(Moscow) – I called Tatiana the afternoon her home was being demolished. I couldn't hear her well as she was sobbing and there was a lot of screaming in the background. A giant excavator leveled the front wall and windows and caved in the roof. It sounded terrible.
And so ended the long struggle of an ordinary family in Sochi to get some compensation for their home of over 16 years before it was bulldozed to make way for construction for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
I first met Tatiana in April when I visited the modest two-story house where she lived with her husband, two children, ages four and eight, and her parents, who built the home. The house is in the Adler section of Sochi, future home to many of the major sporting venues, the Olympic media center, an Olympic village, and other infrastructure for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
In early 2011, construction began on a hotel, elevated road, and parking lot just steps from the family's home. Russian officials initially contacted the family about resettlement to a newly built home in the area, like those offered to most of the thousands of other residents displaced by Olympic construction. But then the authorities shifted gears, suing Tatiana's father, Sergei Khlistov, for an illegal house, and winning a court order to demolish the home at a hearing for which Mr. Khlistov never received a summons. All efforts by the family to appeal the decision have been futile.
Meanwhile, every other home in the area was demolished, and construction of Olympic mega sites powered on day and night. Sergei Khlistov's blood pressure spiked as a result, and he spent weeks in the hospital.
Still, the family held on, until bailiffs and riot police forced them out on Sept. 19.
Even with her house in rubble, Tatiana has still not been able to accept how the authorities could suddenly decide that her family's home, which was registered with the authorities and on which the family paid taxes, was "illegal."
This is a fundamental question of the property rights of a family home, and as such, goes directly to the integrity of the Sochi Olympics. In looking to find fault with the family, the Sochi authorities, perhaps, sought a way out of having to provide compensation legally due after seizing the land.
Tatiana is right to question this approach. Under international human-rights law, the Russian government must respect and protect the rights of all people from arbitrary interference in their home and family life. Forcibly evicting the family and destroying the house without providing a fair process to challenge the government's actions, or fair compensation for the property, violates international law.
Even the regional prosecutor, specifically tasked with making sure the authorities' preparations for the Olympics respect national law, found that the family's use of the land was legal and asked the authorities to include them in the Olympic compensation program. But to no avail.
The demolition came on the eve of concerts and sporting events across Russia to celebrate the 500-day mark until the start of the 2014 Olympics. Russia has a lot to celebrate, indeed, but it should balance that with an acknowledgment of the mistakes in Tatiana's case and ensure the family receives compensation, such as a home of comparable size and value.
The International Olympic Committee ultimately intervened with the authorities on the case, putting forward questions and collecting official responses. But it hasn't stood up for the Olympic charter's guarantee of "human dignity." Instead of insisting that the authorities honor requirements of compensation, the IOC watched from the sidelines as Tatiana's family got trounced in a game in which no rules applied.
It's not too late for leaders in Lausanne to press the authorities to give the family the compensation they deserve. And it is cases like Tatiana's that highlight the pressing need for the IOC to find a comprehensive way to prevent and remedy abuses taking place in the context of Olympic preparations.
As part of the process for awarding any games, the bidding countries should have to prove that there is in place a sound, legally enforceable mechanism to protect the human rights—including property rights—of host states' residents impacted by the Olympics. With that, perhaps Tatiana and her family might have solace that the injustice wrought on them won't be repeated in future Games.
Yulia Gorbunova is a Moscow-based researcher for Human Rights Watch.