October 15, 2013
Christophe De Kepper
International Olympic Committee
Château de Vidy
1007 Lausanne, Switzerland
We appreciate the time that Mark and Robert spent with us in Sochi last month. We are writing to follow up with the promised information concerning the three topics we were able to cover during our time together:
- The lack of running water and severe deterioration in road access in the village of Akhshtyr;
- Nonpayment of wages to more than 800 construction workers employed on Olympic sites, as well as the government’s ongoing sweep campaign to detain and expel thousands of migrant workers;
- The government’s refusal to relocate Yulia Saltykova’s family and several other families from their home at Acacia Street 5a.
Village of Akhshtyr
We felt it was very important that IOC staff see firsthand the continuing Olympics-related problems this village continues to face, particularly in light of the repeated, unsubstantiated assurances from the Russian authorities that serious concerns regarding the water supply and residents’ access to a key road had been or were being resolved. Attached is a timeline of the correspondence between Human Rights Watch and the IOC regarding Akhshtyr and the assurances provided to the IOC, and subsequently shared with Human Rights Watch.
As Mark and Robert saw on September 26, more than four years after the wells in Akhshtyr were first destroyed, there is still no reliable water supply to the village. Villagers continue to receive water delivered by truck once a month, which they claim is often not enough to meet their need for water, and also have no information about the source or quality of the water. The pumps built in 2011 do not function and are located at the edge of the village, whereas previously villagers had had access to a series of wells much closer to their homes. This means that if and when the pumps begin to work, villagers will have to haul water significantly farther than before in order to bring it to their homes.
We were also able to witness that while a pedestrian crossing under the high-speed railway has been built, there is no pedestrian crossing over the highway, or even a crosswalk. Additionally, there is no entry or exit onto the new federal highway from Akhshtyr, although it is located approximately one kilometer from the road. Residents are forced to rely on a narrow mountain road in poor condition to reach Adler. They have no easy access to other villages along the Mzymta River.
As we also reported to the IOC previously (see, in particular, the January 2013 letter to the IOC), heavy construction truck traffic accessing quarries and construction dumping just above the village has also caused a significant deterioration in the village road and has posed risks to villagers’ health by generating huge amounts of heavy dust and by triggering small landslides that have damaged some homes. This heavy truck traffic was evident during our visit.
At the end of the visit, the villagers also shared with Human Rights Watch numerous complaints that they have filed with the local and regional governments, the federal ombudsman, and President Putin.
- The IOC should insist that the Russian authorities ensure a safe, reliable, permanent, accessible water supply to the village of Akhshtyr without delay. The IOC should monitor closely that the authorities develop and implement a concrete plan for realizing this project, particularly since repeated assurances in the past four years regarding the village water supply have not been honored by the authorities.
- The IOC should insist that the Russian authorities should, without delay, ensure safe and permanent access to the pre-existing Adler-Krasnaya Polyana road in order to ensure residents’ access to school transportation and public transportation to access their workplaces, schools, medical facilities, and other basic necessities.
Attached are relevant documents concerning ongoing ill-treatment of migrant workers in Sochi, including evidence about mass detentions of migrant workers and others, many of whom were held in inhuman conditions (including in a shed in a police yard) and some of whom were expelled in violation of Russian and international law. Many of those detained had all the necessary documents to work and reside legally in Russia. This campaign started in early September and is ongoing, including during the period you were in Sochi.
We also include information regarding over 600 complaints filed by workers with the Sochi office of the Migration and Law Network, a program of the Memorial Human Rights Center, concerning severe delays in wage payments, nonpayment of wages, and other abuses, including employers’ failure to provide written employment contracts, work permits, or other documentation. Of these, dozens are related to the same sites documented in our February 2013 report on exploitation of migrant workers on Olympic venues and other sites in Sochi. As far as we aware, despite the consistent reports of abuse across these sites and other sites documented in our report, the authorities have not undertaken any investigations into labor practices at these sites.
We also have not received any information from the IOC regarding the case of Khusein Karimovich Nurberdiev and 16 other workers in his work brigade who complained to the Migration and Law Network concerning nonpayment of wages on Olympic sites, as shared with you and Mark Adams by email on April 15, 2013. We would welcome such information.Following a hearing on June 3 in the Adler District Court in Sochi, the administrative case against Husein Nurberdiev for “minor hooliganism” was dropped for lack of evidence of an offense having occurred.
- The IOC should insist that the authorities desist from this campaign of illegal detentions, holding migrant workers and others in inhuman detention conditions, and expelling migrant workers in violation of Russian and international law.
- The IOC should also urge the Russian authorities to investigate complaints from workers regarding nonpayment of wages.
Families Living at Acacia Street 5a
Human Rights Watch first wrote to the IOC about this case in our May 2013 letter. In its July 5, 2013 letter, the IOC noted that it had raised the issue with the Sochi authorities and that the IOC considered the main issue to be to “ensure a proper access to the house without destroying the outdoor structures.” As Mark and Robert saw during our recent visit, merely assuring proper access is neither feasible nor appropriate, nor is it consistent with the protection of these residents’ rights to private property and private and family life.
We would also note that we raised this case with Alexandra Kosterina of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee during our February 2013 visit with her (during which she also visited the home and met with affected families) and in subsequent emails with Ms. Kosterina.
A detailed description of the case and the key relevant documents are attached.
- We urge the IOC to insist that the authorities immediately ensure fair compensation for families who own property, including by allowing for an independent appraisal of the properties, such as monetary compensation or relocation of families to apartments or houses of commensurate size and quality and given full ownership of the new property. Families who have social leases with the Sochi Administration should be guaranteed resettlement to apartments or houses of commensurate size and quality.
