Merkley calls U.N. chief’s decision to attend Beijing Olympics ‘shameful’

Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday slammed United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres’ decision to attend the upcoming Winter Olympics in Beijing despite diplomatic boycotts by multiple nations, including the U.S., over accusations of human rights violations by the Chinese government.

“The U.N. has basically failed human rights,” Merkley (D-Ore.) said in an interview with POLITICO, citing China’s record on abuse, surveillance and freedom of speech. “It’s shameful for António Guterres to appear at the games.”

A spokesperson for Guterres did not immediately return a request for comment on Merkley’s criticism. But the secretary-general was asked last month about attending the Olympics, which he said must be considered an “instrument for peace.”

“The Olympic Games is an extremely important event, and it’s an event that symbolizes the role of sports in bringing people together and in promoting peace,” Guterres said at a January press conference. “And it is in this strict context and without any political dimension that I intend to be present in the opening.”

Late last year, the United States signed into law the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, which alleged that China is carrying out an ongoing genocide against the Uyghurs, a Muslim group in China’s western Xinjiang region.

Several countries, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Lithuania, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Denmark and Estonia, have so far announced that they would not be sending their official delegations to China. Foreign Policy magazine reported Tuesday that U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield pressed Guterres to also skip the Games but the secretary-general refused.

“They are certainly not upholding human rights,” Sen. Merkley said. “When they cite the Olympics in a situation that turns the athletes into pawns in a propaganda machine against [their] desire.”