Bulgaria bears a “big responsibility” for protecting the European Union’s external borders and should do so “in full respect” of migrants’ human rights, says Europe’s senior minister for migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos.

Bulgarian border police stand near a barbed wire fence on the Bulgarian-Turkish border on July 17, 2014. 

© 2014 Reuters

Speaking in the country’s capital, Sofia, Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for migration, home affairs and citizenship, said Bulgaria had the EU’s support as well as his “personal commitment” as it seeks to police Europe’s outer frontiers.

But can Avramopoulos really be confident that Bulgaria will respect migrants' rights in the way he hopes? Its track record suggests not.

Take the case of 16-year-old ‘Abdullah’ from Afghanistan, who experienced Bulgaria’s “respect” first hand.

“When Bulgarian police saw us, we tried to run away,” he said. “They chased us with dogs and shot at us. There were five police. When they caught us, they started beating us. They kicked me and the others wherever they could reach. They did this for about an hour and threatened us with the dogs. They took my money and mobile.”

Abdullah (not his real name) is one of several migrants and asylum seekers who told Human Rights Watch about summary returns from Bulgaria, and violence both at its borders and inside detention centers in late 2015. These are not new problems; we also documented similar abuses in April and September 2014.

Yet Abdullah’s and hundreds of others’ similar testimonies have fallen on deaf ears at EU headquarters in Brussels. While Bulgaria has the right to protect its borders, it doesn’t have the right to summarily return people to Turkey or physically abuse them. By focusing on border protection, Avramopoulos missed the chance to press Bulgaria on violence against migrants and asylum seekers.

The commission should forcefully remind Bulgaria of EU laws and standards, and urge Bulgarian authorities to investigate these credible reports of abuses and bring them to a halt. Because ignoring Abdullah’s story won’t make the allegations go away, and resorting to violence is no way to manage the refugee crisis.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Entrance into the Moria hotspot in Lesbos, Greece, where children registered as adults are accommodated with unrelated adult single men, exposed to very poor living conditions, including overcrowding, inadequate sanitation, and frequent incidents of violence.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

(Athens) – Unaccompanied migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos are being incorrectly identified as adults and housed with unrelated adults, leaving them vulnerable to abuse and unable to access the specific care they need, Human Rights Watch said today.

“The misidentification of unaccompanied migrant kids on Lesbos as adults leads to real problems, including lumping them together with unrelated adults and denying them the care they need,” said Eva Cossé, Greece researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Greek authorities need to take responsibility for properly identifying unaccompanied children and providing them the protection and care every child needs.”

On visits to Lesbos island from May 22 to 28 and June 27 to 30, 2017, Human Rights Watch spoke with 20 children, some as young as 15, who said they had been wrongly registered as adults by the Greek authorities.

Flawed and inadequate procedures leave unaccompanied migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos housed with unrelated adults, vulnerable to abuse, and unable to access the specific care they need.

Under Greek and international law, unaccompanied children are entitled to special care and protection. But the flawed age assessment procedures that are being followed in practice mean that some of these children are wrongly deemed adults during registration, despite an assurance by Greek officials to Human Rights Watch that a proper, multidiscipline procedure is followed. Other children claim to be adults, believing it will allow them to avoid detention or because they follow bad advice from adults, but then realize they have made a mistake and try to persuade the authorities to register them correctly. They can spend months trying to change their official status, and in the meantime often continue to be treated as adults, or reach adulthood, known as “aging out,” while waiting for their correct age to be assessed.

Human Rights Watch found that officials who register new arrivals sometimes arbitrarily record children’s ages as older than the children themselves give. Authorities also often require unaccompanied children to receive cursory dental examinations at the local hospital as a form of age assessment, following which authorities may insist the child is in fact an adult and register them as such. Human Rights Watch found this occurs despite a 2013 ministerial decision setting out a multidiscipline approach to age assessment, with medical examinations as an option of last resort and despite an assurance from Greece’s Reception and Identification Service (RIS), a Greek government agency, that the principle of the best interest of the child always prevails.

On the other hand, reception service officials do not usually question unaccompanied children who claim to be adults even when their appearance strongly suggests that they are well under 18. In practice, authorities fail to provide children with adequate information about their rights during the reception and identification process on the islands and take no steps to verify whether an individual claiming to be an adult is a child, creating a risk that trafficked children will not be identified and protected from further harm.

While registered unaccompanied children should be transferred to safe accommodation, Greece has a chronic shortage of space. Pending placement in a shelter, the authorities often detain unaccompanied migrant children in police stations, immigration detention facilities, and European Union-managed asylum processing centers. As of June 20, 1,149 unaccompanied migrant children were on the waiting list for shelter, including 296 detained in such facilities.

Coastal area near Panagiouda village on Lesbos, Greece, one of the islands to which many asylum seekers, including unaccompanied children, have been confined with the aim of returning them to Turkey following a deeply flawed March 2016 EU deal.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

The problem has grown more acute since the arrival of more than 1 million people in the Greek islands in 2015 and 2016. Border closures in countries to the north have effectively trapped asylum seekers and migrants in Greece, and a deeply flawed EU deal with Turkey, signed in March 2016, has led Greece to restrict asylum seekers to the Greek islands with the aim of returning them to Turkey.

Nongovernmental organizations on Lesbos told Human Rights Watch they have identified at least 60 people registered as adults who claim to be children.

Children registered as adults are left to fend for themselves and are vulnerable to exploitation, trafficking, and other abuse. They live in official and unofficial sites with unrelated adult single men; are exposed to inhumane living conditions, including overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and frequent incidents of violence; and are unable to go to school or otherwise access education. They have little or no access to care, protection, or specialized services, and are excluded from accommodation for unaccompanied children.

Once the Greek authorities register unaccompanied children as adults for whatever reason, it is difficult, if not impossible, for them to change their status. Even when nongovernmental groups identify children as wrongly registered as adults, it can take months to overcome the burdensome bureaucratic procedures to establish their real age and register them as children. The process of being recognized as children took so long in some cases Human Rights Watch examined that the children had turned 18 during the intervening period. This undermined their ability to reunite with family members in other EU countries or to get specialized housing or services for children.

Statements from these children about how they feel suggest the situation in which they find themselves in Greece is causing psychological harm and exacerbates existing mental health conditions, Human Rights Watch said. All the children interviewed reported experiencing psychological distress, including symptoms such as anxiety, depression, headaches, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Two children reported harming themselves.

Authorities in Greece should urgently improve the quality of their age assessment procedures, bringing them into line with international best practices, Human Rights Watch said. Greek authorities should take steps to identify children, give children whose age is disputed the benefit of the doubt in close cases, and ensure that unaccompanied children have access to decent accommodation where they can receive care, education, counseling, legal aid, guardianship, and other essential services. Those who are determined to be over 18 should be accommodated in special housing for young adults and given access to adequate services, including psychosocial support and mental health services.

The European Commission and the European Asylum Support Office should make use of their presence on the islands to ensure that the Greek authorities’ age assessment methods and procedures fully comply with the legal safeguards provided by Greek and EU law, and that children are given the benefit of the doubt where results are inconclusive. The EU emergency relocation mechanism should also be urgently extended to unaccompanied children identified on the Greek islands, irrespective of nationality, and EU member states should accelerate relocation of unaccompanied migrant children.

“Vulnerable kids in Greece who have endured dangerous journeys far from their families should not have to fight for months just to prove they are children,” Cossé said. “Greece should do a better job identifying these children so they get the care they need and deserve.”

“Amadou,” a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy from West Africa standing by two other people in hammocks in Lesbos, Greece.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

Registering Unaccompanied Migrant Children

Greek authorities formally registered over 1,800 unaccompanied asylum-seeking and migrant children arriving in Greece in the first five months of 2017. Many of them are from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, countries beset by armed conflict and serious human rights abuses. Some of the others, such as children from Pakistan, were escaping discrimination and poverty.

Greek legislation recognizes the government’s obligations to care for and protect unaccompanied migrant children. Under Greek law the government is supposed to appoint a guardian for each child to represent them in any legal or judicial proceeding, to hear the child’s views prior to any decision-making, and to act in their best interests. But Human Rights Watch found that authorities in Lesbos often register unaccompanied migrant children as adults. Invisible as children, and outside of care arrangements, these children are particularly vulnerable to violence, exploitation, and abuse.

The Greek Reception and Identification Service (RIS) is required to provide for the reception of third-country nationals entering the islands under conditions that guarantee human rights and dignity in accordance with international standards. New arrivals are brought to EU-managed asylum processing centers on the Greek islands, the so-called hotspots, for identification and registration.

The RIS is responsible for identifying and registering people who belong to “vulnerable” groups upon their arrival, which should include unaccompanied migrant children. The agency is supported in doing this by the Greek police; EU agencies, such as the border agency Frontex; UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency; the International Organization for Migration; and medical nongovernmental organizations. RIS is responsible for referring unaccompanied migrant children to social services and providing them with information on their rights, including their right to seek asylum. In a July 10 letter to Human Rights Watch, RIS said that particular attention is given to the procedures for unaccompanied children who “receive specific information adapted to their age or maturity about their legal status and the procedural possibilities offered at subsequent phases of the process.” In practice on Lesbos, though, Human Rights Watch found that RIS is failing to meet its responsibilities toward these children.

“Zahid,” a boy from Pakistan who said he was 16 when he arrived on Lesbos in March 2016, described the inadequate procedure during his first encounter with the authorities:

When I arrived, I was 16 but they [authorities] wrote on the papers 19. They didn’t even take me to the doctor. …. They asked me my name, my age, and then they took my fingerprints…. I told them I was 16. They separated me from the other people and took me where the unaccompanied children are [a restricted section for unaccompanied children inside the Moria hotspot]. They kept me there for 10 or 15 days and then they took me out again. They never explained to me why, they just took me out. Then I stayed with other people, outside [the children’s section]…. I don't know why they changed my age. I asked them many times and the only thing they told me is to sign some papers.  

Fifteen months after his arrival, Zahid, today 17, was still being treated as an adult by the authorities and his real age hadn’t been formally recognized.

“Amadou,” a 16-year-old unaccompanied boy from West Africa playing with a soccer ball in front of a container on Lesbos, Greece. Amadou, on Lesbos since October 2016, said the lack of adequate information and fear of detention, made him register as an adult but after a few days when he realized he made a mistake he was unable to register his real age.

© 2017 Thanos Tsantas for Human Rights Watch

Children Who Claim to be Adults

Human Rights Watch spoke with six children in Lesbos who said they falsely claimed to be adults when they arrived in Greece. They did so, they said, because they feared detention or because they heard false information from smugglers or other migrants that registration as a child would lead to worse outcomes, such as separation from friends and distant family. When they realized the unpleasant consequences of being registered as an adult or because, finally, they were correctly advised, they said they told officials that they wanted to change their age to the correct one, but faced many obstacles.

“Hassan,” a boy from Afghanistan, said he was 15 when he arrived in June 2016:

Before doing my registration, several Afghans told me ‘don’t give your real age because they are going to keep you in the children’s section.’ … They [the authorities] told me ‘you look underage, if you have papers show them to us.’ I said I don’t have any papers and because the others had told me to not say I’m a minor, I said I’m an adult.

He said it took two other unrelated adults traveling with him to say he is an adult to convince the authorities. The inadequacy of identification procedures means that there is a serious risk that trafficked children are not recognized as such.

Hassan, who is now 16, lived for more than eight months with the general population of the Moria camp, mainly unrelated adult single men. At the time of our interview, in May, he had been living for two months in a protected area within the Moria hotspot that accommodates young men between the ages of 18 to 22 and some of those whose ages are disputed, run by the RIS. He said his age had been formally recognized by the Greek Asylum Service (GAS), in the context of the asylum process, but was still pending recognition by the RIS.

“[RIS told me] ‘You are a guest in our space and we are not responsible for you anymore.’ I just wanted to know what will happen to me and whether I’ll be transferred to a house [for unaccompanied children] and go to school.”

According to nongovernmental groups and children interviewed, when detention measures for unaccompanied children were relaxed on the island of Lesbos at the end of 2016, and children were allowed to go in and out of the section for unaccompanied migrant children, many children who had initially given a false age and registered as adults because of fear of detention said they changed their minds, wanting to register their real age. Others sought to do so when they received proper information from nongovernmental groups, which instructed them to tell the truth.