- We also urge the IOC to press the authorities to desist from bringing further lawsuits against the families concerning the property, which we have described in previous correspondence, and refrain from pressuring the families to agree to a declaration of their home as derelict/inhabitable.
Other Concerns Raised in Previous Letters
Requirement for residents to “beautify” properties at their own expense ahead of the Olympic Games
Thank you for the information you shared with us on this issue. As to whether these requirements apply only to those homes “newly constructed or being renovated,” Human Rights Watch spoke with three long-term residents of Sovkhoz Rossiya, a village located just east of the Olympic Park, who stated that the authorities required them to undertake these renovations, at their own expense, as detailed in our May letter to the IOC. None of these residents lived in homes that were newly-constructed or were undergoing renovations of the type required by the Sochi authorities.
Furthermore, the documentation provided to residents, copies of which we shared with the IOC, indicate very specifically that any home falling within the so-called “zone of international hospitality,” which extends approximately 15,800 hectares, should take certain highly specific measures to beautify their homes. As you may recall, the documentation includes very specific instructions and descriptive drawings indicating what these renovations should look like.
We would welcome the offer you have made to provide a full explanation by Mayor Pakhomov concerning these requirements as well as any additional information that would explain why these requirements do not impinge on residents’ right to property and to private and family life.
As we have stated in our previous letters, including most recently in our May 2013 letter, Russia has not met its obligations under international law concerning the rights to private property and to private and family life in its treatment of residents in numerous cases, including that of the Khlistov family, the Mzokov family, the Kravets family, and the residents who live on Bakinskaya and Ternovaya streets whose properties have been damaged as a result of Olympic construction.
We note that the IOC readily accepted readily the authorities’ assurances on these cases and declined to accept Human Rights Watch’s thorough documentation of these cases and analysis of how the authorities’ actions in these cases violate international law. We would welcome an explanation of the IOC’s reasoning in this regard.
We find the IOC’s reluctance to critically examine information provided by the authorities particularly surprising in light of the multiple assurances that the Russian authorities have provided to the IOC concerning Akhshtyr, for example, which proved to be wholly unfounded, as Mark and Robert saw for themselves last month.
Harassment, pressure, intimidation of activists, journalists and others
We are deeply concerned about the authorities’ harassment of activists, journalists, and others who have voiced concern about the negative impact of preparations for the Games. Research we published in August 2013, attached for your convenience, documents cases in which theauthoritiessought to intimidate organizations and individuals who investigated or spoke out against abuse of migrant workers, the impact of the construction of Olympics venues and infrastructure on the environment and health of residents, and unfair compensation for people forcibly evicted from their homes. Human Rights Watch also documented how authorities harassed and pursued criminal charges against journalists, apparently in retaliation for their legitimate reporting.
We are most urgently concerned about the authorities’ efforts to intimidate two nongovernmental organizations, Environmental Watch of the North Caucasus (EWNC), and the Sochi office of Memorial’s Migration and Law Network. Both organizations have documented and brought attention to negative impacts on rights brought on by preparations for the Games. As noted above, Mark and Robert met with the head of the Migration and Law Network’s Sochi office, Semyon Simonov, while in Sochi. As described in the attached document, both groups have been targets of government inspections that serve no legitimate purpose and appear clearly aimed at intimidation. These are groups that have sought to promote basic human dignity – for EWNC, to live in an environment that does not undermine health; and for Memorial’s Migration and Law Network, to be paid a fair wage and work in conditions that meet international standards.
The pressure on activists and journalists in Sochi has taken place in the midst of a broader government crackdown on civil society throughout Russia, in which numerous new laws restrict basic freedoms; in which state media has engaged in public smear campaigns against independent activists; and in which the authorities have arrested some activists on grossly disproportionate charges in order to send a chilling message to others.
- We again urge the IOC to raise its serious concern with the Russian authorities that inspections of organizations conducting legitimate and lawful human rights, environmental, and other work, including of several organizations that have raised concerns regarding Russia’s preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, have a chilling effect on civil society and should be ceased immediately.
In previous correspondence with the IOC we have explained why the propaganda law is inconsistent with the Olympic Charter’s principle that discrimination is incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement. The Russian authorities’ assurances that there will be no discrimination at the Games are irrelevant and misleading. No assurances can address the fact that the law is inherently discriminatory and puts “nontraditional sexual relationships,” a euphemism for LGBT, on par with suicide, drug abuse, and other phenomena harmful to children. This assumption affects every LGBT person in the Olympic movement and those who support LGBT rights, regardless of whether they choose to speak about LGBT issues.
Mr. Killy, Mr. Bach, and others have said numerous times that the IOC has no authority to tell the Russian government what laws it should have, but surely it has the obligation to urge the Russian government to ensure its laws are not incompatible with the Olympic Charter.
- The IOC should urge the Russian to immediately repeal the “propaganda” law.
Meeting with Thomas Bach
Given the seriousness of the human rights concerns in Sochi, we would also like to request a meeting with IOC President Thomas Bach and Human Rights Watch Executive Director Ken Roth before the end of 2013 to discuss our concerns regarding Sochi as well as the IOC’s future work in relation to human rights abuses occurring in the context of the Olympic Games. We would welcome specific suggestions for a time when such a meeting would be convenient for you, either in Lausanne or in our offices in New York. We regret that a meeting with President Jacques Rogge was not feasible, despite numerous requests.
We again thank you for your willingness to meet with affected families and activists in Sochi and very much hope that those meetings will offer additional perspective into the urgency of these cases and the crucial role that the IOC can have in seeing that the Russian authorities resolve them in a timely, effective manner. We look forward to further updates regarding the implementation of these cases.
Director of Global Initiatives