January 10, 2014

Human Rights Abuses Linked to Preparations for the 2014 Olympic Games

Background: Sochi

Located on southern Russia’s Black Sea coast, Sochi is a popular summer resort destination for Russian travelers. The Caucasus Mountains rise steeply to the north of Sochi and are home to several ski resorts.

Greater Sochi spans 145 kilometers along the Black Sea coast and has a land mass of 3,505 square kilometers. Its 2012 population was 437,000. Greater Sochi includes five administrative districts, one of which is the city of Sochi.

Hosting the Olympic Games in Sochi has required massive construction, possibly on a scale larger than previously seen in any Olympics[1] or in Russia.[2] The official Olympic program includes more than 230 construction projects involving sports venues, hotels, roads, transportation infrastructure, energy plants, and other facilities.[3]

The Olympic sports venues are divided into two groups: the “coastal cluster,” built along the Black Sea in the Imeritin lowlands in the Adler district of Sochi, are home to the Central Olympic Stadium, also known as the Fisht Stadium, which will host the opening and closing ceremonies, as well as five ice arenas, the Main Media Center, and numerous hotels and other infrastructure.[4] The “mountain cluster,” 48 kilometers from the coastal cluster, will host the alpine, skiing and snowboarding, sliding, and Nordic events, and will also be home to a smaller media center and other facilities.[5] Each cluster contains an Olympic Village, with the Main Olympic Village in the coastal cluster.[6]

Preparations also include numerous non-transportation and transportation infrastructure projects, such as a 48-kilometer combined high-speed road and rail link between the coastal and mountain clusters.[7]

According to the official Sochi 2014 website, Russia had “earmarked over US$30 billion for the construction of sports facilities and infrastructure in Sochi”[8] through a combination of public and private financing.[9] By January, the estimated cost of the Games had swelled to more than $50 billion.[10]

Exploitation of Migrant Workers The transformation of Sochi from a summer resort town to an international Olympic host has been made possible by tens of thousands of workers, a large portion of whom are migrant workers from outside of Russia. Human Rights Watch is not aware of any accurate Russian official data or other data on the total number of workers in Sochi or the number of migrant workers. Recent media reporting estimates the number of workers engaged on Olympics sites at around 95,000.[11]

Human Rights Watch has documented exploitation faced by many of these migrant workers, including on key Olympic sites such as the Central “Fisht” Stadium, the Main Olympic Village, and the Main Media Center, which will be the central work and residential venue for the thousands of journalists expected to cover the Sochi Games.

Olympstroy is the Russian state corporation responsible for realizing the program of construction of Olympic venues and development of Sochi as a resort.[12]

Exploitation faced by workers, including migrant workers, has included nonpayment of wages or excessive delays in payment of wages, including in some cases nonpayment of wages for weeks or months; employers’ failure to provide written employment contracts or copies of contracts; excessive working hours, such as 12-hour shifts without payment of overtime; few days off; and overcrowded employer-provided housing and inadequate employer-provided meals. Some employers withheld some migrant workers’ identity documents apparently as a coercive measure.

Under Russian law, it is illegal to withhold any portion of wages for over three months or to withhold wages altogether for more than two months. Russian law also requires that workers be paid overtime for hours worked beyond the 40-hour work week.

When workers complained to authorities about the abuses, the authorities failed to effectively investigate the complaints.  In some cases, employers retaliated against migrant workers who complained about abuses by denouncing them to the authorities, resulting in the workers’ expulsion from Russia or by kicking workers out of employer-provided housing, leaving them struggling to find adequate housing. Police detained on false charges at least one worker who tried to complain about exploitation.


In September 2013, local authorities initiated large-scale raids to detain and deport irregular migrantsMany have been held in arbitrary and inhuman detention conditions. Local human rights activists have told Human Rights Watch that by December 2013, thousands of migrant workers had been expelled, many following hasty court processes and without access to lawyers or interpreters.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on abuses against migrant workers in Sochi, please see:



News releases:


Multimedia feature:

Forced Evictions The Russian government has resettled some 2,000 families to make way for Olympic venues and infrastructure. In several cases the government forcibly evicted families and demolished their homes without providing compensation. Most families whose homes were destroyed received some monetary compensation or resettlement to newly built houses and apartments. However, the government did not consistently implement a fair and transparent process for compensating homeowners. In some cases, compensation did not reflect the full value of owners’ property and some resettled residents also lost significant portions of their livelihoods because they depended on agriculture or income from seasonal rentals. Some families relocated to new homes challenged the quality of the alternative housing and reported problems with heating, mold, and structural soundness.  

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on forced evictions and property-related issues in and around Sochi, please see:

News releases:

Multimedia feature

Letter to the IOC:



Negative Impacts of Olympic Construction on Property and Health

Olympics-related construction has seriously compromised some Sochi residents’ health, safety, and private property. The authorities have not taken adequate steps to address these concerns, including through fair compensation or relocation of affected residents. 


