Boycott start of Olympics, Tutu urges leaders

Times Staff Writer

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu said Tuesday he supported international protests surrounding the Olympic torch and urged world leaders to boycott the games’ opening ceremony in Beijing over China’s human rights record.

The retired Anglican archbishop from South Africa also called on China to negotiate with the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is seeking autonomy for Tibet.

Tutu praised protesters who have put themselves on the line in Paris, San Francisco and elsewhere to protest last month’s crackdown in Tibet, which claimed as many as 140 lives.


In particular, he applauded three climbers who hung pro-Tibet banners Monday from the Golden Gate Bridge.

“I salute them,” he said.

Tutu was in San Francisco to receive the Outspoken Award from the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission for his work on behalf of gay and lesbian rights.

The group praised Tutu for challenging homophobia within the Anglican Church, which has been sharply divided over the acceptance of gay and lesbian clergy.

In contrast to other leading African ministers, Tutu has sought to include gays and lesbians. Activists say his openness is especially important at a time when AIDS has swept through much of Africa.

“Archbishop Tutu’s vision is of a world where everyone’s human rights are respected,” said Paula Ettelbrick, the commission’s executive director. “He has challenged political apartheid in South Africa and continues to challenge spiritual apartheid within his religious community. He sets a stellar example of human rights advocacy at its most inclusive -- and best.”

Tutu, who received the Nobel Prize in 1984 for his leadership in the struggle against apartheid, has likened the fight of lesbians and gays for equality to the fight against racial separation in South Africa.


In accepting the rights award Tuesday evening, Tutu questioned why the Anglican Church (which includes the Episcopal Church in the United States) is “obsessed with this particular issue of human sexuality when people all over are facing massive problems: poverty, disease corruption, conflict.”

Tutu also apologized to lesbians and gays who in the past have been pushed aside by the church.

“I ask for your forgiveness for the ways in which the institutional church has often treated you, ostracized you, made you feel as if God had made a mistake in creating you as who you are,” he told the audience.

During his San Francisco visit, Tutu also criticized China for backing the military regime in Myanmar, which violently suppressed democracy protests last fall, killing at least 31 people and probably many more.

With its own violent crackdown last month on protesters in Tibet, China is not living up to the commitment it made to improve its human rights record when it won approval to host the Olympics, Tutu said.

“One has to wonder if there is an odor rising from the Beijing Olympics,” he said.

Tutu praised the willingness of people around the world to protest China’s actions, just as they rallied against apartheid in the 1980s.


“Sometimes we think that there is a lot of indifference,” he said in the interview.

“I am thrilled myself that people care as much as they have shown they do.”