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(Moscow) – The Russian authorities’ illegal bulldozing on a property in Sochi is a stain on the 2014 Winter Olympic Games preparations, Human Rights Watch said today.  The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should urgently intervene with the Russian government to respect the rights of the family, including by providing reasonable 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 house in the Adler section of Sochi for 16 years. His wife, daughter, son-in-law, and two grandchildren, ages 3 and 8, also live in the home. On September 14, 2012, at 11 a.m., without warning, local authorities brought in a demolition excavator and knocked down the storage shed next to the Khlistovs’ home.  The authorities threatened to destroy the house and forcibly evict the family early next week.

“The Russian authorities are proceeding with this demolition and eviction in an utterly reckless manner that completely flies in the face of the Olympic principles of human dignity and respect,” said Jane Buchanan, senior researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch.  “The IOC needs to get the federal and Sochi authorities to stop this immediately or this family will be forced out in the name of the Olympics.”

An official who said he was from Olympstroi, the Russian state corporation responsible for delivering the venues and infrastructure necessary for Russia to host the games, was present at the Khlistov’s home and filmed the demolition.

The demolition follows a protracted legal dispute between the Russian authorities and the Khlistovs regarding the ownership and use of their home and land. The authorities have been threatening to demolish the home for months. The home sits in the midst of an area of immense construction of Olympic infrastructure and venues underway since April 2011.  On September 6, 2012, heavy machinery operating in the area severed the house’s main water pipe. The family has been without running water since.

Human Rights Watch said that the authorities acted in clear disregard of a legal opinion issued by the regional prosecutor’s office responsible for oversight of Olympic preparations which found that the Khlistovs’ use of the land was legal. 

Local authorities claim that the Khlistovs’ home was built illegally and sued the family, ultimately winning a court order to demolish the building. Sergei Khlistov was never notified of the legal proceedings. For years, the authorities treated Khlistov’s use of the property and the construction of the home as legal, including by collecting taxes annually.

The authorities also claim that the family is not entitled to the compensation options provided to other families whose property has been expropriated for Olympic use, such as alternative accommodation. The regional prosecutor had asked the local authorities to include the Khlistovs in the compensation program.

Although the authorities assert that in demolishing the property they are executing a court order, they failed to provide the Khlistov family with an implementation list (ispolnitelnii list), an official court document issued for execution of judgments, explaining the court’s decision and the actions to be taken. The authorities also failed to suspend the demolition while the owner of the property, Sergei Khlistov, was in the hospital, as the law entitles them to do. Khlistov has been hospitalized for several weeks for hypertension and digestive problems.

The treatment of the Khlistov family by the authorities and the courts violates Russia’s obligations under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, the Russian government is obliged to respect and protect the rights of all people from arbitrary interference in their home and family life. The failure to respect and protect those rights and ensure a fair process concerning the home where the Khlistovs have lived since 1996, and which, until 2010, the authorities treated as a legal structure, is a violation of the European Convention.

Forced eviction, or the coerced or involuntary displacement of individuals from homes or lands that they occupy or depend on, without provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection as well as provision of reasonable compensation, is a serious violation of international law.

The treatment of evictees in certain cases of forced eviction can rise to a level of severity that constitutes “inhuman or degrading treatment” in violation of article 3 of the European Convention. The European Court of Human Rights has found that forced evictions and destruction of homes can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment, for example, when the government undertakes “deliberate destruction in utter disregard for ... [residents’] welfare, depriving them of most of their personal belongings and leaving them without shelter and assistance.”

“No one should be subjected to the abuse and harassment suffered by the Khlistovs in the race to complete Olympic structures,” Buchanan said. “The 2014 Olympics risk being tarnished by the Russian authorities’ willful disregard for the rights and dignity of this family. The simple and straightforward solution is to provide them with reasonable compensation.”

The Adler region of Sochi 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 (IZHS in the Russian abbreviation), which implied possible construction of a house on the land. The fact that the land was simultaneously designated for two different purposes appears to have been a mistake made by the authorities at the time.

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. 

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