(Moscow) – The illegal eviction of a family in Sochi casts a dark shadow over preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said today. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) should intervene immediately to ensure that the Russian authorities provide the family with compensation, Human Rights Watch said.
“The home demolition and forced eviction of this family with young children is a tragedy that was completely avoidable,” said Jane Buchanan, senior researcher for the Europe and Central Asia division. “The 2014 Winter Olympic Games are tarnished by this needless human suffering.”
At approximately 5 p.m. today, Sochi time, court bailiffs removed the Khlistov family, whose property was expropriated for Olympic construction without compensation. The bailiffs supervised the demolition of the house while family members and journalists watched. The home sat in the midst of an area of immense construction of Olympic infrastructure and venues underway since April 2011.
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 4 and 8, also live in the home.On September 14, 2012, local authorities knocked down a storage shed located next to the Khlistovs’ home and warned the family that they would demolish the home several days later.
“The IOC had ample opportunity to ensure that the authorities didn’t go to such lengths in the name of Olympic construction,” Buchanan said. “Instead, the IOC took a ‘wait and see’ approach based on false assurances from the local authorities.”
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 claim that the Khlistovs’ use of the land and the home were illegal and sued the family in order to expropriate the land for Olympic use.
In so doing, 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 the state individual constructions fund in 1994, that the building was twice issued a technical passport, and that the family had been paying taxes.
The forced eviction and demolition violate 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 eviction and demolition also went forward despite the 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 and recommended that the authorities include the family in the compensation program for persons resettled for Olympic construction.
“The authorities seem completely indifferent to the human suffering Olympic preparations have brought on this family,” said Buchanan. “Enough physical and emotional damage has been done. It’s time to do the right thing, minimize any further harm, and provide the family with the compensation they deserve.”
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 theRussian 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. Since the land was registered with IZHS in 1994, the building was twice issued a technical passport, and Khlistov has been paying taxes to the IZHS.
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.The Khlistovs filed additional appeals to have the original court decision reviewed. The courts refused to hear any of the appeals.