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China’s human rights crimes prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympics

The decision to choose China to host 2008 Summer Olympics was controversial.[1] Many international actors called for protests to oppose the opening ceremony in China. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Influential political figures asked the International Community to boycott the 2008 Olympics in China.[2] United States Commission on International Religious Freedom reasoned that the boycott would provoke China to change its controversial policies. Other institution contended that refusing to attend the games would only intensify human rights abuses by the Chinese government[3] This paper would examines China’s human rights crimes prior to the 2008 Beijing Olympic.

Chinese occupation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region

Human rights in Tibet had been a contentious issue before the 2008 Olympic Games. In 1992, Amnesty International reported that Judicial standard in Beijing were below the “international standard. The report stated that the Chinese Communist party entertained death penalty, ill-treated prisoners of war and carried out extrajudicial executions in Tibet.[4] In one case that was reported by the Amnesty International in Tibet, Paltsal Kyab passed away after he was detained by Chinese police officer during the 2008 protests. Members of his family were not allowed to vist him and they did not know of his whereabouts until his death. His family discovered that his body was covered with blisters. The body also had internal injuries. The police reported that he was sick but the family asserted he was healthy before his dentation.[5]

A UN report regarding its Tibetan resolution in 1965 proclaimed that the Chinese occupation in Tibet had been characterized by rape, murder, torture, inhuman treatment and arbitrary imprisonment of Tibetans.[6] In addition, the U.S Department of State reported that before the 2008 Olympic Games, many people who were rioting in China were subjected to extra-judicial punishments.[7] The severe chastisement included: merciless beatings and deprivation of water, sleep and food for a long period of time. In some instances, detainees sustained either broken bones or serious injuries at the hands of police officers.[8] There were allegations that bodies of people who were killed during the unrest were disposed of secretly by the authority.

Chinese had dismissed Tibetan declaration of independence for many years. Chinese troops attacked and seized control of Tibetan region in 1950. Chinese government claims that the human rights condition in the area has significantly improved. However, Tibetan non-governmental organizations maintain that human rights situation remain intolerable.[9] There are still persistent violations of the Universal Declarations of Human Rights (UNDHR). Without an option, the people of Tibetan are deprived of their right to self-determination, a freedom of expression, assembly, movement, and speech. Any attempts by the people were met with excessive force by the Chinese Police.[10] Tibetan also claimed that their heritage was endangered by the government of China which was settling Hans Chinese in Tibet. These are some of the issues that fuelled the International community to boycott the 2008 Olympic.

Chinese invasion to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region

Chinese invasion to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region was also subject to criticism. Though Uyghur’s had been asking for their independence for many years, the Chinese forces continued to control the region. The people’s attempts to protest the Chinese activities were met with severe punishments from Beijing. The aggression between the Uyghur’s citizens and the Han Chinese Government was alleged to be religiously or ethnically based. Some Uyghur’s nationalist resorted to guerilla warfare in order to get their independence. In response, the United States and the UN joined the Chinese government in tagging the Uyghur’s’ East Turkestan Islamic Movement an extremist organization. Before the 2008 Summer Olympic, separatists groups staged riots, demonstration, and protest in China. The way that China handled those protests became a human rights concern.

The Uighurs in Xinjiang had been exposed to oppressive policies before 2008 Olympic Games. Protester in the religion were imprisoned and executed. In addition to legal executions, demonstrators were shot by the police even if they did not pose any danger.[11]

Through its “War on Terror”, china had equated any form of dissent or criticism with separatism, extremism and terrorism.[12] Consequently, advocates of independence in this region were characterized as terrorists. Many Uighurs continued to suffer in prisons for practicing Islam “illegally”. Others were arrested for writing, expressing and publishing thoughts privately and publically that did not rhyme with Chinese government’s ideologies.

„To speak of the conditions of human rights…cannot be in violation of the Olympic Charter. To speak of human rights is not politics; only authoritarian and totalitarian regimes try to make it so. To speak of human rights is a duty. “

–Vaclav Havel, Desmond Tutu, Edward McMillan Scott and Wei Jingsheng
in a letter to Chinese authorities, July 31, 2008

Chinese support authoritarian regimes

Before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the China’s foreign policy was subjected to intense debate. The UN charter prohibits a foreign nation from militarily supporting any side of the conflict. However, in relation to Darfur, there were reports that China was providing armored trucks, small arms and fight jets to the government of Sudan.[13] Some people believed that the assistance was linked to the economic ties between Sudan and China. Most of the Sudan oil was exported to China.

