By David Crane
(Re-Published from The Jurist, Feb. 17, 2014) As the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia draw to a close, many eyes are on the athletes competing for the most coveted prizes that international sport has to offer. We will inevitably hear stories about their many milestones and sacrifices that they have made to get where they are today. Moreover, we will hear stories of the triumphs and hurdles that the host government of Russia and local government of Sochi have overcome in order to stage a successful event. No doubt, these stories are very real and impressive. However, what you will most likely not hear about are the sacrifices made by the local citizens, the migrant workers, the environment, journalists, and ultimately the integrity of major international sporting events such as the Olympic Games.
In an event that was supposed to improve Russia’s image within the international community and rejuvenate the city of Sochi, has instead become a catalyst for the commission of several human rights violations. In February 2013, an international “watchdog” organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), issued a report titled, “Race to the Bottom,” which identified numerous abuses being committed against the migrant workers in relation to the construction of the venues for the games.[pullquoteright]HRW has documented several cases in which the Russian government has evicted people from their homes in order to provide room for the Olympic sites.”[/pullquoteright]The report indicated that workers are often housed with several dozen other workers in facilities that are meant for single families and are forced to work 12-hour shifts for days without any breaks. Additionally, many workers report that employers either fail to pay them their full wages or fail to pay them at all. Employers often engage in this practice to ensure that the workers will stay and continue to work despite the poor living conditions. As a measure to prevent the workers from bringing any claims of abuse to the government, employers refuse to provide them with copies of their employment contracts or their identification papers, passports and work permits. Consequently, there are numerous documented cases in which workers have been deported without pay when an employer no longer needs their services because they lack these papers.
Abuses have not been limited to the migrant workers. Local Sochi citizens have suffered as a result of construction as well. HRW has documented several cases in which the Russian government has evicted people from their homes in order to provide room for the Olympic sites. These people are often provided no compensation and left with nowhere else to go. Additionally, construction has caused serious environmental issues in the local villages surrounding the Olympic venues. For example, construction crews continue to conduct illegal trash dumps at sites in these villages and the citizens of the mountain village of Akshtyr have gone five years without a reliable source of drinking water after being disrupted by construction. Further, NGOs or protest groups advocating for these abuses to end have been subject to harsh inspections and harassment by the Russian government. Demonstrators won’t even be able to freely protest unless they are in a location pre-designated by the government far away from the site of the games. Even journalists have been subject to constant harassment by police.
Unfortunately, these abuses are not unique to just Sochi. Back in 2008, we saw the same abuses to migrant workers and local villagers in the years leading up to the summer games in Beijing. Workers suffered harsh working conditions and thousands of people were removed from their homes by the Chinese government never to be heard from again. Additionally, the government also forcefully silenced many journalists and activists trying to bring light to these abuses. Furthermore, forced evictions are already being reported in preparation for the 2016 summer games in Rio De Janiero to make way for new facilities …
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