Rubber boats full of asylum seekers and other migrants arriving on the shore of Lesbos Island, Greece.

© 2015 Human Rights Watch

Inadequate Age Assessment

When authorities are in doubt as to whether a person is a child, Greek law requires that they must first give that person the benefit of the doubt, operating on a presumption of childhood, and second, perform a comprehensive age determination.

UNHCR and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have instructed countries not to base age determinations solely on the child’s physical appearance or on a single medical test, but also to consider psychological maturity and the margin of error of medical exams (which can be up to five years), and to give the benefit of doubt in making a determination. In ethical terms, such exams offer no medical benefit and the margin of error is so broad that the exams can’t establish what they are intended to do.

Best practices in age determination require a multidisciplinary approach. Any medical testing should be non-intrusive. X-rays for age determination are increasingly regarded as a violation of medical ethics because they expose children to radiological testing for no medical reason.

While an age determination process is ongoing, the person should not be detained or otherwise accommodated with unrelated adults.

As of October 2013, a decision by the health minister (MD 92490/2013) established for the first time an age assessment procedure applicable within the context of what was then called the First Reception Service, now the RIS.

The ministerial decision says that in cases in which there is justifiable doubt about the age of a third-country national, and the person may possibly be a child, they are to be referred to the RIS medical control and psychosocial support team for an age assessment. Initially, the age assessment will be based on physical appearance, such as height, weight, body mass index, voice, and hair growth, following a clinical examination by a pediatrician. In case the person’s age cannot be adequately determined, the psychologist and the social worker will assess the person’s cognitive, behavioral, and psychological development.

If a pediatrician is not available or the interdisciplinary staff cannot reach any firm conclusions – and only as a measure of last resort, the decision says – the person shall be referred to a public hospital for specialized medical examinations, such as dental or wrist X-rays. Staff there are to explain clearly their aims and the procedures to the person being examined.

In a July 10 letter to Human Rights Watch, RIS said that, “In any case, the principle of the child’s best interests, equal treatment, and proportionality must prevail. During the age assessment procedure as well as in case of doubts after its completion, the minority presumption prevails.”

Human Rights Watch found that the age assessment procedure provided in Greek law is not followed in practice on Lesbos. All 14 people interviewed who told the authorities they were under 18 when they arrived said they were registered as adults following a cursory age assessment, which in most cases consisted of a visit to the local hospital and a quick examination of their teeth. None of the children who had gone through this medical examination had first, or indeed ever, been interviewed by a psychologist or a social worker for an age assessment. Even though the procedure provided in Greek law had not been followed, RIS registered them as adults.

“Akash,” who is from Bangladesh and said he turned 18 in March, arrived on Lesbos in the summer of 2016, when he was 17. He said the authorities registered him as 18 following a quick visit to the hospital. “In the beginning, they wrote I was 17 but then they took me to the doctor and wrote down 18.” He said:

When they took me to the doctor, the doctor examined my teeth in order to define my age. But I don’t understand. There are people who have their wisdom teeth at the age of 17, others at the age of 18 and others at the age of 22. The doctor just examined my teeth. They changed my age [to 18] and took me out [of the children’s section].

Akash said he lived for more than four months with the general population of the camp before being transferred to a protected area inside Moria run by the RIS for people between the ages of 18-22. In early June 2017, he was transferred again outside, with the general population, due to lack of space. His real age was never formally recognized. “I tried as much as I could, but they [authorities] never accepted my age,” he said.

Contesting Designation as an Adult

Once children are registered as adults, either following a cursory age assessment procedure, or because they initially claimed they were adults, it is difficult if not impossible for them to change their status to that of a child.

Under Greek law, after a RIS age assessment procedure is completed, the person should be informed in a language they understand about the reasons for the decision. They have a right to appeal within 10 days, but RIS requires anyone who files an appeal to provide an original ID or original passport proving their age, which should be officially translated or verified, within this period.

All children interviewed said they faced practical difficulties in getting identification documents proving their age within the 10-day period. Human Rights Watch found that all appeals brought by children interviewed, were rejected by RIS. In rejecting the appeals, RIS disregarded the proven and objective difficulties for children to verify or officially translate the documents or to get legal assistance.

Some children said they had no parents or relatives in their home countries to provide the documents, and others had refugee profiles that could put them at risk if they contacted their embassies or relatives in their home countries.

For most, their only chance to seek to establish their age was at a later stage, during the asylum interview, conducted either by Greek Asylum Service (GAS) staff or officers of the European Asylum Support Office (EASO). Greek law sets out guarantees for children in that procedure, including the appointment of a guardian to protect the child’s rights and best interests throughout the age determination procedure, and the guarantee that a person who claims to be a child should be treated as such until the completion of the age determination procedure. The law also explicitly provides the applicant with the benefit of the doubt even after the conclusion of the procedure if the person’s age has not definitively been determined.

Human Rights Watch found that when it comes to children who have been wrongly registered as adults by RIS, the asylum service does not deviate from RIS findings unless explicit proof is provided. In a July 12 letter to Human Rights Watch, the asylum service confirmed that it cannot change data recorded by RIS and the police during initial registration “unless the applicant produces compelling evidence (e.g. an original passport not presented to RIS or the police) to the contrary.” The procedure before the asylum service can last for months, and while it is ongoing, children interviewed by Human Rights Watch were treated as adults.

“Anush,” a boy from Afghanistan who said he initially registered as an adult in August 2016, tried to get his real age – 16 – recognized during his asylum interview in February 2017:

Because I told them I am a child, they didn’t ask me many questions. Basically, they asked me why I came from Turkey and didn’t stay there…. The interview lasted for an hour. They asked ‘Why didn’t you stay in Turkey? Why you didn’t go to UNHCR offices and register there?’ I told them that when I was in Turkey, a guy [smuggler] had me as some kind of a prisoner and also because I am under age I couldn’t have access to school or go to the hospital.

A worker with a nongovernmental group supporting “Anush” with his case said:

He provided his original birth certificate more than two-and-a-half months ago. We went to EASO, provided it, and registered him as a minor. The document was checked by Frontex as to whether it’s original. After waiting for more than two months, Anush goes to renew his asylum card and is given an appointment for a second interview, as an adult…. We go again today, and the EASO officer says in front of Anush, and the lawyer, that we need to do a new registration and that they had forgotten we already submitted the papers. Today, Anush lost completely his trust in the system and us.

At the time of our interview, in May, Anush was living with the adult population of the Moria camp and his real age hadn’t been formally recognized yet.

In a July 12 letter to Human Rights Watch, the asylum service said that if it appears that the asylum seeker is a child traveling alone, its officers are instructed to treat the case as such. The officer is obliged to notify the public prosecutor, who will act as the temporary guardian, and the National Center for Social Solidarity. In more general terms, the asylum service said that its officers are instructed to conduct the asylum interview always bearing in mind the best interest of the child.

Children at Risk

Unaccompanied children are some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world; international and European human rights law, as well as EU law, recognizes that vulnerability, and obliges countries to provide unaccompanied children with care. International law stipulates that the child’s best interest is a primary consideration in any decision affecting the child and that children deprived of their family environment are entitled to special protection and assistance by the state.

The failure to carry out proper age and vulnerability assessments means that many children are not recognized as children. Most find themselves without appropriate accommodation and therefore sleep in conditions that are overcrowded, unhygienic, and a risk to their physical health and mental well-being. They stay in open spaces on the Greek islands in official and unofficial sites, share tents or container housing with adult strangers, and are exposed to frequent incidents of violence. They are unable to go to school or otherwise access education.

On an ad-hoc basis, and depending on capacity, authorities on Lesbos place people who are seeking to prove they are under 18 in protected areas within the Moria hotspot. Some of the children interviewed were accommodated there at the time of the interview. But increased arrivals and overcrowding have resulted in transfers of these children to places outside of the protected areas. Others have been living in the open space with unrelated adult single men since their arrival.

There are no reliable estimates of the number of children who may be registered as adults but who haven’t been identified by nongovernmental groups or others or otherwise made themselves known to the authorities and are not receiving the special protection and care to which they are entitled under Greek and international law.

Anthi Karangeli, the director of RIS, confirmed that the lack of dedicated space on the island for age-disputed cases is problematic. “We can provide them with special treatment to the extent that space allows us,” she said.

“Samil,” from Afghanistan, said he was 14 when he arrived in Lesbos. He said he spent more than nine months living with the general population in the camp. At the time of the interview in May, it had been a month since he had been transferred, along with his 19-year-old brother, to the section for unaccompanied children inside Moria. He said his real age was formally recognized by the asylum service at the end of April:

I spent nine months in the tent…and now I’ve been one month here [section for unaccompanied children]…. When we were living in the tent [with adults], every day we were living in fear because of the many fights. Intense fear. I’ve been injured on my shoulder during a fight. Our tent was in the middle and it had been broken and burned twice…. I’ve reached a point where I harmed myself three times.


The Greek government should:

  • Ensure that there are sufficient and suitable alternatives to detention and end the unjustified detention of unaccompanied children, which deters children from registering as such;
  • Establish suitable separate reception facilities for young adults and age-disputed cases on the Greek islands and mainland Greece, and in the meantime, ensure that there are adequate and protected places in existing facilities;
  • Train RIS officers conducting initial screening and other officials, including Frontex, the European Asylum Support Office staff, and Greek Asylum Service officers, to correctly identify unaccompanied children, trafficking victims, and children with special protection needs, and to refer them to services as warranted;
  • Ensure that qualified interpreters assist unaccompanied migrant children;
  • Provide unaccompanied children who are illiterate with verbal and age-appropriate information about their rights and entitlements in Greece as children;
  • Ensure that all age determination procedures use a multidisciplinary approach that does not rely solely on appearance or medical or dental examinations. In the limited instances in which medical tests are carried out, use non-intrusive and non-invasive examinations to the extent possible;
  • In the case of uncertainty, give children whose age is disputed the benefit of the doubt and treat them as children;
  • Treat those with age assessment pending cases before the Greek Asylum Service as children, until their case has been finally resolved;
  • Re-examine cases of anyone assessed as an adult following inadequate and summary age determination procedures and until then, treat them as children;
  • Reform Greek law to ensure that anyone contesting designation as an adult has reasonable and adequate time to provide identification documents proving their age;
  • Provide free legal assistance for unaccompanied children, including those who claim to be under 18, in all administrative and judicial proceedings;

Expedite reunification processes for older children and, on an equitable basis, work with other EU member states to effect reunification in cases where the state’s delay has meant that children reach 18 during the process.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Flawed and inadequate procedures leave unaccompanied migrant children on the Greek island of Lesbos housed with unrelated adults, vulnerable to abuse, and unable to access the specific care they need.

Under Greek and international law, unaccompanied children are entitled to special care and protection. But flawed age assessment procedures mean that some of these children are wrongly deemed adults during registration. Other children claim to be adults believing it will allow them to avoid detention or because of bad advice by adults, but then realize they have made a mistake and try to persuade the authorities to register them correctly. They can spend months trying to change their official status, and in meantime often continue to be treated as adults.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants look at south Italy's coast as they approach on the Vos Hestia ship after being rescued by " Save the Children" crew on the Mediterranean sea off the Libya coast, June 20, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

(Brussels) – Thousands more refugees and migrants could be at risk of dying at sea if a flawed code of conduct for nongovernmental groups conducting search and rescue in the central Mediterranean is put into practice, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said today after reviewing a leaked draft of the document.

On July 12, 2017, the Civil Liberties Committee of the European Parliament will hold an “exchange of views on Search and Rescue in the Mediterranean” between MEPs, the Italian coastguard, the EU border management agency FRONTEX, and nongovernmental organizations.

“Perversely, the proposed code of conduct for NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean could put lives at risk,” said Iverna McGowan, director of the Amnesty International, European Institutions Office. “Attempts to restrict NGO search and rescue operations risk endangering thousands of lives by limiting rescue boats from accessing the perilous waters near Libya.”

The code of conduct, drafted by Italy, was first proposed at an informal meeting of the European Council Justice and Home Affairs meeting on July 6, 2017.

