Human Rights Watch has urged the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to take a stand against Russian homophobia ahead of next year’s Winter Olympic Games in the city of Sochi.
In a letter to Christophe De Kepper, Director General of the IOC, Boris O. Dittrich from Human Rights Watch said that he was concerned about the homophobic draft law that is expected to pass in the Russian parliament’s upper chamber in the coming weeks.
The bill, which bans the so called “promotion” of “non-traditional sexual relationships,” was recently overwhelmingly passed by the lower chamber and will in effect outlaw any public discussion or display of homosexuality or the promotion of LGBT rights. The ban will apply to the press, television, radio, and the Internet.
Dittrich said that the law is incompatible with the Olympic Charter’s promotion of “human dignity,” as well as a violation of Russia’s international legal obligations to guarantee non-discrimination and respect for freedom of expression.
He also noted that under the Olympic Charter any form of discrimination against a person is deemed “incompatible with belonging to the Olympic Movement”.
Dittrich pointed out that Russian authorities have also refused to allow the registration of a non-governmental organisation that planed to host a “Pride House” in Sochi during the games.
The first Pride House was launched during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Canada, and was a space for gay visitors, athletes and coaches to relax, watch events and meet friends in Whistler and Vancouver. A Pride House was also hosted during the London Games.
In February 2012, a local court upheld the ban stating that a Pride House would “contradict the foundations of public morality and government policy in the area of protection of the family, motherhood, and childhood”. The organisers have since appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.
“It is deplorable that the Pride House tradition will be cut short with Russia’s hosting of the Games,” wrote Dittrich.
Although reports this week quoted a spokesman reiterating the IOC’s “long commitment to non-discrimination against those taking part in the Olympic Games,” Dittrich urged the IOC to take additional steps to “send a clear signal to the Russian authorities that discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity is sharply at odds with Russia’s human rights and Olympic commitments”.
He also encouraged the IOC to obtain guarantees from the Russian authorities that no homophobic legislation will be adopted or implemented and that the authorities will refrain from any additional discriminatory legislative initiatives or policies that discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexual, and transgender people.
“Finally, we feel that a press release or other clear public statement from the IOC itself regarding the IOC’s support for LGBT rights and calling on Olympic hosts, including Russia, to demonstrate equal and unequivocal support in word and in practice would be key in pressing Russia to reverse its discriminatory course,” said Dittrich.
He concluded by recommending that the “IOC establish a standing mechanism to establish human rights benchmarks among Olympic host countries and monitor human rights in the preparations for and during the Olympic Games”.
A call last year ahead of the London Games by British LGBT rights campaigner Peter Tatchell for the IOC to throw out countries with anti-gay laws, which are in contravention of the IOC’s charter, was ignored.
Earlier this week, a group representing gay and lesbian Russians living in the US called for a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics due to Russia’s anti-gay policies.