Mr. Christophe De Kepper

Chief of Staff, President's office

International Olympic Committee

Dear Mr. De Kepper:

I was pleased to have the opportunity to meet you in March. Human Rights Watch welcomes the opportunity to engage with the International Olympic Committee on issues related to human rights and the Sochi Games. Among the issues that demand particular attention from the IOC are civil rights issues including appropriate procedures to compensate those evicted due to the construction or operation of the Olympic Games, and labor rights issues for workers building Olympic sites.

In February and late April, Human Rights Watch conducted preliminary research on the human rights situation in Sochi connected to preparations for the 2014 Winter Games. Our research identified two early problems that could set the stage for major human rights violations later unless they are addressed soon: the lack of transparency around expropriations, and violations of the rights of workers involved in the construction of Olympics-related facilities.

Before and during the IOC's May 14 visit to Sochi, you can help to ensure a positive legacy from hosting the 2014 Games for Sochi by-in every interaction with the Sochi authorities-insisting on a transparent, effective process for property expropriation and compensation; a forum for community input and the expression of grievances; and protection of the rights of workers engaged in Olympics-related construction.

We ask that you visibly demonstrate a commitment to transparency by providing an opportunity for people affected by the Olympic construction to meet with you to voice concerns and grievances. In the same way the IOC seeks to address environmental concerns related to the construction of venues, we urge you to take up the gathering, negative impact of the Games on Sochi's human rights climate-what we call the "human environment" for the Games. Since most construction is not yet underway there is still the possibility and the time to address and correct these problems.

Need for fair, transparent and effective expropriation and compensation process

In the process of constructing Olympic venues, hundreds of families will lose their homes through state expropriation. Some of those who will lose their homes will also lose their livelihoods in the process. The local government has in some cases promised compensation and/or resettlement, but lack of information about the timeline, the properties to be expropriated, the compensation, and the means of challenging official actions, has left many residents anxious and angry. It is important for the IOC to urge greater transparency and due process for affected residents, both to protect their rights and to prevent more serious grievances.

Several examples described below illustrate these problems.

  • Khadyzhenskaya Street-First Row: Many residents on this street have extensive gardens that they use to feed their families or to generate income. Beginning in late 2007, the regional governor issued decrees ordering the expropriation of a total of 17 properties. Concerned about the lack of information related to the expropriation, several families wrote joint letters to local and federal authorities requesting clarification. The only response they eventually received was from the local prosecutor's office informing them that all 119 properties on the street would be expropriated to build temporary parking facilities for the Games, but the decrees have not yet been issued, leaving many of the families in a state of uncertainty and anxiety.

Families told us that to date they have received no information about the timing of the expropriation and have not received sufficient information about their options for compensation and resettlement, the overdue appraisal of their homes, or the means to dispute the appraisals. One owner told Human Rights Watch, "We aren't against the Olympics, but why should the Olympics violate our rights?"

  • Khadyzhenskaya Street-Second Row: This area consists of approximately 50 plots of land, currently uninhabited but which owners have been preparing for construction of homes or for gardens. The regional government agreed to give Olympstroi, the state-owned Olympic construction company, this tract of land for development of the Olympic Park, the Temporary Olympic Training Center for Ice Sports and a Temporary Olympic Training center for Ice Hockey, without informing the property owners or providing them with any compensation. Several of the affected owners told us that they learned of the seizure only in September 2007, when they discovered that their land had been surrounded by a barbed wire-topped fence constructed by Olympstroi. When they complained to the local authorities about the fence, the Krasnodar Krai administration sued them to annul their ownership rights. After first and second instance courts ruled in favor of the owners, Olympstroi in turn filed suit against the owners to annul their rights to the land.
  • Nizhnaya Imeritinskaya Street: The houses along this street are situated close to the Black Sea and many are used as private hotels or guest houses for tourists. At least 117 houses on Nizhnaya Imeritinskaya Street are subject to expropriation; owners have received information that the land will be used to build a 40,000-seat stadium, the Olympic Park and low-rise hotels. Several property owners told Human Rights Watch that they were given two months to sign agreements consenting to the expropriation and to the compensation offered, despite the fact that neither the terms of the compensation nor the appeal process were clear.

The IOC should insist upon a transparent and fair process for property expropriation and compensation. People who will lose their land for the construction of Olympic venues should have clear information about the timing of the expropriation, their compensation and resettlement options, and the means of appealing decisions so they do not have to live in uncertainty. The compensation calculation should take into account not only the property's sale value but its use and its potential to generate income. For owners whose livelihoods depend on their property, other means of support or assistance should be included in the compensation package, which should be subject to a reasonable and affordable means of challenge.