The draft pact would curtail the work of nongovernmental groups carrying out search and rescue operations on the central Mediterranean by:

  • Barring them from entering Libyan territorial waters to undertake rescues;
  • Banning them from using lights to signal their location to vessels at imminent risk of sinking; and
  • Forcing them to return to port to disembark refugees and migrants, rather than allowing them to transfer rescued people onto other vessels at sea if necessary. This would remove nongovernmental groups’ search-and-rescue teams for long periods from the area where they are needed, leaving more people at risk of drowning in the central Mediterranean.

The draft includes the threat of refusal to allow vessels from nongovernmental groups to disembark in Italy if they do not sign the code or fail to comply with any of its provisions.

Any code of conduct, if necessary, should have the goal of making rescue operations at sea more effective at saving lives, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said. It should be agreed upon consultation with the groups involved in search-and-rescue, should apply to all vessels carrying out rescues in the Mediterranean, and should not be linked to disembarkation.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch believe that the code of conduct may in some cases hinder rescue operations and delay disembarkations in a safe place within a reasonable amount of time, breaching the obligations states and shipmasters have under the law of the sea.

Italy’s proposal for a code of conduct for nongovernmental groups comes amid a concerted smear campaign against these groups, and Italy’s request for more sharing of responsibility among EU member states for rescue and disembarkation. While the EU has been extremely poor in providing Italy with the shared support and assistance it needs, it is instead focusing on training the Libyan Navy coast guard, under the UN-backed Government of National Accord, to build its capacity to intercept boats. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented reckless and abusive behaviour by Libyan coast guard forces.

“NGOs are out there in the Mediterranean rescuing people because the EU is not,” said Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Given the scale of tragedies at sea and the horrific abuses migrants and asylum seekers face in Libya, the EU should work with Italy to enhance robust search and rescue in the waters off Libya, not limit it.”


More than 2,000 people have died in the central Mediterranean since January 2017 according to the International Organisation for Migration.

Last week, Amnesty International released a new report, “A Perfect Storm,” about how failing EU policies are clearly linked to this soaring death toll and the horrific abuses faced by thousands of refugees and migrants in Libyan detention centers. On June 19, Human Rights Watch issued a detailed briefing on the lack of capacity of Libyan coast guard forces to perform safely search-and-rescue operations.

Nongovernmental organizations have rescued more than 80,000 refugees and migrants crossing from Libya towards Italy since the Italian operation “Mare Nostrum” was removed in 2014.

The UN Refugee Agency and the International Organisation for Migration have both criticized the nongovernmental organization code of conduct.

Two parliamentary committee inquiries this year in Italy found no evidence of misconduct on the part of nongovernmental organizations undertaking search and rescue and their contribution to search and rescue activities. The Italian Coastguard and Navy have expressed their view that nongovernmental organizations have been helpful and cooperative.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew June 15, 2014. The military's ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) insists Cambodians are leaving of their own accord and said 60,000 had crossed the border as of Saturday. 
© 2014 Reuters/Athit Perawongmetha

(New York) – The Thai government should halt enforcement of a new migrant workers’ law that imposes excessive criminal penalties and has caused thousands of migrant workers to flee Thailand, Human Rights Watch said today.

Since the government enacted the Decree Concerning the Management of Foreign Workers’ Employment on June 23, 2017, tens of thousands of registered and unregistered migrant workers from Cambodia, Burma, Laos, and Vietnam have fled Thailand, fearing arrest and harsh punishment. The new law imposes disproportionate criminal penalties on migrants who work without a permit, mandating up to five years in prison and fines between 2,000 to 100,000 baht (US$60 to US$2,935).

“Threatening unregistered migrant workers with long prison terms and large fines will just make it easier for corrupt officials and unscrupulous employers to abuse and exploit them,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “Thailand needs laws that protect the rights of migrant workers—not that instill fear and set off mass flight.”

The decree, which the government announced with little notice, puts migrant workers and employers in limbo and has prompted thousands of migrant workers and their families to flee Thailand. Employers face hefty fines of 400,000 to 800,000 baht ($11,740 to $23,480) for each undocumented migrant worker they hire, which has led some to encourage their migrant workers to depart. Even if their workers have authorization, the employers could still be fined 400,000 baht ($11,740) per worker and the worker 100,000-baht ($ 2,935) if the job is not the same as registered at the Department of Employment.

On July 4, Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha, facing strong employer opposition to the law and the flight of migrant workers, used his executive authority to delay enforcement of four articles (elaborating punishments) for 180 days for possible revisions. However, the military junta-appointed National Legislative Assembly enacted the remaining articles by a 177 to 0 vote (with 11 abstentions) on July 6.

Threatening unregistered migrant workers with long prison terms and large fines will just make it easier for corrupt officials and unscrupulous employers to abuse and exploit them.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Prime Minister Prayut claimed the new law is necessary because of a huge number of unregistered migrant workers—approximately three million—in Thailand, and that the government needs tougher measures to respond to international concerns about trafficking. He cited Thailand’s low ranking in the 2017 US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report.

Abuses of migrant workers in Thailand have been extensively documented by Human Rights Watch and others, including in the report “From the Tiger to the Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand.” Human Rights Watch found that abuses against migrant workers include assaults and killings by government security forces and private individuals, extensive use of torture and ill-treatment in detention, sexual abuse, widespread labor rights abuses, and pervasive extortion. Many employers still confiscate migrant workers' passports and work permits. Meanwhile, those filing grievances have often faced retaliation from police, officials, and employers.

The new law addresses only one of the major problems identified by Human Rights Watch: that of systematic confiscation of workers’ identification documents by employers seeking to prevent them from changing employers or leaving. The new law criminalizes the seizure of “worker permits and other important documents” of migrant workers and imposes punishments of up to 6 months in prison and fines up to 100,000 baht ($2,935).

A Myanmar migrant worker rests outside his house near a wholesale market for shrimp and other seafood in Mahachai, in Samut Sakhon province, Thailand, July 4, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters/Chaiwat Subprasom

Because of the complexity of the migrant worker registration process and lack of Thai government capacity in migrant workers’ languages, migrant workers have long had to pay high fees to brokers to coordinate with labor management authorities on both sides of the border. The annual registration period is also unreasonably short, leaving migrant workers who cannot register in time vulnerable to arrest or extortion by law enforcement officials.

Migrant workers remain barred from changing jobs and employers without authorization, and an unreasonably short period of 15 days is provided to change employers where authorization is provided. Changing employers without permission exposes workers to arrest, detention, fines, and deportation. Restricting workers’ ability to change employers makes them more vulnerable to labor rights’ violations. Another provision of the law sets out that the interior minister may officially designate areas where migrant workers would be allowed to live, threatening the right to freedom of movement.

The new law also fails to address Thailand’s violation of migrant workers’ right to freedom of association, including the right to organize and lead a labor union. The 1975 Labor Relations Act prohibits migrants from officially registering a union with Thai authorities (which is necessary for legal status) or serving as a union committee member, which choose union leaders.

To end the flight of migrant workers from Thailand, the Thai government should promptly adopt measures to protect migrant workers’ rights. The government should end restrictions on documented migrant workers changing employers, rescind regulations that violate migrant workers’ right to freedom of movement, and amend the Labor Relations Act to permit migrant workers to form trade unions and collectively bargain.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government to set up a national-level government complaints body that will impartially and expeditiously investigate abuses of migrant workers’ rights; thoroughly investigate and prosecute government officials, especially police, who extort and abuse migrant workers and their families; and revamp migrant registration procedures that are unnecessarily bureaucratic, complicated and expensive.

“The lives of migrant workers in Thailand are frequently unsafe and uncertain,” Adams said. “The government’s discriminatory law only exacerbates that. Instead of putting forward new regulations that violate migrant workers’ rights, it is time to get serious about prosecuting those who abuse migrant workers.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This week, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights reviewed Australia’s asylum policy. Once again, Australia’s officials were both disingenuous and unconvincing in their appearance before the committee, which monitors state compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

A protester from the Refugee Action Coalition holds a placard during a demonstration outside the offices of the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection in Sydney, Australia, April 29, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The committee’s findings reinforce what many observers, including Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly concluded: offshore “processing” means asylum seekers and refugees are held in  deplorable conditions for years on end, with little idea of if or when they will be able to leave. They suffer a raft of human rights violations that significantly affect their mental and physical well-being.

Since 2012, the Australian government has forcibly transferred hundreds of refugees and asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea (PNG) and the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru for "regional processing." Approximately 1,200 men, women, and children currently remain in Nauru, and about 900 men in PNG.

Australia has repeatedly disavowed responsibility for these people. Last month, Richard Johnson, Australia’s representative for immigration matters, denied more than once that Australia had effective control over the asylum seekers in Nauru and PNG, claiming the centers are governed and administered by PNG and Nauru under their laws. The UN committee confirmed the opposite: Australia indeed had effective control.

Australia’s officials and contractors carried out the forced transfers of asylum seekers on airplanes paid for by Australia. Furthermore, the government pays for all aspects of the “processing” operations on Nauru and PNG, and makes all operational decisions regarding these facilities.

In its findings, the committee expressed concern and alarm at Australia’s “punitive approach” to those who arrive by boat and the transfer of asylum seekers to PNG and Nauru for processing of asylum claims. It highlighted the acute isolation, exposure to violence, suicide attempts, and limited access to services such as health care and education refugees and asylum seekers must endure.

The committee urged the Australian government to stop processing asylum claims offshore, and to close the regional processing centers, repatriate all concerned to Australia, and process their asylum claims there.

Under a new committee procedure, Australia now has 18 months to respond and act on their recommendations.

Even 18 months is far too long. The Australian government should move immediately to close the centers, take in all asylum seekers and refugees held offshore, and end offshore processing permanently.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

President Xi Jinping
General Secretary Office
Central Committee of the Communist Party of China
Zhongnanhai Ximen, Fuyou Street
Xicheng District, Beijing 100017
People’s Republic of China

Fax: +86 10 6307 0900; +11 10 6238 1025

Re: Detention of Five North Korean refugees 

Dear President Xi, 

Human Rights Watch is an international nongovernmental organization that investigates and reports on human rights abuses in over 90 countries, including China, North Korea, South Korea and the United States among others. We work on a wide range of human rights issues worldwide, including protection of refugees and stopping refoulement, ending the use of torture, and combatting restrictions on basic rights, like the freedom of movement to leave one’s home country.

We write to request you urgently stop the forced return of a group of five North Korean refugees back to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) who were apprehended by police last week in Shengyang city of Lioaning province. They are currently believed to be detained near Yanji city in Jilin province. Human Rights Watch calls on you to permit these five persons who were last seen in your government’s custody to travel safely to a third country.

If these five persons are returned to North Korea, they will likely face harsh abuses, including possible torture, imprisonment in prison camps, forced labor, and based on past incidents, sexual violence and potentially execution. This information is based on Human Rights Watch’s research as well as and the conclusions of a UN Human Rights Council Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea that produced a comprehensive report in 2014. 

This matter is quite urgent because the most recent information we have received is that these persons are to be imminently sent to Helong city, 70 kilometers southwest of Yanji, near the Chinese-North Korean border. Once they are in Helong, a forced return could happen at any time.  Please find additional information in this press release.  

Your government has labeled North Koreans in China as illegal “economic migrants” and routinely repatriates them to North Korea based on arrangements established by a 1986 border protocol. But Human Rights Watch’s research has found that North Koreans who leave the country without permission face certain and harsh punishment upon repatriation. Because of this, international law requires that they should be considered as refugees sur place – people who become refugees as a result of fleeing their country or due to circumstances arising after their flight. In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013, or who are residing outside the country but can surreptitiously talk with contacts inside North Korea, have told Human Rights Watch that North Koreans who are repatriated from China face incarceration, torture, inhumane treatment, enslavement, and sexual violence upon their forced return.

As party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, China should uphold its commitments and not send North Koreans - who have a well-founded fear of persecution - back to North Korea, where their life or freedom will be threatened because they left the country without permission.

We noted that in November 2015, the United Nations Committee Against Torture raised serious concerns about China’s actions to forcibly return fleeing North Koreans caught in China to North Korea. We strongly urge the Chinese government to reveal the current whereabouts of the group of five North Koreans, and abide by China’s international obligations under the Refugee Convention to protect refugees and under no circumstances force them back to a place where they could face persecution. 


