(Sochi) –The Russian government should halt the planned demolition of a family home in Sochi, which is slated for destruction to make way for construction of infrastructure in advance of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said today.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should insist that the Russian authorities respect the rights of the family, including by providing compensation, such as relocation to a home in a different neighborhood, Human Rights Watch said.
Sergei Khlistov has been living in a modest two-story home in the Adler section of Sochi for sixteen years. He currently lives with his wife, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, ages 3 and 8. On June 6, the family received a call from the Adler Administration saying the home would be demolished the next day. The threatened demolition follows a protracted legal dispute between the Russian authorities and the Khlistovs regarding the ownership and use of their home and land.
“Forcing out a family with two small children is completely at odds with the Olympic ideals of human dignity,” said Jane Buchanan, acting deputy Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Russian authorities should immediately suspend the demolition and make sure that, at a minimum, the family receives compensation before continuing construction.”
Adler is the location of multiple large-scale construction projects for sports venues and related infrastructure for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
The Khlistovs’ modest two-story home on Khadizhenskaya Street, second row, is the only house still standing in the midst of an area of immense construction. In April 2011, construction began on a hotel 20 meters to the south of their home, an elevated road 10 meters to the east, and a parking lot to the west.
In 1994, the local authorities formally granted Sergei Khlistov use of a plot of land, part of a collective farm, “Southern Culture,” where Khlistov had worked for 40 years. The land was designated for use as a “kitchen garden.” At the same time, in a separate decision, the authorities registered Khlistov’s land with the individual living constructions fund (in Russian, IZHS), which implied the possibility of constructing a house on the land. The fact that the land was designated for two different purposes was a contradiction and a mistake made by the authorities at the time, Human Rights Watch said.
In February 2010, officials from Olympstroi, the state corporation responsible for the construction of venues and related infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Games, informed the Khlistovs that their home fell within the scope of Olympic construction projects, and that the family would be relocated to a newly built home in the area. The Sochi authorities transferred use of the land in the area, including the Khlistovs’ plot, to Olympstroi.
In October 2011, though, the Sochi administration sued the Khlistovs for illegal construction of a home on the land. The court failed to inform Khlistov and his representatives about the hearing on the matter. In their absence, the Adler district court granted the Sochi authorities the authority to demolish the home. The Khlistovs appealed, but the Adler district court again failed to inform them about the hearing in November 2011. The court left the decision unchanged. The Khlistovs appealed to the Krasnodar cassation court, an appellate court, which also failed to notify the Khlistovs of the hearing, and decided on January 26, 2012, to leave the lower court’s decision unchanged.
By suing the Khlistovs for illegal construction, the authorities were able to avoid the regular processes for compensating property owners evicted for construction of Olympic venues. The authorities are also refusing to recognize the evidence that the state had previously treated the house as a legal structure, including that the land was registered with IZHS in 1994, that the building was twice issued a technical passport, and that Khlistov had been paying taxes to the IZHS.
“For over 16 years the authorities treated the Khlistovs’ house and the family’s residence in it as legal,” Buchanan said. “To suddenly reverse course and claim the building is illegal is completely unjustifiable. The authorities should do the decent thing and compensate the Khlistovs for their legitimate property.”
The demolition of the home had been delayed for several months because Sergei Khlistov had been in the hospital as a result of complications related to high blood pressure, which the family connects to the extremely stressful situation surrounding the family’s home.
The treatment of the family by the authorities and the courts violates Russia’s international legal human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said. Under international law, Russia is obliged to respect and protect the Khlistovs’ rights to their home, family life, and due process. The failure to respect and protect those rights and ensure a fair process concerning the home where they have lived since 1996, and which, until 2010, the authorities treated as a legal structure, is a violation of the European Convention, to which Russia is a party.
“The resolution of this complex legal situation is actually straightforward,” Buchanan said. “All the authorities need to do is to acknowledge that the authorities made mistakes in the property documents long ago – due to no fault of the Khlistovs – and to concede that these documents cannot be used to arbitrarily strip the family of their rights. Then the authorities need to move them to appropriate alternative housing built recently in Sochi for exactly this purpose.”
The Khlistovs have appealed to a number of agencies for assistance. In response to a complaint filed by the Khlistovs, the Krasnodar Krai prosecutor’s office special department for oversight of legal compliance in the preparation for the Olympic Games conducted an examination (in Russian, proverka) of the legal documents and the court’s decision against the Khlistovs. It concluded on June 3, 2012, that the Khlistovs’ use of the land was legal and that the Sochi administration should not have filed suit against the family, but resolved the contradictions in the property documents internally.
Relying on the examination, the Khlistovs have been preparing to sue the Sochi administration for recognition of the home as a legal structure.
Human Rights Watch notified the IOC about the Khlistov family’s case in April and called on it to insist that the Russian authorities decide the matter in a manner that respects the dignity and rights of the family. The IOC indicated to Human Rights Watch that the matter had been brought to its attention and that it understood the issue was being resolved fairly.
“The IOC should make sure that Russia’s hosting the Games isn’t tarnished because the authorities couldn’t find a straightforward solution to one small home standing in the way of Olympic construction,” Buchanan said. “The IOC should act urgently to insist that the authorities provide compensation for the Khlistovs.”