Russia: Halt Forced Eviction for Olympics Road

The Russian authorities should stop the impending forced eviction of a Sochi family to make way for road construction ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said today. TheInternational Olympic Committee (IOC) should urgently review the case and insist that the Russian authorities provide the family with fair compensation.

As a result of the often chaotic transition from the Soviet communal land era, many homeowners in Sochi do not have clear title to their property. For years, however, the authorities have treated the homes and individuals’ use of them as legal. With this and other cases as examples, the IOC should investigate whether local authorities are suing homeowners for constructing homes unlawfully to avoid the regular processes for compensating property owners evicted for construction of Olympic venues and infrastructure.

Aleksei Kravets, 39, has been living in a three-story home he built himself in Sochi on the shore of the Black Sea for nine years, together with his thirteen-year-old son. The Sochi authorities claim that Kravets has no right to compensation for the house and are threatening to evict the family and demolish the home in the coming days. Guards on the road construction site have threatened Kravets with beatings and destruction of his property.

“This family has the right to compensation, and shouldn’t be evicted until it’s been provided,” said Jane Buchanan, senior researcher on Europe and Central Asia for Human Rights Watch. “Olympic construction is again being used as an excuse to evict a family and deprive them of their rightful home and compensation.”

On October 9, 2012, a subcontractor of Russian Railways, which is building the road, erected a 2.5-meter metal fence around the house. On October 15, a second fence was erected, this time with barbed wire along the top. Family members must crawl through a hole at the bottom of the fence or climb over the fence in order to leave the property to attend school or buy food or water.

Guards at the site, armed with mace, stun guns, and rubber truncheons, have threatened Kravets, saying they will “bash him up” and start destroying the house. Kravets has filed two complaints with the local police regarding the threats and the fence, but has received no response. He told Human Rights Watch that he believes the fences and the threats are designed to intimidate him and force him to leave the property.

“The authorities have created an unbearable situation for the Kravets family, apparently to compel them to leave their home,” said Buchanan. “Kravets and his son should not be forced to endure this harassment and indignity.”

Local authorities claim that the Kravets’ home was built illegally and sued the family in May and October 2012, ultimately winning a court order to demolish the building. Aleksei Kravetstold Human Rights Watch he did not receive notification of the October legal proceedings. The court decision is subject to “immediate execution.”

By failing to properly inform Kravets of the hearing and ordering swift execution of the court order, the court is failing to ensure Kravets’ right to due process, including to appeal a decision affecting him, Human Rights Watch said.

In suing Kravets for constructing their house unlawfully, the local authorities are able to avoid the regular processes for compensating property owners evicted for Olympic construction.

An independent appraisal in 2011 valued Aleksei Kravets’ 152 square-meter, three-story house located on the shore of the Black Sea at 13 million rubles (US$422,000).

Prior to and during construction of the home, Aleksei Kravets filed multiple notifications with the authorities regarding the construction largely based on improvements to legal structures built on land leased to his father under an indefinite lease. The authorities twice issued the home a technical passport, in 2003 and 2010. He also twice tried, unsuccessfully, to privatize the property.

Prior to the establishment of the Olympic program, the authorities never insisted that the building was illegal or forced him to leave.

“Despite ample opportunities, the Sochi authorities at no point suggested that Kravets should stop his efforts and considerable investment to improve the lawful buildings on the plot, which ultimately resulted in the house he lives in today,” Buchanan said. “Now, with Olympic construction underway, the authorities suddenly decide to take advantage of an ambiguous legal situation and deprive the family of their rightful compensation. We’ve seen this same tactic in other recent forced evictions for Olympic construction in Sochi.”

The treatment of the Kravets family by the authorities and the courts violates Russia’s obligations under international human rights law, Human Rights Watch said. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the European Convention on Human Rights, the Russian government is obliged to respect and protect the rights of all people from arbitrary interference in their home and family life. The failure to respect and protect those rights and ensure a fair process concerning the Kravets home is a violation of the European Convention.

