The United States Representative at the United Nations, Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield, asserted on Sunday that China tried to distract the world from its human rights abuses against Uyghurs when it paraded an athlete from that community at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Beijing on February 4.
Dinigeer Yilamujiang, a 20-year-old cross-country skier, was the final Olympic torchbearer on Friday, along with 21-year-old biathlete Zhao Jiawen at the “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium in front of thousands of spectators and television cameras.
Yilamujiang is from the Uighur minority in the region of Xinjiang where the Chinese ruling Communist Party is accused of widespread human rights abuses.
Chinese diplomats shared videos on Twitter of her family clapping as they watched the ceremony on screen with some crushing tears.
Appearing on CNN’s “State of the Union” with Jake Tapper on Sunday, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield said the display by the Chinese government was a distraction.
“This is an effort by the Chinese to distract us from the real issue here at hand, that Uyghurs are being tortured, and Uyghurs are the victims of human rights violations by the Chinese. We have to keep that front and center,” she told Tapper who asked her, “how do you interpret the fact that one of the two athletes that lit the torch was from, at least according to the Chinese government, the Uyghur community?”
She said the United States has made its “position very, very clear on the situation in China.”
“This is not business as usual. We know that a genocide has been committed there. We’ve called them out on it. The President has called them out on it. And we’ve made clear that crimes against humanity are being committed in China. So, it is important that the audience who participated and witnessed this understand that this does not take away from what we know is happening on the ground there. You’ve reported it regularly on your network, and others have reported this. We have to ensure that we continue to raise these concerns that are occurring in China at the moment,” she said.
Asked to react by comments from the United States House of Representatives Nancy Speaker Pelosi on Friday that she fears for the safety of any U.S. athlete who might speak out against the Chinese government’s human rights abuses.
“We support our athletes, and we think our athletes are there to perform in the areas that they have been preparing for for four years, and we would hope that the Chinese would not take any actions. But, I will be clear that our goal is to make sure our athletes are safe, and we’re doing everything possible to ensure that.
“Can you reassure U.S. athletes that they’re safe and their freedom of speech will be protected?” Tapper asked Thomas-Greenfield, “I can reassure U.S. athletes that the United States government will be standing with them in China, and we will be there to protect them,” she said.
She added that the United States commitment to human rights are “unquestioned.”
“We rejoined the Human Rights Commission* on day one, or announced our rejoining the Commission. And human rights are front and center in our foreign policy. We don’t play down human rights violations anywhere in the world, including in Yemen. I’ve had a number of meetings in the Security Council where we have raised our concerns about human rights violations there being committed by all sides,” she said.
Tapper also tried to point the United States hypocrisy when it comes to human rights abuses by asking Thomas-Greenfield, “How seriously can that be taken given that a Saudi pilot might drop a bomb from an F-15 in Yemen killing innocent civilians and then land the plane, and there is the U.S. government there to help them provide maintenance on that very plane?”
“We call out those efforts, but let me be clear: There are human rights violations being committed in Yemen on all sides. We are dealing with a force there – the Houthis – who have not taken into account any efforts to protect the rights of people who are under their own protection, supposedly. So again, this is a situation where we’re working constantly to address any issues related to civilian injuries and violations being committed of human rights of everyone in that country,” she said.