With the Sochi Winter Olympic Games due to start in Russia in less than a weeks time, there has been more worldwide media attention on the country’s violation of human rights than ever, particularly in light of the ‘Anti-Gay’ laws which could affect protests and propaganda surrounding the games. Concern has grown over freedom of speech and security in Russia and has meant a shift in focus away from the spirit of the Olympic games. Instead the games can be used as a tool in the education and awareness of Putin’s human rights violations as well as being a reminder of the hard work and accomplishments of all involved.
About the “anti-gay” laws
11th June 2013 saw the Russian President Vladimir Putin sign an Anti-Homosexual Propaganda Bill after it had passed through both the Federation Council and the State Duma. This so-called ‘anti-gay’ legislation forbids the promotion of “non-traditional relationships to minors” (although originally phrased as “homosexual propaganda”) and is designed to prevent any public discussion of same sex relationships. Officially this means the possible fining or imprisonment of individuals for giving children propaganda of this nature or, for organisations found using the Internet or media as means of promotion of homosexual activity, fines of up to 1 million rubles ($31,000) fine or a 90-day suspension from activities. In reality, however, it has led to an increase in personal attacks aimed at under 18 year olds and suicides among young Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender (LGBT) Russians and a heightened sense of social tension and fear.
Despite this, the Russian President states that the laws are to help protect the LGBT community and that he is “not prejudice in anyway”. However, they ironically violate Russia’s own constitution on freedom of ideas and speech and the right to peaceful protesting.
Violation of Human Rights
Not only do the Russian authorities contradict their own laws but they also violate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, all of which officials claim to abide by.
A footnote of the Bill claims that these laws are necessary in order to protect the younger generation from the effects of homosexual propaganda. However, simply by making this statement, Russian authorities are denying the authenticity of certain sexual orientations and gender identities. They are cutting off communication to young LGBT people, even within the family home, and removing any available support. The anti-gay laws create hostility towards the LGBT community and, particularly with use of religious values as justification, are forcing the rest of society to see them as enemies. Not to mention also being a violation of the Articles in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child. Despite Putin’s claims that “the law we [Russians] adopted doesn’t harm anyone” this doesn’t look much like protection?
The International Olympic Committee
Despite Amnesty International and other Human Rights organisations’ increasing desire for the continued concentration on human rights issues in Russia under Putin, the 2014 Winter Olympics, due to start on the 7th of February, have drawn the attention of the world media and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has come under increasing criticism in the lead up to the games. So far 52 athletes, both past and present, have signed a petition for Russia to repeal its anti-gay propaganda, based around Principle 6 (a clause in the Olympic charter that guarantees non discrimination). The IOC President Thomas Bach has stated that athletes are free to give their opinions on equality in press conferences but that there will be a ban on making political statements and protests during the games or any of the ceremonies.
Critics use the London 2012 Olympics – where backing from the IOC stopped the discrimination against women from Saudi Arabia competing – and in the 2008 Beijing games – where various laws were reconsidered as a result of IOC pressuring – as examples of the committees’ capacity to have a significant impact on governments. Amnesty International’s UK Head of Campaigns, Champa Patel, states that the IOC has the “power to do much more than stay silent” and it would appear that by not actively working against the anti-gay laws but instead looking away, the committee is failing to comply with its own principles of non-discrimination.
The Spirit of the Olympics
There is concern that this focus on the violation of human rights will take away from the purpose and spirit behind the games and the hard work and the talents of the athletes. Boycotting the games, as has been discussed internationally in the past, sends the wrong message. It is important to remember that this is an issue of government and not necessarily of the Olympians and the national Olympic associations have therefore decided to concentrate on performance and avoid distractions.
It should be seen that the Sochi Winter Games can be used as a tool in raise international awareness of LGBT and other human rights violations currently taking place in Russia and as an opportunity to show the importance of fairness and equality. We must not forget that in the Olympic games every judgement should be made solely on the field, on the track or, in this case, on the ice.