UNHRC: Russia must respect Olympic Ideals ahead of Sochi

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26 Sep 2013


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ARTICLE 19 calls on all UN Member States to support a resolution on “promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic Ideal”, tabled by Russia at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi.

The resolution commits UN Member States to combat discrimination and promote social inclusion for all, both within and outside the sporting context.

At the same time, we call on the Russian Government to respect the Olympic Ideal and:

  • Immediately reverse the on-going repressive crackdown on civil society in Russia, and engage in comprehensive legal reforms to protect freedom of expression and create a safe and enabling environment for civil society;
  • Abandon efforts at the HRC to promote the “traditional values” agenda, which is a smokescreen to obscure and legitimise the exclusion of minority and disfranchised groups in society and limit civic space for the expression of dissent.

The Resolution
The Resolution on the Olympic Ideal is part of a continuing commitment by the UN General Assembly and the HRC to develop the Olympic Truce and to mobilise the Olympics movement to promote peace and awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the Olympic Charter. The resolution expands upon the Olympic Charter principles of preserving human dignity (Principle 2) and non-discrimination (Principle 6) by:

  • Recognising the potential for the Olympics to be used for the promotion of human rights and the strengthening of universal respect for them;
  • Encouraging States to promote sport as a means to combat all forms of discrimination and intolerance within and outside the sporting context;
  • Acknowledging the opportunity the Olympics provides to educate people on the values of respect, diversity, tolerance and fairness, and to promote social inclusion for all.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the Resolution and calls on UN Member States to support it.

Implementing the Olympic ideals in Russia
At the same time, ARTICLE 19 calls on Russia to use this Resolution, and the Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games, as a catalyst to improve its human rights record in compliance with the Olympic Ideal as embodied in the Charter and UDHR.

In particular, the Russian government must prioritise the comprehensive reform of recently enacted regressive legislation:

Religious insult: In July 2013, the amendments to the Criminal Code criminalised insulting the “religious feelings of believers” with sanctions of up to 3 years in prison and fines of up to 500,000 RUB (£10,000).

Propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relationships”:  On 29 June 2013, the propaganda of “non-traditional sexual relationships” among minors was banned through amendments to the Administrative Code of Offences and to two laws concerning the protection of children. More than 11 cities and regions had already adopted similar measures at the local level.

“Foreign Agents” Law: In November 2012, legislation came into force requiring NGOs receiving funding from abroad that are deemed to be involved in any “political activity” to register as “foreign agents”. The label signifies a Cold War era appeal to patriotism designed to discredit critical Russian voices. Since March 2013 over 300 organisations have been subjected to unannounced inspections. Several organisations were given administrative sanctions for ‘non-registration’, including large fines and forced closure.

Treason: In October 2012, the Amendment to the Criminal Code provided up to 4 years in prison for “treason”, defined broadly as “providing financial, technical, advisory or other assistance to a foreign state or international organisation … directed at harming Russia's security.” This law is likely to have a significant chilling effect on international and regional human rights advocacy in the country.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly: In June 2012 amendments to the law on freedom of assembly created excessive administrative fines of up to RUB 300,000 (£5,900) for unauthorised assemblies, flash mobs, and processions.

ARTICLE 19 also continues to be concerned at the Russian Government’s efforts to undermine the values of this Resolution through its “traditional values” agenda at the HRC. The discrepancy between the Olympic Ideal and “traditional values” is stark. In particular, the “traditional values” resolutions have deliberately excluded references to equality and non-discrimination, and ignored the frequent abuse of “traditional values” to justify human rights violations and legitimises discrimination.

If Russia’s commitment to the Olympic Ideal is to be believed, they must drop the “traditional values” agenda immediately. 


To UN member states:

  • Support the HRC Resolution on “promoting human rights through sport and the Olympic ideal”;
  • Demand that Russia, as the Olympics host state, initiate comprehensive legal and policy reforms to abide by its obligations under international human rights law;
  • Restate their commitment to the universality of human rights, and oppose the “traditional values” agenda as advanced by Russia at the HRC.

To the Russian Government:

Live up to the commitments it has made in tabling the Resolution and:

  • Decriminalise the offence of “insulting the religious feelings of believers”;
  • Repeal the “foreign agents” law;
  • Amend the law on treason in line with international human rights standards;
  • Repeal the ban on “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”;
  • Amend laws governing the right to freedom of peaceful assembly to bring them into compliance with international human rights standards;
  • Abandon the “traditional values” agenda at the HRC.

To the International Olympic Committee:

Seek, in strong terms, from Russia that it will take immediate steps to bring its domestic laws into compliance with the Olympic Charter and Russia’s obligations under international human rights law.