Phil Robertson 
Deputy Asia Director

Sophie Richardson
China Director

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

North Korea's leader Kim Jong-Un (R) and Chinese Politburo standing committee member Liu Yunshan (L) wave from a balcony towards participants of a mass military parade at Kim Il-Sung square in Pyongyang on October 10, 2015.

© 2015 Getty Images

(Seoul) – China should immediately release five North Korean refugees held in Chinese detention and agree not to return them to North Korea, where they would face grave danger, Human Rights Watch said today. China should protect the five refugees and let them travel to safety in a third country, Human Rights Watch said in a letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping.

North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated after fleeing their country face a real risk of torture, sexual violence and abuse, incarceration in forced labor camps, and public executions, making them refugees in need of urgent protection under international law. 

“China should not force these five refugees back to North Korea, where the government is known to severely violate the rights of those sent back using methods such as torture, sexual violence, forced labor, and long-term incarceration in North Korea’s brutal prison camp system,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Beijing should fulfill its obligations under the UN Refugee Convention by releasing these five refugees and permitting them to go to a third country where they can be safely protected.” 

Late last week, Chinese government officials detained the group traveling to the city of Shenyang, Liaoning province, in northeastern China. Three of the five refugees are relatives of “Lim,” a North Korean now living in South Korea and using a pseudonym. On June 16, Lim received a call from her brother, who was using a smuggled Chinese phone in North Korea. He told Lim that he had crossed the Yalu river, on the border between North Korea and China, with their mother and a cousin. He had been carrying their mother, who was too weak to walk, and needed help because the group had gotten lost on the mountain. Lim’s relatives had no food and her brother eventually lost consciousness from exhaustion and hunger. 

Lim was eventually able to contact someone who could help guide the group and provide them with food and basic assistance. Lim told Human Rights Watch that she spoke to her family a few days later, when the person trying to help them reached the group before departing by car. She has not been able to contact them since then. 

On June 21, Lim learned from her local contacts that the group, including her three relatives, was detained by the Chinese military near Yanji city, Jilin Province. On June 22, she heard that authorities were about to move her family to Helong, 70 kilometers southwest of Yanji. 

China regularly labels North Koreans as illegal "economic migrants" and forcibly repatriates them to North Korea based on a 1986 bilateral border protocol. However, regardless of why North Koreans decide to flee the country, they are virtually guaranteed to face extremely abusive treatment if forced to return. For this reason, international law considers them all to be refugees sur place, or refugees because of circumstances after their departure.

China, as a state party to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, as well as the 1984 Convention against Torture, is specifically obligated not to return refugees when that may put them at risk of persecution or torture. The same obligations bind China as a matter of customary international law. Forcing North Koreans back to North Korea amounts to refoulement, or the sending of persons back to territory where they face serious human rights violations. Such a practice forbidden by international treaties to which China is a party.

According to interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch with North Koreans who have previously been apprehended in China and returned to North Korea, the North Korean government harshly punishes all those who leave the country without permission.

In 2010, North Korea’s Ministry of People’s Security adopted a decree making defection a crime of “treachery against the nation,” punishable by death. North Koreans who have fled the country since 2013, or who maintain contacts inside the country, have told Human Rights Watch that people repatriated by China face severe penalties. Those caught while trying to go to South Korea can face 7 to 15 years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps (kyohwaso – re-education correctional facilities), incarceration in political prison camps (kwanliso), or even execution. 

North Koreans may be sentenced to more than two years of forced labor in ordinary prison camps for living illegally in China. A former senior official in the North Korean state security service (bowibu) who worked on the border and received North Koreans sent back from China, told Human Rights Watch that officials torture every returnee to find out where they went in China, who they contacted, and what they had done.

Lim remains especially concerned about her family’s treatment because police detained and forcibly disappeared her father in 2010. When detainees vanish without information on whereabouts, trial dates or result, the community assumes the person has been sent to political prison camps (kwanliso). Lim fears that because of their father’s status, her family will be lost in the kwanliso system. 

Political prison camps in North Korea are characterized by systematic abuses and often deadly conditions, including meager rations that lead to near starvation, virtually no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, regular mistreatment that includes sexual assault and torture by guards, and summary executions. Death rates in these camps are reported by former North Korean prisoners and guards to be extremely high. Detainees in ordinary prison camps also face forced labor, food and medicine shortages, and regular mistreatment by guards.

The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea found that those fleeing the country are targeted as part of a “systematic and widespread attack against populations considered to pose a threat to the political system and leadership of the DPRK… to isolate the population from contact with the outside world.” It also found that crimes against humanity, including torture, execution, enslavement, and sexual violence, are committed against prisoners and people forcibly returned to North Korea from China. 

Human Rights Watch calls on China to stop repatriating North Koreans, and to allow the UN refugee agency to exercise its mandate and protect people. China should provide asylum to North Korean refugees, let them seek resettlement in a third country, or allow them to pass through Chinese territory without fear of arrest or forced returns.

In December 2016, the UN Security Council again discussed for a third year in a row the human rights situation in North Korea as a threat to international peace and security. In March, the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution that strengthens the UN’s work to assess and develop strategies to prosecute pervasive human rights crimes by the North Korean government.

“There is no way to sugarcoat this: if these people are forced back to North Korea, their lives and safety will be at risk,” said Robertson. “The world is watching to see whether Beijing fulfills its duty to protect these five refugees or again becomes complicit with North Korea’s abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Ahmad,” a 34-year-old Chechen man, boarded a Polish-bound train in Brest, Belarus, last week, hoping to seek asylum there. He had fled from Chechnya, a Russian republic, where he says the authorities tortured and unlawfully detained him.

Asylum seekers in the arrivals hall at Brest train station, returned on the 13.46 pm train from Terespol, where their requests to seek asylum Poland were rejected. Brest, Belarus, December 7, 2016. 

© 2016 Lydia Gall/Human Rights Watch
Having taken the 15-minute trip from Brest to the Polish border unsuccessfully 27 times before, Ahmad hoped this time was going to be different. Polish and Belarusian lawyers and activists had asked for, and received, an emergency order from the European Court of Human Rights instructing that he not be summarily returned to Belarus. He knew Polish authorities would have a legal obligation to comply with the order while the European Court considers the claim.

But Ahmad’s hopes were crushed when Polish border guards ignored the court’s order and put him on a train back to Belarus that same day. Ahmad tried again the next day with the court order in his hand. To no avail. So Ahmad remains in Belarus, a country that does not have a functioning asylum system and where he is not safe from his persecutors back home in Chechnya due to the open border between Russia and Belarus.

And he’s not the only one. Polish border guards routinely return asylum seekers from North Caucasus and Central Asia at the Terespol border station, after concluding they are economic migrants based on no more than rudimentary, two- to three-minute pre-screening interviews conducted in front of other asylum seekers. But instead of border guards, it’s Poland’s asylum authority, the Office of Foreigners, which should be examining their asylum claims. Polish border guards are certainly not hearing what I heard from asylum seekers, who told detailed stories of political persecution, blood feuds, torture, and enforced disappearances.

The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims border guards did not ignore the order concerning Ahmad, arguing that the area where pre-screening interviews are conducted is not in Polish territory. But claims of “rights-free zones” for asylum processing in other European countries have been rejected by the European Court in the past.

Polish authorities have an obligation to allow anyone at their ports of entry to claim asylum. And as Poland is a party to the European Convention of Human Rights, Polish authorities are obliged to respect the court’s emergency orders, rather than creating bogus excuses to violate the human rights of Ahmad and many others like him. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am


Russia will host the next FIFA World Cup, from June 14 to July 15, 2018, just over four years after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Mega-sporting events are a source of national pride for the Russian government, and it invests heavily in their success. Tens of thousands of workers are building the stadiums and infrastructure necessary for hosting of the World Cup. These workers often face exploitation, poor working conditions, and little recourse for abuses. These are long-standing issues that have been well-documented by Human Rights Watch and others before Russia was selected to host the World Cup. Yet the Russian government has not done enough to monitor and curb abusive practices in the construction sector and hold employers accountable.

The world’s top 32 football teams competing in the 2018 World Cup will play matches organized in 12 stadiums in 11 cities in Russia: Moscow (two stadiums), St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, Sochi, Kaliningrad, Saransk, Samara, Rostov-on-Don, Volgograd, Kazan, and Nizhnii Novgorod. To host the World Cup, Russia has built or renovated 10 stadiums and built infrastructure necessary to accommodate the influx of tens of thousands of players, coaches, families, media and others, and hundreds of thousands of fans.

For the first time ever, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the international governing body of association football, has instituted, together with the Russian officials responsible for the World Cup, a program to monitor labor conditions on World Cup stadium sites. FIFA has told Human Rights Watch that monitors conducted 58 inspections between mid-2016 and June 2017. Additional joint monitoring involving FIFA, Russian officials, and trade unions began in August 2016 and is underway.



However, Human Rights Watch’s investigation suggests that FIFA’s existing labor monitoring system may not be effective. In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry, FIFA sent a letter to Human Rights Watch providing details about the methodology, frequency and other technical aspects of its monitoring program. The letter said that during the course of the monitoring there had been reductions in “inconsistencies and incompliances.” The letter provided two examples in which FIFA said it resolved specific issues revealed by the monitoring process. Beyond these two examples, the letter did not provide any substantive details about the results of the monitoring, such as the specific types of violations, where violations took place, or if or how violations were remedied and the results of those remedial actions, or any other relevant information. FIFA has not otherwise disclosed or made such information publicly available. In addition, FIFA’s program is limited. It began well after much of the World Cup construction was underway, covers only stadiums and no other World Cup infrastructure, and with respect to methodology, employers are notified in advance of any inspections.

Human Rights Watch visited seven World Cup stadium sites in 2016 and 2017. We documented the exploitation of construction workers, including: non-payment of wages; three- to four-month delays in payment of wages; workers required to work outdoors in dangerously cold temperatures well below freezing; and a failure to provide work contracts and other documentation required for legal employment. Building and Wood Workers’ International, a global trade union, reported 17 worker deaths on World Cup stadium sites.

The St. Petersburg Stadium, a 2017 Confederations Cup and 2018 World Cup venue in St. Petersburg, Russia, under construction in July 2016

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

During its research, Human Rights Watch consistently encountered an atmosphere of intimidation, suspicion, and secrecy when trying to document conditions for workers on World Cup sites. In the most serious case, local police detained a Human Rights Watch research consultant as he tried to speak to workers outside of the Volgograd Arena. Authorities addressed the representative by name, which suggests that he was under surveillance.

Security officers outside of the St. Petersburg Stadium urged workers not to speak with Human Rights Watch’s representative. Numerous workers declined to be interviewed or insisted on anonymity out of fear of retaliation from their employers, who had threatened them with dismissal or deportation for discussing worksite concerns.

Workers told Human Rights Watch they face retaliation or threats of retaliation for raising concerns about labor conditions. Hundreds of workers at World Cup sites have organized strikes to protest abusive labor practices from 2015 to 2017. In Rostov-on-Don, the authorities arrested and deported dozens of migrant workers from Uzbekistan and Tajikistan who had participated in strikes, after allegedly finding irregularities in their employer-provided contracts.

The Volgograd Arena, a 2018 World Cup venue in Volgograd, Russia, under construction in April 2017. 

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

Human Rights Watch interviewed Russian nationals, including some who had migrated internally for jobs in World Cup construction, as well as migrant workers from other countries. During research in 2009 to 2012, Human Rights Watch documented serious abuses of migrant workers on the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, built for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, and to be used also for the 2018 World Cup.

The types of exploitation and abuse of workers described in this report are pervasive in Russia’s construction industry. Human Rights Watch extensively documented the same types of abuses during Russia’s preparations for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, and raised these concerns with the International Olympic Committee and the Russian authorities for nearly five years. A large-scale Russian government labor inspection into workers’ rights on Olympic construction sites, undertaken after substantial pressure, two months before the Games, uncovered over US$8.3 million in unpaid wages to workers on Sochi sites. It remains unclear how many of those workers ever recovered the wages owed to them for their contribution to Russia’s mega sports projects.

International and Russian media, as well as trade unions, have also documented serious concerns on World Cup sites, including deaths and serious injuries. They have also documented the same labor concerns identified in this report regarding non-payment of wages, retaliation against workers who complain, and the failure to provide written employment contracts.

