Some of the cities that have won their bid to host games in the European Football Championship in 2020 may use the tournament for image laundering, Amnesty International warned today.
Uefa, European football’s governing body, announced this afternoon that the cities of Baku in Azerbaijan and St Petersburg in Russia will be among 13 across the continent to host games during the tournament, which will take place in the summer of 2020. Both of these countries have human rights records Amnesty is particularly concerned about.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty UK, said:
“The European Championship is the second highest grossing football tournament in the world and one of the most prestigious on the planet.
“But some of the winning cities are in countries with appalling human rights records which could well use the prestige of Euro 2020 as a means of image laundering through the world’s media, a way of diverting attention from some of the uglier things going on. And it can get very ugly.
“Azerbaijan locks people up simply because they disagree with the government, including a campaigner who has called for a boycott on human rights grounds of the first European Olympic Games to be held in Baku next summer. Police also regularly torture those who deemed to have criticised the authorities.
“And in Russia, during the Sochi Olympics in February, there was a clampdown on freedom of expression, with campaigners who had criticised the Sochi authorities arrested and jailed on trumped up charges. That’s not to mention the country’s shocking anti-gay laws and police violence against peaceful protestors.
“Amnesty wants major sporting bodies like Uefa to carefully consider the human rights context when awarding their tournaments and encourages fans travelling to games to go with their eyes open to what’s going on outside the stadium gates.”
Amnesty believes major sports events can and should be a force for good but too often they are responsible for human rights violations, particularly in countries where minimum human rights standards are frequently not met. One example of this is the horrendous and widespread abuse of the rights of migrant workers in Qatar - who in their thousands are building the infrastructure for the 2022 Fifa World Cup. Another is the excessive and violent response of the Brazilian police to anti-World Cup protestors in the run up to the tournament there this summer.
The government sponsors Spanish team Atletico Madrid, it will host the inaugural European Olympic Games next summer and Bernie Ecclestone has said he will take Formula 1 to the country in 2016. The government is likely to be hoping that international media coverage of these two events as well as Euro 2020 will allow it to show Azerbaijan as modern and a world player, but Amnesty has long-standing concerns about human rights in the country.
For example, dissenting voices in Azerbaijan frequently face trumped-up criminal charges, assault, harassment, blackmail and other reprisals from the authorities and groups associated with them. Law enforcement officials regularly resort to torture and other ill-treatment of civil society activists, with impunity.
CASE: Ill-treatment of prisoners
Leyla Yunus is a human rights campaigner and an outspoken critic of the Azerbaijani government. In July she held a press conference where she called for a boycott of the first European Olympic Games in Baku next summer because of the regime’s dire human rights record. A few days later she was arrested and detained and charged with treason, tax evasion and fraud. Her husband Arif has also been charged with treason and is in prison.
Yunus suffers from kidney problems and her health has deteriorated since her arrest but the prison authorities are not allowing her hospital treatment or providing her with medication.
Since Putin’s re-election in 2012, there has been a crackdown on freedom of speech and expression, peaceful protests are routinely dispersed often with violence, gay rights have been trampled on and NGOs silenced.
During the Sochi Olympics, two environmental campaigners were jailed on trumped up charges. They had protested against deforestation and illegal construction and fencing in areas of protected forest linked to the Olympics in the area around Sochi.
A law against 'gay propaganda' severely limits the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people, who are the targets of frequent attacks by vigilante groups. These attacks are not effectively investigated by the authorities, and the perpetrators often remain at large.
Russia’s involvement in Ukraine in 2014 is a further cause for serious concern. Salil Shetty, Amnesty’s Secretary General, said:
“Evidence shows that Russia is fuelling the conflict, both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the East. Russia must stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations.”
Amnesty researchers in eastern Ukraine have documented incidents of indiscriminate shelling, abductions, torture, and killings on both sides of the conflict.