China ignored human rights completely despite being asked by non-governmental organizations and Western governments to withdraw its support in Darfur. The country was asked to stop its own economic interest and bear some responsibility as violations of human rights in Darfur were concerned.[14] As the 2008 Beijing approached, many governments put pressure on China to stop arming the dictatorial Sudanese government.[15] Furthermore, many US Representatives contacted the Chinese President, informing him that if China failed to take measures in connection to Darfur, then 2008 Beijing Olympic Games might be boycotted.

China was also known to assist other authoritarian regimes with bad human rights records. Previously, China supported Myanmar government. It provided around $1 billion to Myanmar as foreign investment. Before the 2008 Summer Olympic, such provocative foreign relations were condemned by the human rights institutions.

Chinese curtailed Freedom of Speech and the Press

According to Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression. “This right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers. Although the Constitution of Chinese guarantee the freedom of speech, the country used “ protection of secrets of states” and “ state power subversion” clauses to arrest and imprison those people that dared to question government activities.[16]

In China, there was no freedom of expression. The government maintained a grip on all the things that people wanted to say and express. Consequently, there was fear among the journalists, internet website makers and filmmakers who take caution not to convey any message that was deemed unacceptable by the government. Any rebellion was met with harsh prison sentences, loss of job or business, and expulsion from the country.[17]

Before the Olympics Games, Beijing assured foreign journalists that they would have complete freedom to report the game from China. Conversely, as the Olympic was approaching, journalists who attempted to report anti-Olympics were either detained or deported. Human rights activists residing in Chinese were removed from the capital to pave way for the game. Hu Jia was among the activists that were arrested and removed from Beijing.

Coverage of negative happenings taking place in Xinjiang and Tibet were not allowed. Although the Chinese government had promised to allow unregulated internet, many websites including Amnesty International remained blocked.

Despite Chinese agreeing that it would issue protest permits and secure certain areas for protests, application for protests were not approved. There were reports that several applicants were detained. Many applications were suspended, withdrawn and rejected. Any person who protested was hurriedly arrested.

Labor Rights Issues

China identified itself as socialist country that was led by the working class. Article 42 of the state’s constitution states that work should be available to every abled-bodied citizen. All workers in rural and urban areas should perform their work with an attitude of royalty to their country. The state encourages people to work and to participate in voluntary labor.[18]

By virtue of being a member of the UN, Chinese government was required to meet certain labor standards of International Labour Organization. The standards aim is to promote dignity, equity and good conations of work. However, the Chinese workers worked under very harsh conditions. The workers were not allowed to form or organize independent union. They did not also have a right to strike.[19] The communist party controlled   the All-China Federation Trade Union that could legally fight for good working conditions of workers.[20] Inhuman work hours, minimal safety and health protection, lack of voice and inadequate wages were matters of human rights concern.

In addition, Hukou, a system practiced in China enforced apartheid structures in labour.[21] Jiang Wenran stated that urban dweller enjoyed cultural, economic and social benefits as compared to peasants in the rural area. The discrimination portrayed by hukou system was more pronounced in 1980s when millions of migrant workers were dismissed from cooperatives and corporations institutions. Any attempts by workers to move to urban area tightly was regulated by Chinese bureaucracy which denied access to basic goods such as housing, health care and grain rations.

Forced Evictions

Just before the 2008 Olympic Games, there were forced eviction of the homeowners, floating population and tenants. This eviction was driven by the need to develop the urban area as China prepared to host the Games.[22] Previously, Beijing had been suspected of clearing the streets of the homeless especially during the International events in the country. These evictions violated the international standards on housing rights which state that every person have a right to possess and live in a secured place. Right to housing is one of the basic elements for good physical and mental health, human dignity and good quality of life, which fuel the development of people.[23]

Local government official in China were believed to corruptly work with private developers to carry out forced evictions. Although the evictees were compensated, the payment was too little and not forthcoming.[24]   The evicted people are supposed to be paid directly by the developers at a market value. In reality, the compensation passes through the government official who pockets a large sum of the value.[25]