Illegal dumping of Olympic construction waste above the village of Veseloe, Sochi, just north of the Coastal Cluster of Olympic venues, has caused landslides on Bakinskaya Street. Some homes have sunk into the ground and are severely tilted to one side. Some houses are not fit for habitation, but residents have not been offered any form of compensation for the damage to their homes. In the village of Chereshnya, not far from the Sochi airport, the construction of electrical lines as infrastructure for the Olympics caused landslides resulting in severe damage to houses and yards, including collapsing walls and cracks in foundations and walls. Homeowners have yet to be compensated or helped in the repair of their homes.

Acacia Street (Ulitsa Akatsia)

Construction for the M-27 Federal Highway, part of the Olympic program, went right through the front yard of families living at Acacia Street 5a, Adler, Sochi, near the Coastal Cluster of Olympic venues. Yet the authorities have refused to compensate or relocate approximately 40 people, including 11 children, living there. As a result of the road construction, the driveways and access points to the homes have been destroyed. The families have lived with ongoing truck and machinery noise and dust as a result of the massive construction project adjacent to their home, and flooding due to alterations in drainage from the elevated road on their property. The authorities also ordered the families to dismantle one of their outhouse toilets, claiming that it interfered with the road construction. Although families have been living in the home since the 1950s, the local authorities have never provided a public water supply, gas supply, or sewer services to the building. The residents have relied on outdoor kitchens, two communal outhouses, a bathhouse, etc. The families have been engaged in a protracted court battle with local and regional administrations and the company executing the road construction, all of whom have refused to take responsibility for providing compensation or relocation to the affected families.


Residents in Akhshtyr, a village located in the mountains between Adler and Krasnaya Polyana have been without a safe, regular drinking water supply for over five years as result of Olympic construction. In order to facilitate truck access to two quarries and a construction waste dump located above the village and used for Olympic construction, in 2008 the authorities paved the road running through the village and in the process destroyed residents’ main drinking water wells.

Villagers receive water delivered by truck once a week, which, they have told Human Rights Watch, is often not enough to meet their need for water, and also have no information about the source or quality of the delivered water. A water pump was built in 2011 but it does not function and is located at the edge of the village, whereas previously villagers had had access to a series of wells much closer to their homes.

In addition, heavy construction truck traffic accessing the quarries and the dump has posed risks to villagers’ health by generating huge amounts of thick dust that residents complain has adversely affected their health, properties, livestock, and agriculture. The years of heavy truck traffic have also caused some mountainsides to slide, damaging some homes.

The high-speed road and railway linking Adler and the Krasnaya Polyana venues have effectively cut off Akhshtyr from key public transportation links. There is no entry or exit onto the new federal highway from Akhshtyr, although it is located approximately one kilometer from the road. Residents are forced to rely on a narrow mountain road in poor condition to reach Adler. They have no easy access to other villages along the Mzymta River due to the absence of safe pedestrian crossings across the high-speed highway and the Mzymta River.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on environmental destruction related to Olympics preparations, please see:

News release:

Multimedia feature:

Letters to the IOC:

Restrictions on Freedom of Assembly, Association, and Expression

The International Olympic Charter requires all Olympic hosts to guarantee full press freedom. However, Sochi authorities have harassed some activists and journalists who criticized or expressed concerns about preparations for the Games.

Although media coverage of preparations for the Olympics is diverse, with some media establishments critical of preparation for the Olympics and others eschewing such coverage, Human Rights Watch spoke to editors, journalists, bloggers, and staff of news outlets who have faced threats and harassment after publicizing violations or concerns about the Olympics or other issues of concern in Sochi.

In November 2013, local authorities in Sochi and neighboring regions repeatedly harassed, detained, and questioned a crew from Norway’s s TV2 television station over the course of three days.

Some journalists told Human Rights Watch that local authorities sought to control negative or critical information about Sochi by pressuring editors to present Olympic preparations exclusively in a “positive” light. Criminal charges are being brought against at least two Russian journalists and the general director of a newspaper, apparently in retaliation for their work.

The police have allowed some peaceful protests in Sochi on environmental and other issues. However, environmental, human rights, and citizen activists have also been the targets of attacks, detention for peaceful protests, and police searches. Two nongovernmental organizations actively involved in documenting abuses committed in the preparations for the Games were subject to intrusive government inspections, and at least one organization had its email accounts examined by the authorities.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on restrictions on freedom of assembly, association, and expression in relation to the Olympics, please see:

News releases:



Discrimination Against LGBT People

On June 29, 2013, President Vladimir Putin signed into law a billbanning the promotion of information among children about “nontraditional” sexual relationships, widely understood to mean LGBT relationships. The law sets out administrative (not criminal) sanctions, including heavy fines and the deportation and detention of foreigners found to have violated the law.