The lack of employment contracts leaves workers vulnerable to exploitation and leaves them with little legal recourse: any such worker will have difficulty proving employment relations before a court, and therefore difficulty obtaining redress for abuse. Without a written employment contract, migrant workers’ employment status is irregular, putting them at risk of deportation and often making them reluctant to seek assistance from the authorities in the event of abuse.

Despite worker strikes, media and trade union reports of worker deaths, serious injuries and other concerns on World Cup construction sites, the FIFA leadership has consistently praised the Russian government’s preparations in public statements and has not spoken out about human rights concerns related to World Cup construction in Russia, except in response to media inquiries.

Human Rights Watch calls on the Russian government to put an end to the widespread worker rights violations in the construction sector, through rigorous inspections and accountability for employers who exploit and abuse workers. A high-level public message of zero tolerance for worker abuse would send a strong message through the industry. The authorities should also refrain from punishing migrant workers, including through deportations, for the unscrupulous practices of employers. The authorities should inform workers of their rights, including effective mechanisms to file complaints without retaliation.

Human Rights Watch urges FIFA to increase significantly transparency about all aspects of the new labor conditions monitoring program, in order to ensure credibility, accountability, and meaningful labor rights improvements. Labor standards monitoring should not be limited to stadiums, but also include other World Cup-related construction, such as accommodation, communications, and transportation infrastructure. Human Rights Watch also calls on FIFA officials, including FIFA President Gianni Infantino, to make clear in public statements and in meetings with Russian officials, the importance of worker protections, the freedom for independent monitors and journalists to report on the World Cup without fear of retaliation, and other core human rights protections in this final year before the World Cup matches begin in Russia. 


To the Russian Government

  • Rigorously investigate and prosecute employers who deny workers legal employment contracts, withhold wages, force employees to work long hours without overtime pay, deny days off, or commit other violations of Russian law.
  • Establish accessible, effective complaint mechanisms, and rigorously investigate complaints of abuse made by migrant workers, irrespective of a migrant worker’s contractual status or migration status.
  • Ensure the capacity of the Russian Work and Employment Service “Rostrud” inspectors to investigate labor law violations by:
    • Ensuring a sufficient number of inspectors responsible for monitoring private sector labor practices;
    • Ensuring that confidential worker interviews are part of routine inspections;
    • Increasing the number of routine periodic spot inspections;
    • Instructing inspectors to check, whether workers hold their passports and a copy of their employment contract, as required by labor law;
    • Expanding the authority of Rostrud to fully investigate complaints of any labor law violations, including wage violations, even in cases in which there is no employment contract;
  • Cooperate with countries from which migrant workers come to work in Russia to facilitate prosecutions and investigations of abusive employers in Russia, including by facilitating the participation in the investigation of complaints, and any legal proceedings, of victims who have already returned home.
  • Inform and educate migrant construction workers arriving in Russia of their rights under Russian law, including avenues for filing complaints. To the greatest extent possible, written materials should be available in the languages of the migrant workers, as well as in Russian.


With respect to World Cup 2018 in Russia

  • Demonstrate that worker protections and other human rights protections are a top priority for FIFA including by making public statements to that effect in the final year of preparation for World Cup 2018;
  • Ensure that the workplace monitoring program includes regular unannounced inspections; private, confidential interviews with workers of different nationalities, and job specializations; experts in documenting labor rights violations, including through interviews with workers; staff trained in languages spoken by migrant workers; and other resources and best practices to ensure rigorous monitoring;
  • Ensure that monitoring of labor conditions ahead of World Cup 2018 includes monitoring not only of stadiums but of construction of other infrastructure underway for hosting the World Cup;
  • Oversee, together with the Russian authorities, a thorough and transparent investigation into the participation of North Korean workers on the St. Petersburg Stadium, as reported by international media and acknowledged by FIFA, including the current fate and whereabouts of the workers;
  • Increase transparency of FIFA’s implementation of its human rights commitments including by publishing, without delay:
    • Full information on labor disputes, workplace injuries, and deaths on construction sites for all venues for the 2018 World Cup and any actions by FIFA and the Russian government taken in response to these issues;
    • Details of the workplace monitoring program, including, in addition to technical information about the monitoring system, detailed findings of the inspections, remedies or other actions taken, and the concrete results of the actions taken.
  • Proactively consult on an ongoing basis with international and Russian stakeholders ahead of World Cup 2018.

With respect to FIFA’s general human rights commitments

  • Fully implement without delay the recommendations set out in the April 2016 report to FIFA prepared by John Ruggie, “For the Game. For the World: FIFA and Human Rights,” including by:
    • Incorporating human rights in criteria for evaluating bids to host tournaments and make them a substantive factor in host selection;
    • Significantly increasing transparency and reporting of implementation of FIFA’s human rights commitments. Transparency is essential to credibility, accountability, sustainability, and meaningful change;
    • Increasing consultation with key stakeholders, including establishing an ongoing, proactive dialogue with representatives of civil society, trade unions, academia and other experts with insight into FIFA’s human rights risks.
  • Finance a public awareness campaign using mainstream media to raise consciousness about labor exploitation, and to educate companies, countries, and football fans to these issues.


A consultant for Human Rights Watch interviewed 42 Russian and migrant workers engaged in construction at World Cup 2018 sites in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kaliningrad in July 2016; in Rostov-on-Don in September and October 2016; in Sochi in June 2016; and in Ekaterinburg in January 2017. Human Rights Watch also sought to interview workers in Volgograd, but faced interference from authorities, as described below. Interviewees included local workers residing in World Cup host cities; workers from different cities in Russia migrating internally for World Cup construction work; and migrant workers from Belarus, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine.

In several research trips from 2009 to 2012, Human Rights Watch also documented exploitation of migrant workers employed on the Fisht Stadium in Sochi, built ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics, and to be used as a 2018 World Cup venue.

Interviewees in all cities were identified at random by approaching workers near the World Cup stadium sites and requesting an interview. All interviews with workers were conducted in Russian. Workers were told the purpose of the interview and its voluntary nature. Participants gave oral informed consent to participate and were assured anonymity. Some interviews were conducted in small groups of workers.

Many workers expressed fear of retaliation from their employers or authorities for speaking out about abuses. The names of interviewees have been changed to protect their privacy, confidentiality, and safety. Human Rights Watch did not seek to access any World Cup stadiums or other venues.

Human Rights Watch faced significant obstacles in St. Petersburg and Volgograd to conduct the research for this report. State officials in Volgograd and private security officers in St. Petersburg interfered when Human Rights Watch’s research consultant attempted to interview workers near the World Cup sites in those cities, as described in more detail below. The interference by state authorities in Volgograd and serious security threats posed by that interference in April 2017 forced Human Rights Watch to stop our research with workers in Volgograd and in other World Cup cities, out of concern that such incidents would recur. 

Human Rights Watch’s consultant sent a letter in October 2016 to the Krasnodar regional labor inspectorate and the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Krasnodar Krai, both agencies responsible for labor conditions in Sochi, proposing to conduct a joint inspection of workers working at the Fisht Stadium. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs of Krasnodar Krai responded, saying that they have staff competent in labor monitoring; had not received information of labor violations on the Fisht Stadium; requesting information regarding any violations; and stating that the ministry had informed the general contractor that it had received information about monitoring labor code compliance. Neither agency agreed to conduct joint monitoring.

On May 3, 2017, Human Rights Watch sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino, regarding the concerns documented in this report, including the security threats against the Human Rights Watch research consultant, and asking for information about FIFA’s monitoring of workers’ rights on World Cup sites. FIFA officials responded by email, asking for additional information. Human Rights Watch provided this information on May 23, 2017. FIFA responded in writing to Human Rights Watch’s May 3 letter on June 8, 2017. The correspondence between Human Rights Watch and FIFA can be found at https://www.hrw.org/node/304757/.

I. Background

Russia as host of FIFA World Cup 2018

In a close and controversial decision, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) awarded the 2018 World Cup to Russia on December 2, 2010.[1] The closed-door vote was met with widespread criticism amidst allegations of corruption by both FIFA and Russia in the bidding process.[2] The decision marked the first time that the World Cup, which takes place every four years, will be held in Russia. Football matches involving a total of 32 teams will take place from June 14 to July 15, 2018, in 11 host cities—Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Sochi, Nizhnii Novgorod, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg, Saransk, and Samara. Prior to hosting the World Cup, Russia hosts the quadrennial FIFA-organized Confederations Cup in June and July 2017.[3]

The Kaliningrad Stadium, a 2018 World Cup venue, in Kaliningrad, Russia, under construction in July 2016. 

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

The 12 stadiums in these cities are at various stages of construction in the lead up to the World Cup. As of April 2017, the Moscow (Spartak), Kazan, St. Petersburg, and Sochi stadiums are open for the Confederations Cup matches.[4] In addition, the government is building new airport complexes and improving infrastructure, such as airports, hotels,roads, and transportation in several World Cup host cities.[5] The total cost of preparations for World Cup 2018 had reached 643,550,000 rubles (US$11.4 billion) by May 10, 2017.[6]

Persistent labor abuses in Russia’s construction industry

Exploitation and abuse of workers are pervasive problems in Russia’s construction industry. In a February 2013 report, Human Rights Watch extensively documented exploitation of migrant workers during Russia’s preparations for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics.[7] Human Rights Watch also documented abuses against migrant construction workers in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg, and other cities, in a 2009 report.[8]

The International Olympic Committee and Russian government took little action to investigate and remedy the widely documented problems of non-payment of wages, lack of contracts, and the like until the final months before the February 2014 games. The Russian labor inspectorate exposed that companies engaged in Sochi Olympic construction had failed to pay their employees a total of 277 million rubles (US$8.34 million).[9] The Russian authorities’ investigation was an important measure, but came too late to benefit many workers who had faced similar abuses since the Olympic preparations had begun five years earlier.[10]

Workers and the 2018 World Cup

New construction and infrastructure improvements in World Cup host cities have drawn workers from across Russia and migrant workers from numerous countries. The total number of workers engaged in FIFA World Cup construction is difficult to determine, and neither FIFA nor the Russian government have published official statistics on this, but it is likely to be in the tens of thousands. International and Russian media have written about serious concerns about exploitation of workers, worker deaths, and other concerns on World Cup sites.[11]

In March 2017 Josimar, a Norwegian magazine about football, published a detailed article about North Korean workers including those working at the St. Petersburg Stadium. According to The Guardian, following a letter from four Scandinavian football associations about the allegations in the article, FIFA President Gianni Infantino responded with a letter acknowledging the presence of workers from North Korea and poor working conditions and claiming that FIFA and the Russian authorities required the stadium’s general contractor to rectify the concerns.”

FIFA told Human Rights Watch that according to its monitoring, as of December 2016, no North Korean workers are working on the St. Petersburg Stadium and found no evidence of North Korean workers currently on other sites. It is not clear where the workers previously employed on the stadium are, what specific remedies, if any, were taken by FIFA, the Russian government or the contractor to address the allegations of abuse.[12] 

Deaths and serious injuries

The international trade union Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and the Russian media have published numerous reports about deaths and serious injuries on World Cup sites, including in Volgograd and St. Petersburg.[13] In October 2016, in response to worker deaths at the St. Petersburg Stadium in 2015 and 2016, Ambet Yuson, BWI’s general secretary stated, “We are increasingly concerned by the number of fatal accidents at the site and believe that these tragedies can be averted if safety and health conditions are strictly enforced.”[14] According to BWI, there have been at least 17 deaths on World Cup stadiums.[15]

Strikes and other protest actions

Workers on several World Cup sites, including on the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, the Nizhnii Novgorod Stadium, the Rostov Arena, and the Kaliningrad Stadium, have staged strikes to protest non-payment of wages and other labor violations, according to Russian media reports and BWI.[16] For example, workers have staged large strikes at the Rostov Arena in Rostov-on-Don, with several hundred workers refusing to work in mid-April 2017, due to five-month delays in wage payments.[17] In May 2016, approximately 700 construction workers at the Rostov Arena protested non-payment of wages.[18]

Workers on the Rostov Arena, a 2018 World Cup venue under construction in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in September 2016. 