Protection of workers laboring on Olympic venues and related sites

Russia relies heavily on migrant construction workers. Both foreign and domestic migrant workers are being recruited for construction of Olympic venues and related sites, such as infrastructure and hotels. Based on preliminary research in Sochi, Human Rights Watch remains concerned that workers at certain construction sites are not being assured full rights protection. Workers at one site reported delays in wages; excessively long working hours; insufficient rest; and discrimination in wages. They feared retaliation for filing complaints against their employers with official agencies. These problems are consistent with the findings of our February 2009 report (which we shared with you) documenting widespread, unlawful exploitation of migrant workers in Russia. 

We reiterate our calls made to you in our February 2009 submission to the Copenhagen Olympic Congress for the establishment of an independent commission to investigate and report on labor-related abuses relating to Olympics venues; and for full disclosure of all labor disputes, workplace injuries and deaths on construction sites for Olympic venues. We also feel that it would be helpful for the IOC to state publicly that the human dignity and rights of workers should be protected at all venues and sites built in relation to the Olympic Games in Sochi.   

The need for community input and the expression of grievances

Many Sochi residents interviewed by Human Rights Watch expressed their frustration with the lack of transparency on the part of local officials. Despite the fact that the 2014 Games will indelibly change the face of Sochi and permanently affect the lives of many Sochi residents, officials from the Krasnodar Krai and Sochi administrations and from the SOCOG have not always informed the public clearly and consistently about its plans or taken into account community input. 

The authorities held public hearings with local residents to discuss the Olympic construction plan (the "General Plan") and the proposal for the environmental protection of the Imeritinskaya valley. There is no evidence that the concerns expressed at these hearings were taken into account. Local authorities submitted the plans to the federal government for approval without change. Also, the Krasnodar Krai administration has established a public information office, under its Department for the Realization of the Preparation of the Olympics. However citizens who have sought information at this information office feel that they have not received adequate responses to their inquiries, often related to expropriation and compensation. This office is responsible for delivering agreements to people whose property is subject to expropriation and encouraging them to sign them.

Further, in late April, a bill was introduced into the Russian Duma (parliament) proposing the elimination of public hearings on expropriations and construction in order to speed up the pace of construction, potentially eliminating any avenue for public input. The draft law also proposes cutting from two months to one month the amount of time residents affected by expropriation would have to sign compensation agreements; those who fail to sign an agreement within the one-month period would be denied compensation.

The lack of a community input or grievance expression process leaves Sochi's residents without a means to address effectively their concerns about the Games' potential to have a deep and lasting negative impact on their lives, livelihoods and community.

The IOC should meet with Sochi residents during its May visit to Sochi.

By meeting with citizens' groups and people affected by Olympic construction during your upcoming visit you can demonstrate a commitment to transparency that could serve as a model to local officials. Many Sochi residents expressed to Human Rights Watch their frustration with the lack of transparency around the planning for and construction of Olympic venues and related infrastructure as well as their desire to meet directly with International Olympic officials. We can suggest specific groups for you to meet with and provide their contacts if that would be helpful.

In April 2008, during the IOC's last official visit to Sochi, a group of Sochi residents gathered near the Imeritinskaya valley cemetery to express their concerns peacefully. They had hoped to attract the attention of the IOC delegation which was inspecting proposed construction sites nearby. Police used force to break up the demonstration, making some people reluctant to try to reach out to the IOC again this year.

We hope the IOC will demonstrate its commitment to transparency and to mitigating the impact of the Games on Sochi's human environment by listening to residents' concerns and agreeing to raise these concerns with local officials with a view to seeing them addressed.

Further, the IOC should urge the Sochi 2014 Olympic organizing committee (SOCOG), Krasnodar Krai administration, and Sochi officials to hold regular, well-publicized public meetings where Olympic plans are discussed and establish a mechanism for resolving grievances. Such a mechanism would ensure that those affected by the Olympics have the opportunity to register their grievances and that those grievances would be addressed in a clear and transparent manner.

One interviewee told Human Rights Watch, "How can a festival for the world be built on the grief of others?" The establishment of a forum for community input and a grievance procedure would help ensure that the rights and human dignity of Sochi's residents are protected in the preparation for the Olympics and that hosting the Games leaves not grief but rather a positive legacy for Sochi and its residents.

Sincerely,                                                                                       

Allison Gill                                                                             
Director, Russia office                                

Minky Worden                          
Media Director