(Berlin) –The European Olympic Committees (EOCs) should use their leverage to press the Belarusian government to improve human rights in the country ahead of the 2019 European Games in Minsk, the Sport and Rights Alliance said today.

In a letter to acting EOC president Janez Kocijančič, the Alliance said that Belarus fails to meet basic human rights standards including on the right to protest, discrimination, press freedom, and workers’ rights, and it recommends concrete measures the EOC and the Belarus government should take to address these abuses.

The first European Games were held in Baku, Azerbaijan in 2015, and amidst a severe crackdown on government critics. Scores of lawyers, journalists, and rights advocates were harassed, arrested, and jailed in the run up to the Games. Other recent experience of mega-sporting events, including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia shows that their arrival can exacerbate existing human rights abuses, and cause hardship for the local population.

Janez Kocijančič, acting president of the European Olympic Committees.

© 2013 Metka Grmek (Wikimedia Commons)

This is in stark contrast to the Olympic Charter which calls for, amongst other values, the respect for “human dignity” and for “universal fundamental principles.”

“The European Olympic Committees have not yet spoken out on human rights, media freedom, labour standards, children’s rights, and anti-corruption,” said Sylvia Schenk, of Transparency International Germany. “We call on the EOCs to do so, without delay.”

The EOC can prevent and mitigate the full spectrum of human rights and good governance risks in connection with the European Games, the coalition said in its letter to the EOC. “The governance and responsibilities of international sport are receiving unprecedented global attention, and the international demand for urgent action will persist,” the letter said

The Sports and Rights Alliance calls for the implementation of basic human rights standards “with immediate effect.” The EOCs, the government of Belarus, and the Organising Committee should:

  • Carry out human rights “impact assessments” including labour standards and corruption due diligence, in consultation with potentially affected groups, including children, and other stakeholders and experts as well as independent human rights institutions and bodies;
  • Include a clear stipulation in all contracts with commercial partners that they must respect human rights, labour standards, and anti-corruption throughout their supply chain; and
  • Accept independent outside monitors to receive and act on complaints of human rights abuses, labour standards violations, and incidents of corruption linked to Games.

In addition, the EOC should insist that the Belarus government take the following steps in advance of the Games, to ensure they are held in an environment which respects human rights, non-discrimination, and media freedom:

  • Amend the Law on Mass Events that led to activists being arbitrarily detained to prevent them from participating in public events before the International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in May 2014;
  • Repeal legislation criminalising involvement in unregistered organisations. Strong and open civil society is a prerequisite for fostering a human rights-friendly environment for conducting the Games;
  • Repeal the bill adopted by parliament in May 2016 regarding “protecting children from information harmful for their health and development” as these provisions may be used to restrict dissemination of neutral or positive information about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people as “discrediting the institution of the family”;
  • Implement the recommendations called for by a 2004 International Labour Organization (ILO) Commission of Inquiry into Belarus regarding labour rights; and
  • Guarantee media freedom for Belarusian and foreign journalists.

“After the human rights debacle that ensued when Azerbaijan hosted the 2015 Baku Games, the European Olympic Committees need to put in place safeguards to ensure the Minsk Games are not a replay of the rights abuses that have characterized so many recent mega-sporting events,” said Minky Worden, director of global initiatives at Human Rights Watch.