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

Construction workers in Kaliningrad organized a strike in July 2016, also in response to non-payment of wages.[19] Some of the workers involved in the strike filed a complaint with the prosecutor’s office, which opened an investigation. Other workers from the same company filed a similar complaint the month before.[20] In conjunction with a criminal investigation that followed the complaints, in April 2017, authorities arrested the director of the company, who stands accused of non-payment of 901,000 rubles (US$15,600) in wages to stadium construction workers. The director had fled to another region of Russia fearing prosecution.[21] As of this writing it is unclear if the workers have been paid.

II. Exploitation of Workers

Human Rights Watch documented exploitation of workers engaged in World Cup construction in six cities. Abuses included non-provision of contracts and other documentation required for legal employment; non-payment of wages; delays in payment of wages, including for up to five months; employer retaliation against workers who protested non-payment of wages; and employers requiring workers to work outdoors in temperatures as cold as minus 25 degrees Celsius without sufficient breaks to warm up.  

Most of the workers on World Cup sites interviewed by Human Rights Watch are low-skilled workers, many of whom have migrated from other cities in Russia or from other countries to engage in construction work. They are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation and not well-positioned to demand written employment contracts or other protections, in the way that workers in other sectors may be. The refusal by construction employers to provide written employment contracts to workers is sufficiently persistent in the sector that workers whose employer refuses to provide a contract may see little reason to seek out an alternative employer in the hopes of obtaining a contract.

Failure to provide employment contracts

Some workers, both Russian nationals and migrants, interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that employers did not provide them with a written employment contract (trudovoi dogovor) or service contract (grazhdansko-pravovoi dogovor) when they began work, as required under Russian law.[22] Some received a contract only after several months; others never received them. In some cases, the way in which the contracts were prepared appeared inconsistent with Russian labor law requirements, such as stating only a partial sum of wages, while the remainder of the wages were to be paid in cash. This type of payment structure, though unlawful, is common in Russia in certain sectors and, when it occurs, is typically established by the employer as a condition of employment.

Workers on the roof of the Luzhniki Stadium, a 2018 World Cup venue, in Moscow, Russia in July 2016. 

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

Workers without written employment contracts, or with employment contracts that are not consistent with Russian law, can be particularly vulnerable to exploitation as they have little recourse in the event of a dispute with their employer. Migrant workers working without a written employment contract are at risk of deportation for violations of migration law.[23]

Nuradil, 40, from Kyrgyzstan working on the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, told Human Rights Watch, “I don’t have a contract. … The employer just gave us a pass [for the construction site], and said ‘Go, work!’ They don’t want to prepare any official documents. I don’t know why.”[24] According to Mikhail, a Russian worker from Moscow who had just started working on the Luzhniki Stadium at the time of the interview with Human Rights Watch, “They didn’t give us an employment contract. It’s the same for others. They promised to pay 40,000 rubles (US$708) per month.”[25]

Four workers from Russia working on the Kaliningrad Stadium said that they received written employment contracts in July 2016, after working on the stadium for between five to six months. The contracts they did receive were not prepared legally, with the signature and stamp of the employer only on the final page of the contract, rather than on each page, as required by law, to confirm the employer’s commitment to the obligations regarding payment or other obligations. The workers received less than half of the wages promised to them, as detailed below.[26]

Some workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch on the Rostov Arena stated that their employer signed written contracts with them, gave them copies of the contract, and paid them regularly between 33,000 and 40,000 rubles (US$615 and $703) per month. However, as required by the employer, the contracts listed an official payment of 12,000 rubles ($211), and the remainder of the wages were made in cash, a typical, but illegal, practice in many sectors in Russia.[27] In the event of a labor dispute, the employer would only be liable for the payment specified in the contract. 

Because this formulation of contracts is common among employers in construction and other sectors in Russia, workers may feel that their only option is to accept such a contract and that demanding a contract with the full wage included would result in not being hired.

Workers building the Rostov Arena, a 2018 World Cup venue in Rostov-on-Don, Russia, in September 2016.

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

Workers reported seeing or signing documents that they believed to be employment contracts, but employers did not provide them with copies, as required by law. For example, Pavel, 40, a welder from Chelyabinsk, a city in western Siberia, had worked at the St. Petersburg Stadium for three months when Human Rights Watch interviewed him in July 2016. He said, “When they hired me, they prepared some kinds of papers, maybe even an employment contract, but they didn’t give me a copy.” Pavel got paid part of the wages the employer promised him during his first month of work only and nothing for the other two months.[28] Sergei, a worker from Belarus employed in a brigade of workers from Belarus and Serbia also working on the St. Petersburg Stadium, told Human Rights Watch, “I saw some kind of contract. Someone [from the employer’s side] signed it, but I didn’t receive a copy.”[29]

Wage-related abuses

Numerous workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported non-payment of wages or serious delays in wages. Many of these workers did not have written employment contracts, as employers would only hire them based on an oral agreement. However, even the existence of a written employment contract did not guarantee the employer would respect the contract’s terms regarding wages. Because of the problems with contracts, as detailed above, in the event of non-payment of wages, many workers felt that their only option was to quit their jobs, either without any payment of wages or having received much less than employers promised.

Human Rights Watch also spoke with workers who said they received their full wages on a regular basis without problem.

Russian law requires employers to pay workers a minimum wage at least twice per month.[30] Under the Russian criminal code it is a crime, punishable by fines as well as a possible prison term, to withhold any portion of wages for over three months or to withhold wages altogether for more than two months.[31]

In Rostov-on-Don, several workers on the Rostov Arena stated that they received their wages with serious delays or did not receive their wages at all. Some said that they had not been paid for two or three months.[32] For example, one worker from Uzbekistan said, “There are 500 of us [working for one company]. We have not received wages for three months now.”[33] Umid, 63, also from Uzbekistan working on a different brigade said, “I was hired in July. They prepared the employment contract only in August. I have yet to be paid at all.”[34]

Workers from Russia, who worked together in yet another brigade on the Rostov Arena, had the same experience. One of them stated that the employer “pays wages in cash and pays with a delay of three months. Not long ago there was a strike because the employer hadn’t paid anyone for five months.”[35] Media reports also stated how in April 2017 on the Rostov Arena site 200 to 300 workers primarily from Central Asia organized a strike to protest non-payment of wages for five months.[36] Russian authorities responded and the strike concluded with a “compromise” between company officials and workers, although the details of this compromise were not clear in media reports on the incident.[37]

Also in Rostov-on-Don, several construction workers whom Human Rights Watch interviewed reported that they had signed employment contracts that listed one sum as wages, but that the employer promised a higher sum as their full wages, with the difference paid in cash. This is a common practice among employers in Russia but leaves workers vulnerable in the event of a dispute. In some cases, employers paid only part of the promised sum, either only the official wages or less than the official wages. In other cases, employers paid the full payment, both the official wages and the cash.  

For example, when Human Rights Watch spoke with Nuriddin, from Uzbekistan, at the end of September 2016, he explained: “I have been working here for eight months for 33,000 rubles (US$585) per month,” as agreed with the employer. “In the [employment] contract it states that the wages are 12,000 rubles (US$212). Right now there is a delay of two months. I haven’t been paid at all for July and August,” he said.[38] Other workers from the Rostov Arena told Human Rights Watch they had the same payment arrangement and problems with receiving promised wages.[39] Nearly four weeks after Human Rights Watch’s interviews in Rostov-on-Don, one of the workers interviewed called Human Rights Watch saying that the employer had not paid him and others working in his brigade their full wages in four months. The employer had paid them only the official sum of 12,000 rubles (US$212) listed in the employment contract and owed them another 28,000 rubles (US$496) the employer promised to pay in cash.[40] Human Rights Watch does not know if these workers ever received their wages.

As noted above, some workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch on the Rostov Arena stated that they had contracts and were paid regularly between 33,000 and 40,000 rubles (US$615 and $703) per month. These contracts also listed an official payment of 12,000 rubles ($212), and the remainder of the payment was made in cash.[41]

Workers on other stadiums reported being paid less than their employers had promised. Kirill, who began working on the Kaliningrad Stadium in March 2016, told Human Rights Watch, “I haven’t received my full wages from April to July. In May they gave me 12,000 rubles (US$212) and in June 15,000 rubles. They should pay 30,000 a month. There was no contract… I only received it now [in July]” As described below, when Kirill tried to protest the non-payment in wages, the employer retaliated against him.[42] Roman, working on the same stadium, reported receiving wages only with serious delays. “I am an excavator driver. I receive my wages but with a delay of one to two months.”[43] Sergei, from Belarus, mentioned above, said that he and the other workers in his brigade, from Belarus and Serbia, had worked on the St. Petersburg Stadium for three months, but the employer paid them only once. He said that he had signed what he believed to be an employment contract, but that the employer did not give him a copy.[44]

One worker from Kyrgyzstan working on the Luzhniki Stadium reported to Human Rights Watch, “They promise to pay you one thing, but actually pay a different sum. Less. It isn’t clear to us how they add it up. They haven’t prepared any [contracts] for us.”[45] Yaroslav, a 25-year-old resident of St. Petersburg, who performed work at heights on the St. Petersburg Stadium in a brigade of six men, said that one employer he worked with for three months from August to October 2015 cheated him of wages he believed he had earned. “They promised to pay twice per month…. The wages were calculated based on the volume of completed work. The work I completed each day was worth about 6,000 to 7,000 rubles (US$106 to 124), but they paid me just 5,000 rubles (US$88) once every two weeks.”[46] Aibek, a worker from Kyrgyzstan who collected garbage and performed other low-skill jobs on the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow said, “They [the employer] pay whenever they want, however they want.” He did not have a contract.[47]

For many workers, the only option in the event of non-payment of wages is to quit. For example, Egor, a Russian worker on the Kaliningrad Stadium, explained that most workers in his brigade of 60 men left without receiving their wages of several months.

When the conversation turned to payment of wages, they [the employer] started [arbitrarily] fining everyone, 8,000 rubles [US$144] for taking too long a break, things like that…. Now there are only 11 [in the brigade]. People left because they didn’t get paid. We’re the only ones who stayed. We’re waiting to see what they can pay us.[48]

Pavel from Chelyabinsk, Russia, who worked on the St. Petersburg Stadium, without being given a contract, as described above, said he received only part of the wages promised to him during the first month, and no more payments after that. He chose to quit after working for three months.[49]

Not all workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch reported problems with wages. Among those who received their wages in a timely manner were workers with contracts and workers without contracts. For example, two workers from Kyrgyzstan, both about 40, working in low-skilled jobs on the Luzhniki Stadium, said that they were paid about 1,000-2,000 rubles (US$18 to $35) daily, at the end of the working day. Neither man had a written employment contract.[50] Two workers who worked on the Ekaterinburg Arena reported that they had employment contracts and were paid regularly twice a month, according to the terms of the contract.[51] Human Rights Watch did not interview other workers in Ekaterinburg. 

Working in extreme cold

Human Rights Watch saw workers engaged in construction at the Ekaterinburg Arena in January 2017, when temperatures were between minus 25 and minus 30 degrees Celsius. The two workers we interviewed at the stadium confirmed that employers require them to work when temperatures are well below freezing, without sufficient breaks for them to warm themselves. According to Kadom, from Tajikistan, “I have a brigade of 20 men. I don’t know at what temperature it’s prohibited to work. The employer simply says when it’s not allowed and we don’t go to work.”[52] Another worker on the stadium said, “We work even in minus 25 degrees Celsius, but sometimes the employer just says, ‘Today we aren’t working.’”[53]

The Ekaterinburg Arena, a World Cup 2018 venue, in Ekaterinburg, Russia, under construction in January 2017. 

© 2017 Semyon Simonov for Human Rights Watch

Russian law requires employers with employees working in cold temperatures to do a special assessment of conditions to establish what protections are required for workers to remain safe. Protections include, among other things, limits on working hours as well as frequency and duration of breaks. The workers interviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that they only received one break indoors for lunch during a nine-hour working day.[54] 

The ILO notes that work in cold temperatures can lead to systemic or localized cold injuries as well as impaired physical work capacity, reduced manual and muscular performance, as well as reduced reaction times and cognition, placing workers in high-risk jobs such as construction at increased risk. The ILO recommends employers undertake complex assessments and precautions to address the risks of working in such temperatures: “Where the assessment shows that the workers may be at risk from exposure to cold, the employers should, if practicable, eliminate the need for work in cold conditions (for example by rescheduling work to be performed in a warmer season…).” Employers are also expected to ensure adequate warm and dry clothing, adequate water and food, and “implement work-rest cycles with warm shelters for recovery.” The ILO also notes that “a residual risk of hypothermia is unavoidable, even after all the control measures have been taken, and particularly below –12 °C,” and requires a range of special measures.[55]

Human Rights Watch was not able to document the protections afforded to workers on the Ekaterinburg Arena or any other World Cup stadiums where workers worked in cold temperatures. As far as Human Rights Watch is aware, the Russian government and FIFA have also not made public the precautions for cold weather on 2018 World Cup stadiums.

