiang, it could address issues such as how to push for free access to information for journalists at a time when China is reportedly clamping down on such access.

Transgender Rights

Bach said another issue the committee is likely to focus on will be ensuring rights of transgender athletes during competition and training. The IOC adopted a broad consensus guideline for transgender athletes in 2016, loosening the requirements for athletes to compete in the gender they identify as.

The guidelines were a set of best practices for international federations to follow, and were an update to a 2003 policy on transgender athletes. The 2020 Olympics will be the first full quadrennial Olympic cycle for which the policy was in place and in use during Olympic qualifying.

"This concerns the transgender policy of the IOC where the Olympic movement where complicated issues have to be addressed and human rights will play central role," Bach said of his hope for the committee.

​ Written by Aaron Bauer in Tokyo

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