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The global human rights movement: faster, higher, stronger in Sochi

February 07, 2014
tags:#homosexuality, #human rights violation, #Sochi
The commencement of the Sochi Winter Olympics today has been met with solidarity around the free world for those who suffer discrimination in Russia and around the globe as well.

From the Google homepage featuring a rainbow dig at Russia’s anti-gay laws, to a racy luge video from the Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion (see right), voices big and small are refusing to let the bright lights of the most expensive Olympics to date overshadow the truth of inequality that pervades the vast Russian landscape.

For months leading up to the event, leaders and public personalities have debated whether the global audience should use the Sochi Olympics as an opportunity to protest against Russian and global discriminatory laws, focusing particularly on homophobia.

British actor and author Stephen Fry compared the Sochi games to the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics held under Nazi rule in his open letter to British Prime Minister David Cameron and the International Olympic Committee, asking them to boycott the Sochi Winter Olympics.

German President Joachim Gauck and the EU commissioner for Justice, Citizenship and Fundamental Rights Viviane Reding have both announced they will be boycotting the games, while US President Barack Obama, who will not attend the games either, met with Russian LGBTQI activists to show his support for their cause.

Many international journalists arriving in Sochi this week took to social media to report on some of the more amusing aspects of the Sochi experience, such as unfinished hotel rooms and unusual toilet policies, but aside from the humour this demonstrated that reporters from the free world refuse to bow down to the oppressive regime which hosts them. It seems almost everyone is ready to have a laugh at Russia’s expense.

It would be fair to say that the majority of criticism towards discrimination in Russia has centred on its anti-gay laws. While so much attention is focused on Russia, it would be shame to see the two weeks go by without recognising the other groups marginalised by the Kremlin’s policies.

Indigenous peoples in Russia, some of which are not recognised under the law, have their traditional livelihoods threatened by industry and lack of representation in government. Last year their collective representative organisation RAIPON was reinstated after being forced to close during the Kremlin’s crackdown on non-governmental organisations which receive foreign aid. However, when RAIPON reopened the election of its new leadership was staged by the Kremlin, meaning that the people’s vote was meaningless in electing a leader to represent them.

Despite the release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30 activists who were arrested in Russia and held for three months after protesting against drilling in the Arctic Ocean, climate activists continue to suffer in Russia. Amnesty International reported this week that two Russian environmental activists were jailed after closed trials.

The release of the Greenpeace Arctic 30, along with the release of two members of Pussy Riot in December after intense international pressure can easily be seen as point-scoring publicity stunts ahead of the Sochi games. But they are also indicative of the widespread success of the human rights movement, where global citizens are defending the principle of equality by putting pressure on the oppressors of the world. Now is our opportunity to use that momentum and push faster, higher, stronger.

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Putin tweet