III. Intimidation and Retaliation

During its research, Human Rights Watch frequently encountered, and workers consistently reported, an atmosphere of control, suspicion, and intimidation regarding reporting of labor concerns on World Cup sites in Russia. Some workers reported threats or experienced retaliation for raising concerns about labor conditions or for actively participating in strikes. Human Rights Watch’s research consultant was subjected to official surveillance as well as police detention in Volgograd.

Intimidation and retaliation against workers

In Kaliningrad, workers told Human Rights Watch that in September 2015, they tried to approach a delegation which included FIFA and Russian officials, to raise concerns about wage delays. Security guards surrounded the delegation and refused to allow the workers to get near them to speak. According to the workers, some migrant workers working at the site were forced to remain in their dormitories near the site, during the delegation’s visit. The workers did not indicate who ordered those workers to remain there.[56] According to media reports, FIFA conducted an operational visit to the Kaliningrad Stadium in September 2015.[57]

Construction workers on stadiums in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kaliningrad, and Rostov-on-Don reported reluctance to disclose labor concerns in interviews with Human Rights Watch, out of fear of retaliation on the part of employers. One worker told Human Rights Watch, “The employers threaten us, that if we complain, that they will fire us without any payment at all and maybe even call in the police.”[58] A worker on the Kaliningrad Stadium said, “Someone makes a fuss [about wages], they’ll send him home.”[59]

Russian media reported that Rostov-on-Don authorities arrested and deported thirty migrant construction workers on the Rostov Arena who had complained about wage delays. According to the reports, the workers were not paid before their deportations. [60]  Workers on the Rostov Arena had gone on strikes in May 2016 and April 2017.[61] Human Rights Watch documented detentions and deportations of migrant workers in Sochi ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.[62]

Kirill, a Russian citizen who worked on the Kaliningrad Stadium and had not received his full wages for four months, as described above, said he called his employer’s office to say that he would not continue to work if he was not getting paid. When he came to the construction site the next day to collect his personal work gear, his site pass had been terminated.[63] Human Rights Watch interviewed Kirill the day he was locked out of the site, and we do not know if he later received the wages owed to him.

Intimidation and detention of a Human Rights Watch researcher

On April 16, 2017, police detained Human Rights Watch’s research consultant as he attempted to speak to workers outside of the Volgograd Arena. When the authorities approached him they addressed him by name, suggesting he had been under surveillance. They held him for three hours in a police station, where they questioned him about his work, threatened him by saying that they had information about his possible involvement in criminal acts, and accused him of seeking to “disrupt the World Cup.” The authorities released the Human Rights Watch research consultant without charge but have yet to produce concrete results from an inquiry opened into the incident, based on a complaint the consultant filed.

Private security officers outside the St. Petersburg Stadium interfered with Human Rights Watch’s interviews with workers at the stadium in July 2016. In the presence of Human Rights Watch’s consultant, security officers told workers that they should not discuss problems on the construction site with anyone.

IV. FIFA and Human Rights

FIFA’s growing recognition of its human rights responsibilities

FIFA has taken steps to begin to improve human rights protections in conjunction with hosting of World Cup events. FIFA announced in May 2016 that human rights requirements would be part of the consultation and bid process phases of the selection process for the 2026 World Cup. Russia, the 2018 World Cup host, and Qatar, the 2022 host, were not subject to human rights requirements.[64]

In December 2015, FIFA asked John Ruggie, author of the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (see below), to develop recommendations on what it means in practice for FIFA to embed respect for human rights across its global operations. The report describes the relevant human rights context for FIFA, and presents 25 detailed recommendations.[65] Ruggie noted, among other things, that, “FIFA needs stronger internal systems to address the increasingly predictable human rights risks associated with its business” and “to translate its commitment to respect human rights, included in its new Statutes, into its daily actions and decisions.”[66]

FIFA’s revised statutes, published in April 2016, state: “FIFA is committed to respecting all internationally recognised human rights and shall strive to promote the protection of these rights.”[67] In September 2016, FIFA created and staffed a new post—a Human Rights Manager—to coordinate and develop its human rights-related work.[68] In March 2017, FIFA established an independent Human Rights Advisory Board, composed of experts from the UN, trade unions, civil society, and business, to provide advice and report on FIFA’s implementation of its human rights commitments.[69]

FIFA leaders have called “Integration of human rights” as one of the central planks in the “Implementation of Governance Reforms,” and have spotlighted their embrace of human rights as part of the reform package “FIFA 2.0”[70]  FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura said the addition of human rights to the FIFA Statutes “must be translated into tangible measures,” including by “creating policies and processes and integrating human rights into everything that we do.”[71] On June 8, 2017, FIFA published its Human Rights Policy and FIFA Activity Update report on Human Rights. Human Rights Watch was not able to include discussion of these publications before this report went to publication.[72] 

Workers’ rights and World Cup 2018

With respect to the 2018 World Cup, in July 2015, FIFA and the Russian Local Organizing Committee (LOC), announced a “Sustainability Strategy for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.” The strategy’s stated goal is to help ensure “the 2018 FIFA World Cup lessens the negative and enhances the positive impacts of the event on people, the economy and the environment.” Regarding the strategy, LOC President Alexey Sorokin stated that in organizing the World Cup in Russia, “We will do our utmost to leave an unprecedented legacy of sustainability as well as social and human development.” Among the key issues identified in the sustainability strategy are decent work and capacity building, including to “promote decent working conditions for FWC [FIFA World Cup] stadium construction workers.” [73]

Although work on some World Cup stadiums had begun many years earlier, in May 2016, FIFA announced that for the first time, it was organizing a system to monitor labor conditions at stadiums being built or renovated for World Cup 2018. According to FIFA, the program, underway since April 2016, involves two-day quarterly visits to each World Cup stadium by the Klinsky Institute of Labor Protection and Working Conditions, an auditing organization, to examine “rights at work, working conditions, health and safety, and housing conditions and catering.”[74] All visits are announced in advance. According to FIFA, the monitoring evaluates labor conditions with respect to Russian legislation, International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, and “FIFA requirements,” but FIFA does not enumerate what its own requirements are in the letter.[75] 

FIFA and the LOC describe the Klinsky, Institute, hired by the Russian LOC, as “an independent third party,”[76] The Klinsky Institute was contracted by the Sochi 2014 Russian Organizing Committee for services related to labor protections for Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee staff, and also serves as a contractor to numerous Russian federal agencies, energy, and manufacturing concerns, and multinational companies operating in Russia.[77]

Among the concerns identified during the first round of inspections were shortcomings in “provision of protective equipment, compliance with legal requirements to labour agreements… [and] working and non-working hours regulations.” [78] According to FIFA, monitoring experts prepared an internal report for each company with key findings and recommendations. The program has also involved workshops on labor issues.[79]  

In August 2016, FIFA, the LOC, the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) trade union and the Russian Construction Workers Union (RBWU) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for joint monitoring.[80] RBWU proposed the MOU in early 2016.[81] Under this MOU, the parties monitor a World Cup stadium every three months.[82]

According to FIFA, as of June 2017, under its monitoring program, a total of 58 visits have been carried out, with 10 companies operating on each stadium reviewed at each visit.[83] Typically, any major construction site in Russia has hundreds of sub-contractors. FIFA’s letter states that the working conditions of “an average of 8,984 workers” were reviewed each quarter. The FIFA letter states that “the average number of inconsistences and incompliances found per monitoring visit has been reduced by 72 percent” from the first visits to the fifth round of visits, and an 80 percent reduction from the fourth and fifth rounds of visits.[84] Neither FIFA’s June 8, 2017 letter to Human Rights Watch nor a March 2017 press release about the monitoring system provide comprehensive details, such as the specific types of violations, where violations took place, if or how violations were remedied, or any other relevant information. FIFA’s letter provided two examples in which FIFA said it resolved specific issues revealed by the monitoring process [85]

As noted above, transparency is a key component of the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and is essential for private enterprises to ensure credibility, accountability, sustainability, and meaningful human rights improvements.

Another serious concern is that the FIFA program appears to be limited to stadium visits, as public statements refer to “construction sites of FIFA World Cup stadiums,” there is no readily available information suggesting any kind of monitoring is being done on related sites and infrastructure relevant to the hosting of World Cup 2018.[86] The methodology of the monitoring system of stadiums is also based solely on announced visits, giving employers advance notice of upcoming inspections. 

Human Rights Watch has other serious concerns about FIFA’s current system of monitoring, including:

  • Human Rights Watch found workers working in an atmosphere of intimidation and vulnerability. Many were reluctant to report labor concerns out of legitimate fears of retaliation.
  • Officials denied workers the opportunity to speak with FIFA officials during an official site visit to the Kaliningrad Stadium, and may have deliberately kept some migrant workers off the site during the official visit.
  • There have been frequent strikes on World Cup stadium sites, including repeated strikes at some stadiums, suggesting that many problems persist, despite FIFA’s monitoring.
  • Officials directly interfered with Human Rights Watch’s research, including by encouraging workers not to speak to Human Rights Watch and through direct surveillance and detention of the researcher.
  • Not a single worker interviewed by Human Rights Watch had spoken to any inspectors or other monitors nor had knowledge of any labor conditions monitoring having taken place on the worksite.

Human Rights Watch has set out recommendations to FIFA for improving its implementation and transparency of its monitoring program, both ahead of Russia 2018, as well as the next World Cup, in Qatar 2022, where Human Rights Watch has serious workers’ rights concerns, and in future World Cup tournaments.

V. International Legal Standards

The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognizes “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work.”[87] Such conditions must ensure: remuneration, safe and healthy working conditions, as well as rest, reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay, and remuneration for public holidays.[88] The ICESCR also guarantees “the right of everyone to form trade unions and join the trade union of his choice…” and the right to strike.[89] The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights also guarantees freedom of association and the right to form and join trade unions.[90] 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has developed a comprehensive body of conventions that address virtually every aspect of workers’ rights. Russia has ratified several of these conventions, including the ILO Convention on the Protection of Wages (No. 95), which guarantees regular payment of wages, and the ILO Convention on Occupational Safety and Health (No. 155), which calls for policies to prevent accidents and injuries to health, for effective enforcement of laws and regulations concerning occupational safety and health, and for the government to publish annually information on accidents and other work-related health concerns.[91] 

Corporate Responsibility

Although governments have the primary responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfill human rights under international law, private entities, including businesses, also have internationally recognized responsibilities regarding human rights, including workers’ rights. These responsibilities apply to FIFA as well. The United Nations (UN) Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which the UN Human Rights Council endorsed in 2011, recognize that all companies should respect human rights, avoid complicity in abuses, and ensure that any abuses that occur despite these efforts are adequately remedied. The Guiding Principles specify that businesses should exercise human rights due diligence to identify human rights risks associated with their operations, take effective steps to prevent or mitigate those risks, and ensure that the victims of any abuses that occur despite those efforts have access to remedies.[92] The Guiding Principles are widely accepted as an authoritative articulation of businesses’ human rights responsibilities.

As one component of such due diligence efforts, businesses, including entities such as FIFA, should vet other potential business associates to avoid forming ties with individuals or entities that undermine human rights, including workers’ rights, and include enforceable human rights provisions in contracts with parties involved in a relevant business relationship.

This should go hand in hand with company measures to monitor human rights impacts through ongoing internal processes and periodic independent reviews, and act to correct any identified problems.

