October 1, 2009

Christophe de Kepper

Chief of Staff, President's office

International Olympic Committee

Subject: Update on human rights concerns related to Sochi Games

Dear Mr. De Kepper,

As the International Olympic Congress in Copenhagen opens this weekend, Human Rights Watch would like to take the opportunity to underscore the concerns regarding Russia's preparations for the Winter 2014 Games in Sochi that we raised in our May 2009 letter to you. In a September research trip to Sochi, Human Rights Watch learned that the concerns we raised in our May letter remain unaddressed.

Expropriation/Compensation:

The procedures for notifying residents of expropriation, establishing compensation and resettlement, and allowing residents to challenge valuations remain inadequate and lack transparency. Most of the residents we interviewed said they received notice of expropriation of their property months ago, in some cases a year ago, but have received no further information about the timing of the expropriation or available resettlement options.

In some cases initial property valuations have been performed, but final assessments have not been granted. In every case documented by Human Rights Watch, the assessors valued the property at less than the amount on which the residents are currently assessed for property taxes. Several property owners were told informally that the initial assessments will be further reduced in connection with a drop in property values-although it would be reasonable to anticipate that some values will rise because of the Games. Other residents were told that compensation would be reduced because the government does not have sufficient funds to pay compensation due to the financial crisis.

In most cases expropriation will take the form of a forced sale, meaning the property owners are required to sell their property to the government at a sale price less than the current valuation and must pay 13 percent property taxes on the amount of the sale.

Having been informed that their property will be expropriated, residents do not want to make further investments or improvements to their property. However, without information concerning compensation or when the expropriation will go into effect, they cannot plan for resettlement. In all, the lack of information has left residents in a state of limbo.

In one such case, Mikhail M. (his name is not disclosed to protect his security) owns a large plot near a river, along which a rail line and road are now being built. His parents-in-law have lived on the property for the last three years. They live in a two-room hut while they work to construct a three-storey house that they had planned to share with Mikhail M. and his family. The family received an expropriation notice in October 2008. A property assessment was performed but the family has received no notice of the amount of the valuation nor an offer of compensation. Because the property will be expropriated, the family has stopped construction on the house, which now remains partially built and uninhabitable. The small hut in which they live has been severely damaged by the nearby road and rail construction.

In another case, Savelii Cholak owns an 817 square meter property on which he had planned to build a house. He received notice of the expropriation of his land in October 2008 and a subsequent offer to obtain new property in one of the planned resettlement areas. His property was assessed at 9,250,000 rubles, less than the officially recorded value of 10,621,000 on which he currently pays annual property taxes. After Cholak agreed to the compensation offered for his property, he received a draft contract with a property valuation reduced to 6,656,774 rubles. He wrote a formal notice rescinding his agreement to the compensation but received a reply from the government that it is unable to pay him the originally proffered amount. At this time, Cholak has not signed any documents agreeing to the new compensation or rescinding his ownership.  There has been no formal notification of land seizure, but work has already begun on his land. There is no effective administrative body to which Cholak can appeal to challenge the construction being carried out without his consent. He lacks the resources to take the matter to court.

Health issues

Several Sochi residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch raised serious concerns about health issues related to Olympic construction.

In one stark case, the residents of the village of Akhshtyr, which has 49 homes and a population of 102 people, have been without water for a year because of Olympics-related construction. A village without running water, Akhshtyr relied on five public wells located throughout the village. The wells were situated at various points near a dirt road that ran through the village and that had very little traffic. A year ago, construction began on a combined rail line and road that is part of the Olympics infrastructure. Builders widened and paved the road and now use it as an access road to bring workers, equipment and materials to the construction site. The expansion and paving of the road has completely covered four of Akhshtyr's five wells. Pollution, runoff and dirt from increased traffic on the road has rendered the fifth well unsafe to use. The wells were destroyed with no warning to residents and no compensation, leaving them without an alternate source of water for months. It was only three months ago that villagers were able to get a truck to bring water to the village once a week. Each resident is allowed 200 liters.

In another example, three cement factories built in the last six months now operate near a large residential area. Residents told Human Rights Watch the factories operate day and night, causing noise, pollution and dust, which interfere with the peaceful enjoyment of their property. They are also worried about the health effects of living so close to the factories. Their attempts to raise this issue with local authorities have had no results.

These are only several examples of the kinds of issues that strongly affect the human environment in which the Olympic Games take place. They underscore the need for the IOC to establish a standing human rights committee or similar mechanism to monitor human rights developments and the impact of the Olympics on the human environment in Olympic Games venues.

We hope we can count on your support for Human Rights Watch's proposal for IOC reform, and look forward to seeing you in Copenhagen. Minky Worden will be presenting our proposal at the session on "Good governance and ethics" on Sunday, October 4.

Sincerely,

Allison Gill                                                       Minky Worden

Director, Russia Office                                      Media Director

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