Forced eviction – or the coerced or involuntary displacement of individuals from homes or lands that they occupy or depend on – without provision of and access to appropriate forms of legal or other protection as well as provision of reasonable compensation, is a serious violation of international law.

“Unfortunately, the Kravets’ family is not the only one to experience this type of eviction without compensation,” Buchanan said. “The International Olympic Committee has a crucial role in preventing any further situations like this. It should no longer simply sit by and watch as the local authorities trample the Olympic ideal of dignity by forcing people out of their homes without compensation and in an environment of threats and harassment.”

The Adler region of Sochi is the location of multiple large-scale construction projects for sports venues and related infrastructure for the upcoming 2014 Winter Olympic Games.

Aleksei Kravets inherited from his parents a 13-square-meter dormitory room at 65 Prosevsheniya Street in the Adler section of Sochi. The room had no running water, toilet, bathroom, or kitchen. The room was given to the family by local authorities in 1963 under a long-term lease agreement and was located in a building that did not have central heating or a sewage system. The room came with a nearby plot of land, under indefinite term lease, designated for construction of additional necessary structures for the family’s needs, such as a toilet, kitchen, and storage shed. In 1993, Alexei’s father privatized the room.

Starting in 1997, Kravets sent numerous requests to the local authorities asking permission to improve the old structures – including an outhouse – on the land plot, but said he never received an answer to these requests. Kravets improved some of the structures on the plot, ultimately completing the home in 2003.

The authorities twice issued the house a technical passport, in 2003 and again in 2010. Kravets told Human Rights Watch that he had twice tried to privatize the house, in 2010 and in 2011, but that both of his requests were refused.

In 2011, a court assessment of the structures, requested by Kravets in accordance with Russian law, found the house and the other structures on the land were in compliance with construction norms and standards and did not constitute a threat to anyone’s life or safety and did not obstruct anyone’s enjoyment of their own property. Under Russian law (article 222 of the Civil Code), a court may recognize an individual’s right of ownership to an unauthorized construction (samovolnaya postroika)if the individual has the right of ownership to or lawful use of the land (through inheritance or indefinite lease) that the construction was built on, and so long as the construction does not violate the rights and interests of others and does not endanger anyone’s life or well-being.

Judiciary interpretations of the law by the Supreme Court of Russia and the Supreme Arbitration Court of Russia further state that the absence of a construction permit for an unauthorized construction cannot in itself be a reason to deny recognition of a person’s right of ownership to the construction as long as there is proof that they tried to obtain the permit and providing that the construction does not violate the rights of others and does not present a threat to anyone’s life or health.

In May 2012, Kravets filed a request with a local court to recognize his right to ownership of the house. The court refused to recognize his property rights.

Shortly thereafter, the Sochi administration sued the Kravets family for unlawful construction and won. The court order to demolish the house was not executed due to inconsistencies in the court order on demolition.

In July 2011, the Department of the Krasnodar Region for the Implementation of Authority in Preparation for the Winter Olympics 2014 seized the dormitory building at 65 Prosvesheniya Street for the purpose of Olympic construction. As compensation for the dorm room that the family had used since 1963 and had owned since 1993, the four members of the Kravets’ family – including Alexey, his former wife Nadezhda, and their two children, Kristina, 12, and Maxim, 13 – were offered a studio apartment of 33.84 square meters under shared ownership in another part of Sochi.  Kravets has never lived in the apartment and his former wife maintains control over it.

The land plot, including the land occupied by the Kravets’ house, was transferred to the state corporation Olympstroy, which is responsible for Olympic construction, for the purpose of building the combined auto and railroad “Alpika-Service” from Adler to Krasnaya Polyana, the location of the mountain cluster of Olympic venues. The authorities have provided no compensation for the home.

Courtesy of: Human Rights Watch

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