Just before the 2008 Olympic Games took place in China, government official bulldozed houses to pave way for Olympic venues. The demolitions of private property were also expected to facilitate transportation during the Game. Demolition of house and other infrastructures happened with no or minimal notices A Chinese character chai was an indication that the government was planning to demolish a structure. The character was simply painted on the doors to alert residents of imminent demolitions.[26]

To protest against the forced evictions, people participated in self-immolation at Tiananmen Square.[27] Housing rights activists were arrested and imprisoned for trying to seek permit to conduct demonstrations against the evictions. It was reported that thousands of people lost their homes and become homeless in China.[28]


The way in which human rights were abuse before the 2008 Beijing Olympic in China is a matter of controversy. Government of China and their supporters claim that China safeguard people against human rights abuses. On the other hand, International non-governmental organizations and Western countries asserts that China abuses many human rights. Nevertheless, Chinese occupation of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, its invasion to the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, its support to authoritarian regimes, curtailing Freedom of Speech and the Press, labor Rights Issues, forced Evictions are evidence that China notoriously abused human rights before 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


[1] Human Rights & Human Welfare (

[2] Goldstein, Evan R. “Boycott Beijing?” 2008. Chronicle of Higher Education 54 (33): B4.

[3] Wachman, Alan M. 2001. “Does the Diplomacy of Shame Promote Human Rights in China?” Third

World Quarterly 22 (2): 257-281

[4] Amnesty International, Amnesty International: „China – Amnesty International’s concerns in Tibet“, Secretary-General’s Report: Situation in Tibet, E/CN.4/1992/37

[5] Amnesty International, International report 2009 on China, no publish date given.

[6] McCarthy, Roger E. Tears of the Lotus: Accounts of Tibetan Resistance to the Chinese Invasion, 1950–1962. Jefferson, NC: McFarland &, 1997. Print.

[7] US State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2009 Human Rights Report: China (includes Tibet, Hong Kong, and Macau), March 11, 2010

[8] ibid

[9] Blondeau, Anne-Marie, and Katia Buffetrille (eds.). 2008. Authenticating Tibet: Answers to China’s

100 Questions( Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press)

[10] Economy, Elizabeth C. and Adam Segal. 2008. “China’s Olympic Nightmare: What the Games

Mean for Beijing’s Future.” Foreign Affairs July/August.

[11] Amnesty International, “People’s Republic of China: Gross Violations of Human Rights in

Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”( London: University of London 1999). >< [22 September, 2015]

[12] Becquelin, Nicolas, “Criminalizing Ethnicity: Political Repression in Xinjiang.” China rights

Forum Seattle: University of Washington Press 2004).

[13] Alter, Jonathan. 2008. “Boycott Opening Ceremonies.” Newsweek, April 21

[14] ‘Sudan faces threats of Sanctions’ CNN( Washington , 18th September 2007)4

[15] Cooper. W, China Imbroglio in Sudan (Tunis: Maghreb press 2007).

[16] „China jails rights activist outspoken on Tibet“. Reuters. 3 April 2008.



[19] HRW, ”Human Rights and the 2008 Olympics in Beijing: Business and Labor Rights”,

> < [ Sep. 22, 2015]

[20] ibid

[21] Luard Tim, “China rethinks peasant ‚apartheid” BBC News ((10 November 2005).

[22] Beijing Construction, Forced Evictions ><

[Sep 22, 2015]

[23]Special Rapporteur of the Commission on Human Rights on adequate housing as a component of the

right to an adequate standard of living and on the right to non-discrimination in this context >

> <[ Sep. 22, 2012]

[24] Beijing Construction, Forced Evictions, supra note 9.

[25] Spencer Anderson,” Olympic Construction in Beijing Leaves Thousands Homeless” (Metrovox, March

10, 2005)>< [ September 23, 2015

[26] ibid

[27] ibid

[28] Amnesty International, “PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF CHINA: Ye Guozhu must be immediately released( Amnesty International, 23 Jul 2008 ) “<> [23 September,2015]

About Ann Johnson

Ann Johnson is a graduate of Tilburg University - Tilburg Law School. Previously, she worked as a legal researcher in Clifford Chance LLP. Ann wrote award-winning articles when she was a student in the University. She was a regular contributor to Tilburg University Student Magazine. Ann has authored blogs, books and manuals. Currently, Ann resides in Glasgow, United Kingdom.

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