Protection, Press Releases, Human Rights

Belarus: Concerns about the violation of the principles of the Olympic Charter and the human rights due diligence of the Olympic Movement

After open letter to the IOC

Berlin, December 3, 2020. In support of the Belarusian Sport Solidarity Foundation (BSSF) and the Belarusian athletes, Athleten Deutschland sent an open letter to the IOC on December 2, 2020. In our letter we ask the IOC and the Olympic Movement to fulfil their human rights responsibilities. These arise from the obligations of the principles of the Olympic Charter and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGP).

Maximilian Klein, Representative for International Sport Policy: “The negative impact on the human rights of Belarusian athletes is closely linked to the Belarusian National Olympic Committee and the IOC. The IOC could have contributed to the negative impacts on the athletes’ human rights by tolerating that Alyaksandr Lukashenka serves as President of the Belarusian NOC while acting as President of Belarus. Irrespective of this possibility, it is now the duty of the Olympic Movement to use its leverage and scope for action to mitigate these.”

Athleten Deutschland welcomes the formal procedure initiated by the IOC on November 25 against the Belarusian National Olympic Committee. About 1,200 athletes and individuals associated with Belarusian sport had joined an open letter in August expressing protest against the result of the presidential elections and the political regime. This led to systematic reprisals against athletes and individuals of the Belarusian sports community, ranging from imprisonment and the use of violence to suspensions from sports and national teams.

By signing the open letter, the athletes made use of their right to freedom of expression as provided in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Art. 19) – a right that the IOC in principle fully supports. The consequences that athletes were confronted with after signing the open letter are not to be considered as isolated cases. Rather, they represent elementary as well as systematic human rights violations. These also contradict the “universal fundamental ethical principles” of the Olympic Charter.

This is particularly problematic because of the direct organizational connection of Olympic sport to the repressive state leadership. Belarusian Olympic sport is under the control of the dictator Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is also president of the Belarusian National Olympic Committee. His son, Viktar Lukashenka, also serves as Vice-President of the NOC and is a member of the National Security Council. Both are political leaders and sporting officials of the Olympic Movement at the same time.

The Olympic Movement should at least

  1. examine the effects and consequences of the close intertwining of state and sport in Belarus and review the lawful use of Olympic symbols and terms,
  2. evaluate conflicts of interest in the Belarusian NOC according to the rules of good governance,
  3. ensure that funds designated for athletes from the budgets of international sport organizations are paid directly to eligible athletes,
  4. investigate the financial relations of the Olympic Movement with the Belarusian NOC and the National Federations,
  5. and ensure the qualification and preparation for and participation in the Olympic Games for Belarusian athletes affected by reprisals by providing training and competition opportunities including livelihood.

We hope that our suggestions will be considered in the IOC’s deliberations on the procedure already initiated. We would like to express our sincere appreciation that the IOC is giving the Belarusian athletes a chance to be heard and possible consequences are already taken into account.

Our letter is also addressed to Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al Hussein, who develops and accompanies the human rights strategy of the IOC as former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.[1] His joint report with Rachel Davis was released yesterday by the IOC. Their detailed “Recommendations for an IOC Human Rights Strategy” state, among others, that the IOC human rights strategy will need to be anchored[2] in the UNGP. According to the IOC press release, the IOC sees its “role to advance respect for human rights as the leader of the Olympic Movement“.

However, the Olympic Movement has not yet made a coherent and consistent commitment to respect and implement human rights in its sphere of influence. Yesterday’s releases so far only represent external recommendations. There is therefore still much work to be done. We will gladly participate in the upcoming process of developing and implementing a possible IOC human rights strategy.

[1] See announcement by the IOC in 2018.

[2] “This approach should be focused on proactively tackling the most severe risks to people, not merely reacting to risks to the organization or the Movement when they hit. Finally, this strategic approach should be anchored in a recognized and legitimate framework […]. In our view, that framework can only be the UN Guiding Principles.”