Beginning in 2006, similar laws outlawing “propaganda of homosexuality” among children were passed in 10 Russian regions. One more region, Kaliningrad, extended the ban also to adults. Also in June 2013, parliament passed a law banning adoption of Russian children by foreign same-sex couples and by unmarried individuals from countries where marriage for same-sex couples is legal. In September, Russian lawmakers briefly introduced a bill suggesting making homosexuality a legal ground for denial of child custody. The bill was later withdrawn reportedly in order to improve it.

The federal “propaganda” law specifically bans spreading among children information promoting attractiveness of “nontraditional sexual relationships” and providing a “distorted notion of social equivalence of traditional and nontraditional sexual relationships.” The ban applies to the press, television, radio, and the Internet.

The law is fundamentally discriminatory because it presumes that LGBT relationships do not have the same “social equivalency” as “traditional” relationships. The law treats information that puts LGBT relationships in a positive light as harmful to children. The same law sets out similar sanctions for promoting among children drug and alcohol use and suicide.


This discrimination contradicts the Olympic Charter, which states that “any form of discrimination … on grounds of race, religion, politics, gender or otherwise is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement” (Sixth   Fundamental Principle of Olympism). Articles 2-6 of the Olympic Charter further state that the IOC’s role is to, among other duties, “act against any form of discrimination affecting the Olympic Movement” (articles 2-6).

To date there has already been two known cases of prosecution under the federal law. On December 3, 2013, a Russian court found liable two LGBT activists for spreading LGBT “propaganda” next to a children’s library in Arkhangelsk, and on December 19 a court fined a third activist for holding a one-minute, one-man picket holding a poster that said, “Being gay and loving gays is normal; beating gays and killing gays is criminal.”


While prosecutions have so far been few, the law has had a harmful effect on Russia’s LGBT community. Public debates in the lead-up and aftermath of the law’s adoption have occasioned some instances of hateful, discriminatory, degrading rhetoric about LGBT people in Russia, including on state television stations. Many LGBT activists who track homophobic violence have told Human Rights Watch that attacks are also on the rise.

The international outcry against the law prompted President Putin to state publicly that all people are welcome in Sochi regardless of their sexual orientation. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Kozak provided assurances to the IOC that Russia will adhere to its obligation of nondiscrimination under the Olympic Charter, but also stated in a letter to the IOC, that the law will be applied “equally to all persons.”[13]

In response to Human Rights Watch’s concerns about the anti-LGBT law, the IOC has emphasized that the Games must be free from discrimination. However, it has refused to ask the Russian authorities to repeal the law and has said it is satisfied with the assurances the Russian authorities have provided.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on discrimination of LGBT people, please see:

News releases:

Letter to President Vladimir Putin:

The 2014 Winter Paralympics

Russia will host the XI Paralympic Games in March 2014. The 2014 Sochi Paralympic Games will include 1,350 athletes participating in five different sports: alpine skiing, biathlon, cross-country skiing, ice sledge hockey, and wheelchair curling. Russia’s decision to host the Paralympic Games reflects a significant shift in recognition and promotion of disability rights. When the Soviet Union hosted the 1980 Summer Olympics, it refused to host the Paralympic Games under the rationale that there were “no disabled citizens in the USSR.”

The Russian government has widely publicized the Paralympic Games as part of a nationwide effort to create a more accessible environment and greater respect for people with disabilities in Sochi and across Russia. However, people with disabilities have been only marginally involved in planning for the Paralympics. Sochi residents with disabilities continue to face obstacles in accessing transportation, public and private buildings, employment, and healthcare. Many buildings are accessible in name only. Pedestrian underpasses have been fitted with wheelchair lifts that require licensed operators, who are absent. Many sidewalks are not lowered for wheelchair access, including those where bus stops are located. Wheelchair users cannot always access bus stops in order to ride the 108 accessible buses that the city administration has listed among its key accomplishments.

As a public voice on Russia’s progress toward creating a more accessible environment in Sochi, the International Paralympic Committee can play a pivotal role in holding Russia accountable for its obligations as a Paralympic host country. Until recently, the committee had expressed only unreserved praise for Russia’s efforts to create a barrier-free environment without acknowledging any of the shortcomings. In November 2013, the committee moderated its praise to remind the Russian authorities that the Paralympic Games will be “judged only by the legacy they leave" and to remind Russia that the kind of progress on accessibility that has been made in Sochi needs to be replicated throughout Russia.

