Human Rights Countdown
by Laura Vilim
With the Beijing Olympics just months away, Amnesty International sections around the world are intensifying their demands that China improve its human rights record. In the United States, AIUSA has pressed the State Department for the inclusion of human rights in U.S. bilateral talks with China on the Olympics, and AIUSA has worked with Congress to draft the Global Online Freedom Act, allocating $15 million in funds to promote Internet freedom in China. AIUSA's advocacy director for Asia, T. Kumar, has met with officials from the U.N. National Security Council and the State Department to discuss human rights violations in China and has recently testified twice before Congress. On one occasion Kumar was accompanied by the mother of Shi Tao, a Chinese prisoner of conscience imprisoned for using his Yahoo e-mail account to send a message to a U.S.-based prodemocracy Web site. Yahoo executives have apologized to Shi's mother for providing Chinese authorities with Shi's email account information.
AIUSA members have also been actively drawing international attention to China's human rights record. AIUSA held a rally in Washington, D.C., in early February to mark the six-month countdown to the Olympics. In April, when the Olympic torch relay passes through San Francisco, AIUSA activists will protest along the route. AIUSA also urges members to participate in the Beijing Olympics campaign to highlight the four focus issues of Amnesty's Olympics campaign: China's continuing use of the death penalty; illegitimate forms of administrative detention, such as "reeducation through labor"; persecution of human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers; and Internet censorship". AI is developing toolkits to help members plan their own mock Olympics, introduce resolutions in their local legislatures condemning human rights violations in China, sign petitions on AIUSA's Web site or send letters to their congressional representatives.
Since AIUSA's Olympics campaign began in 2007, China has made some small improvements in its human rights record. The Chinese government has reinstated its policy of Supreme People's Court review of all death penalty sentences (which, according to Chinese authorities, has led to a decrease in state executions), and it has granted full press freedom to foreign journalists in the run-up to the Olympics. Increased AI pressure on China over the next several months will be critical to ensuring that these changes are permanent and that the country continues to make reforms that promote basic human dignity.