There are at least 13 million people with disabilities in Russia today.  While Russia has taken some important steps in recent years to advance protections of the rights of people with disabilities, including the ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), the Russian government has much more to do to ensure the right to an accessible environment for people with disabilities. People with physical, vision, auditory, intellectual, or psychosocial disabilities face barriers to accessing transportation, public and private buildings, and healthcare. People with disabilities also face stigma, which oftentimes bars them from adequate educational opportunities and full participation in their communities.

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on accessibility of facilities for the Paralympics and in Russia, please see:


News releases:

Multimedia feature:


[1] Galina Masterova, “Sochi: An Olympic makeover,” Russia Beyond the Headlines, February 23, 2010, http://rbth.ru/articles/ 2010/02/23/230210_olympic.html (accessed July 16, 2012), and Jim Caple, “With London Around the Corner, Sochi Building Its Dream Project,” ESPN, July 16, 2012, http://espn.go.com/blog/olympics/post/_/id/2850/with-london-around-corner-sochi-building-its-dream-project (accessed August 9, 2012).

[2]The president of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee has called the 2014 Olympics preparations “the largest [construction] project in Russia’s history.” Ruslan Aliev, “Sochi has Surpassed St. Petersburg,” [Сочи превзошел Санкт-Петербург], Gazeta.ru, October 6, 2012, http://www.gazeta.ru/sport/2012/10/06/a_4803493.shtml (accessed October 24, 2012).

[3] Program of Olympics Venues Construction and Development of Sochi City as a Mountain Climatic Resort, Russian Federal Government, approved by decree December 29, 2007, with amendments, http://www.scos.ru/common/upload/ENG/Programm_eng_ revised.pdf (accessed October 24, 2012). Olympstroy has numerous public and private partners including national economic ministries and major joint-stock companies. A full list of partners can be found at: http://www.scos.ru/en/about/‌‍‍our_partners‌‌/interaction_and_coordination/index.php#3.

[4] “Fisht Olympic Stadium,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/objects/sea/central_stadium/, and “Coastal Cluster,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/objects/sea/ (both accessed July 5, 2012).

[5] “Mountain Cluster,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/objects/mountain/, and “Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/objects/mountain/ski/ (both accessed July 5, 2012).

[6] “Venues: Interactive map,” Sochi2014.com, http://www.sochi2014.com/en/objects/ (accessed July 16, 2012). There will be a third Olympic Village near the mountain cluster. “Three Olympic Villages with space for 6,700 people are being brought to Sochi,” [Три олимпийские деревни на 6,700 мест возводят в Сочи], Administration of Sochi, August 7, 2012, http://www.

‍‍sochiadm.ru/press_office/news/detail.php?ID=8329 (accessed October 2, 2012).

[7] See: “Rail,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/legacy/infrastrucrture/transport/railway/; “Air,”Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/legacy/infrastrucrture/transport/avia/; and “Auto,” Sochi2014.com, http://sochi2014.com/en/ legacy/infrastrucrture/transport/auto/ (accessed February 19, 2012).

[8] “Dmitry Medvedev promises modern infrastructure for Olympic host city residents,” Sochi2014.ru, January 4, 2011, http://www.sochi2014.com/en/sochi-live/news/38367/ (accessed July 5, 2012).

[9]Program of Olympics Venues Construction and Development of Sochi City as a Mountain Climatic Resort, Russian Federal Government, approved by decree December 29, 2007, with amendments, http://www.scos.ru/common/‌upload/ENG/‌Programm_eng_ revised.pdf, pp. 4-7. According to media reports, the combined public and private financing of venues has led “to an apparent lack of cohesion and organization at the many different construction sites.” Justin Davis, “Russians insist Sochi Olympic venues on track,” Agence France-Presse, February 14, 2012, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ ALeqM5iD52d-PkiIyzaa7EkhBWFrjUfuNw?docId=CNG.1b7c0b5abee48c6a1dfe4025be09a1d9.2b1 (accessed February 19, 2012).

[10]Joshua Yaffa, “The Waste and Corruption of Vladimir Putin’s 2014 Winter Olympics,” Businessweek, January 2, 2014, http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2014-01-02/the-2014-winter-olympics-in-sochi-cost-51-billion (accessed January 7, 2014).

[11] Paul Sonee, “Workers Readying Winter Games Say Wages Are on Ice,” Wall Street Journal, December 23, 2013, http://sports.nationalpost.com/2013/11/29/russian-president-vladimir-putin-effectively-cancels-christmas-for-sochi-workers-ahead-of-2014-olympics/ (accessed January 7, 2013).

[12] State Corporation Olympstroy [Олимпстрой государственная корпорация], “Activities [Деятельность],” http://www.sc-os.ru/ru/activity (accessed December 5, 2013).

[13] Samantha Stainburn, “Russia defends anti-gay law in letter to the International Olympic Committee,” Global Post, August 22, 2013, http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/russia/130822/russia-defends-anti-gay-law-letter-the-international-olym (accessed January 8, 2013).