Equally important, the Guiding Principles also call on private enterprises to ensure transparency as part of a credible response to human rights concerns, to “show that they respect human rights in practice.” Specifically, the Guiding Principles state: “business enterprises whose operations or operating contexts pose risks of severe human rights impacts should report formally on how they address them” including by providing “information that is sufficient to evaluate the adequacy of an enterprise’s response to the particular human rights impact involved…”[93]


This report was written by Jane Buchanan, associate director in the Europe and Central Asia division of Human Rights Watch. It was researched by Semyon Simonov, research consultant to Human Rights Watch. Kathryn Zehr, senior associate in the Europe and Central Asia division, researched and wrote parts of the background section. Vladislav Lobanov, Natalia Estemirova fellow in the Moscow office of Human Rights Watch and Semyon Simonov conducted legal research on Russian labor and migration law for this report. Cornelius Runtsch, intern in the Moscow office, assisted with research and writing on FIFA and human rights.

This report was reviewed by Rachel Denber, deputy director in the Europe and Central Asia division, Arvind Ganesan, director of business and human rights, Minky Worden, director of global initiatives, Tanya Lokshina, Russia program director, and Yulia Gorbunova, Russia researcher, at Human Rights Watch. Senior legal advisor Aisling Reidy and deputy Program director Tom Porteous also reviewed the report.

Production assistance was provided by Kathryn Zehr, Olivia Hunter, photo and publications associate, Rafael Jimenez, graphic designer, Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager, and José Martínez, senior coordinator.

[1] FIFA, “Russia and Qatar awarded 2018 and 2022 FIFA World Cups, December 2, 2010, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2010/m=12/news=russia-and-qatar-awarded-2018-and-2022-fifa-world-cups-1344698.html (accessed May 12, 2017).

[2] Jeré Longman, “Russia and Qatar Win World Cup Bids,” The New York Times, December 3, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/sports/soccer/03worldcup.html (accessed May 12, 2017). See also later developments regarding allegations of corruption in the biding process: Jack de Menzes, “Fifa corruption: Qatar and Russia World Cup bids under FBI investigation following Chuck Blazer's bribery confession,” The Independent, June 4, 2015, http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/football/international/fifa-corruption-qatar-and-russia-world-cup-bids-under-fbi-investigation-following-chuck-blazers-10296177.html (accessed May 25, 2017).

[3] “Russia fully ready for hosting 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup,” ITAR-TASS, March 31, 2017, http://tass.com/sport/938653 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[4] “World Cup stadiums improving day by day,” FIFA.com, April 27, 2017, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2017/m=4/news=world-cup-stadiums-improving-day-by-day-2880773.html (accessed May 15, 2017).

[5] “Medvedev: It’s necessary to qualitatively prepare for the Confederations Cup and the FIFA World Cup 2018 [Медведев: необходимо качественно подготовится к Кубку конфедераций и ЧМ-2018]”, ITAR-TASS, April 28, 2017, http://tass.ru/sport/4220102; “FIFA 2018 World Cup [Чемпионат Мира по Футболу 2018 Года]”, Ministry of Transportation of the Russian Federation, 2017, https://www.mintrans.ru/activity/detail.php?SECTION_ID=2447 (accessed May 16, 2017).  

[6] “Expenses for the preparation of the 2018 World Cup were increased by 4.7 billion rubles [Расжоды на подготовку к ЧМ-2018 по футболу увеличены на 4.7 млрд рублей],” ITAR-TASS, May 10, 2017, http://tass.ru/sport/4241340 (accessed May 16, 2017).

[7] Human Rights Watch, “Race to the Bottom: Exploitation of Migrant Workers ahead of Russia’s 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi,” February 6, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/report/2013/02/06/race-bottom/exploitation-migrant-workers-ahead-russias-2014-winter-olympic-games

[8] Human Rights Watch, “Are You Happy to Cheat Us? Exploitation of Migrant Workers in Russia,” February 10, 2009, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/russia0209web_0.pdf.

[9] Jane Buchanan, “Dispatches: Too Little but Not Yet Too Late for Sochi’s Workers,” Human Rights Watch dispatch, January 13, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/01/13/dispatches-too-little-not-yet-too-late-sochis-workers

[10] “Russia: IOC Acts on Sochi Abuses,” Human Rights Watch news release, February 11, 2014, https://www.hrw.org/news/2014/02/11/russia-ioc-acts-sochi-abuses

[11]  For example, in English, Alec Luhn, “Construction Workers at World Cup Stadium Complain of Not Being Paid,” The Guardian, August 31, 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2015/aug/31/construction-workers-russian-world-cup-2018-stadium-not-paid (accessed May 15, 2017).

[12] “The Slaves of St. Petersburg,” Josimar, March 2017, http://www.josimar.no/artikler/the-slaves-of-st-petersburg/3851/ (accessed May 16, 2017); David Conn, “World Cup 2018: FIFA Admits Workers Have Suffered Human Rights Abuses,” The Guardian, May 25, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/may/25/fifa-world-cup-2018-workers-human-rights-abuses (accessed May 25, 2017); The Guardian subsequently published an article about North Korean workers on the St. Petersburg Stadium, Alec Luhn, “Like Prisoners of War: North Korean Labour behind Russia 2018 World Cup,” The Guardian, June 4, 2017 https://www.theguardian.com/football/2017/jun/04/like-prisoners-of-war-north-korean-labour-russia-world-cup-st-petersburg-stadium-zenit-arena (accessed June 4, 2017); and Letter from Federico Addiechi, head, sustainability and strategy, FIFA, to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2017.

[13] For example, “On the Volgograd Stadium, a young welder fell 20 meters and died [На стройке Волгоград-Ареныс 20-метровой высоты упал и разбился молодой монтажник],” Kuban.info, December 3, 2016, http://kuban.info/proishestvia/5328-na-stroyke-volgograd-areny-s-20-metrovoy-vysoty-upal-i-razbilsya-molodoy-montazhnik.html (accessed May 15, 2017); “Another Worker Was Seriously Injured on the Volgograd Stadium [Еще один рабочий получил травмы на стройке Волгоград Арена”],” Fedpress.ru, February 15, 2016, http://fedpress.ru/news/society/news_event/1455536246-eshche-odin-rabochii-poluchil-travmy-na-stroike-volgograd-areny (accessed May 15, 2017). “On the Volgograd Stadium, Metalworks collapsed together with workers [На стройке Волгоград-Ареныметаллоконструкции рухнули вместе с рабочими],” Kuban.info, November 8, 2015, http://kuban.info/proishestvia/3142-na-stroyke-volgograd-areny-metallokonstrukcii-ruhnuli-vmeste-s-rabochimi.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[14] “Another Death at the 2018 World Cup Stadium in St. Petersburg,” Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI), October 8, 2016, http://www.bwint.org/default.asp?Index=7379&Language=EN (accessed May 15, 2017).

[15] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ambet Yuson, general secretary, Building and Wood Workers’ International, May 1, 2017.

[16] “Another Strike Over Unpaid Wages at 2018 World Cup Stadium in Russia,” BWI, June 11, 2016, http://www.bwint.org/default.asp?index=7180&Language=EN (accessed May 16, 2017). In Nizhnii Novgorod, 250 workers reported that they had not received wages for two months, prompting them to strike. “Strike on the 2018 World Cup Stadium in Nizhniy Novgorod,” BWI, March 16, 2016, http://www.bwint.org/default.asp?index=7022&Language=EN (accessed May 16, 2017). “Investigation of Wage Theft after Strike at World Cup Stadium in Russia,” BWI, July 18, 2016, http://www.bwint.org/pdfs/Digest%20June-July.eng.1.pdf (accessed May 16, 2017).

[17] “Rostov Arena Construction workers organized a strike [Строящие стадионРостов-Аренарабочие устроили забастовку],” Lenta.Ru, April 13, 2017, https://lenta.ru/news/2017/04/13/dolzhnystadik/ (accessed May 15, 2017).

[18]“Rostov Arena construction workers went on strike, demanding payment of wage arrears [Строители стадиона Ростов-Аренавышли на забастовку, требуя погасить долги по зарплате],” Donnews.ru, May 19, 2016, http://www.donnews.ru/Stroiteli-stadiona-Rostov-Arena-vyshli-na-zabastovku-trebuya-pogasit-dolgi-po-zarplate_24855 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[19] “In Kaliningrad, workers on the World Cup 2018 construction site organized a strike due to wage delays [В Калининграде на стройке стадиона к ЧМ-2018 рабочие устроили забастовку из-за задержки зарплаты],” Klops.ru, July 28, 2016, https://klops.ru/news/obschestvo/136310-v-kaliningrade-na-stroyke-stadiona-k-chm-2018-rabochie-ustroili-zabastovku-iz-za-zaderzhki-zarplaty (accessed May 15, 2017).

[20] In Kaliningrad, the prosecutor’s office demanded payments to be made to former employees of a construction company [В Калининграде прокуратура потребовала выплатить деньги бывшим сотрудникам строительной фирмы],” Klops.ru, June 29, 2016, https://klops.ru/news/obschestvo/134381-v-kaliningrade-prokuratura-potrebovala-vyplatit-dengi-byvshim-sotrudnikam-stroitelnoy-firmy (accessed May 15, 2017).

[21] “The director of a company, who fled, not having paid wages to World Cup 2018 Kaliningrad Stadium workers was arrested [Задержан директор, который сбежал, не выплатив зарплату строителям калининградского стадиона к ЧМ-2018],” Klops.ru, April 7, 2017, https://klops.ru/news/obschestvo/153343-zaderzhan-direktor-kotoryy-sbezhal-ne-vyplativ-zarplatu-stroitelyam-kaliningradskogo-stadiona-k-chm-2018 (accessed May 15, 2017).

[22] “Labor relations arise between employee and employer on the basis of an employment contract [trudovoi dogovor] concluded by them in accordance with this Code.” Labor Code of the Russian Federation, art. 16. The labor code details the information that must be contained in an employment contract and specifies that the contract must be signed in two copies, one for each party. Labor Code of the Russian Federation, arts. 56-62. Article 16 of the Labor Code also recognizes that formal employment relations exist for workers employed by an employer even when an official employment contract has not been signed. Service contracts are regulated by the Civil Code of the Russian Federation, chapter 37.

[23] Migrant workers from the member states of the Eurasian Economic Union (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan) are not required to have a work permit to work legally. However, workers from these countries must have a written employment contract or civil-legal contract if he or she wishes to remain in Russia for longer than 90 days. Migrant workers from other countries must have both a work permit or patent as well as an employment contract. Law on the legal status of foreign individuals in the Russian Federation, Federal Law 115, July 25, 2002, art. 5. A 2015 government order simplified procedures for issuing worker permits for foreign workers on 2018 World Cup sites. Order of the Russian Government, “To accelerate and simplify: issuance of temporary residence permits to foreign citizens and stateless persons; permission to hire foreign workers; invitations to enter the Russian Federation; and work permits for foreign citizens and stateless persons hired by legal entities or individuals who have signed civil contracts for the construction of infrastructure needed to host the 2018 Football World Cup in the Russian Federation,” No. 735 of July 18, 2015.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with Nuradil, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 12, 2016.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Mikhail, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 13, 2016.

[26] Human Rights Watch interviews with Alexander, with Kirill, with Egor, with Maksim, and with Dmitry, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 14, 2016.

[27] Human Rights Watch interviews with Timur, with Azmat, with Umid, with Oleg, and with Nuriddin, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, September 30, 2016.

[28] Human Rights Watch interview with Pavel, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, July 18, 2016.

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, July 17, 2016.

[30] Labor Code of the Russian Federation, arts. 133 and 136.

[31]  The Criminal Code of the Russian Federation, FZ-63, 1996, with amendments, art. 145.1.

[32] Human Rights Watch interviews with construction workers at the Rostov Arena, Rostov-0n-Don, September 30 and October 1, 2016.

[33] Human Rights Watch interview with Yusuf, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, October 1, 2016.

[34] Human Rights Watch interview with Umid, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, October 1, 2016.

[35] Human Rights Watch group interview with four workers from Russia, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, October 1, 2016.

[36] “Hundreds of Rostov Arena Builders Haven’t Been Paid in Months [Сотни строителей стадиона Ростов-Аренамесяцами не получают зарплату],” Donday.ru, April 8, 2017, http://donday.ru/sotni-stroiteley-stadiona-rostov-arena-mesyacami-ne-poluchayut-zarplatu.html (accessed May 17, 2017).

[37] “The Rostov Arena Strike Has Ended [Стачка рабочих Ростов-Ареназавершилась],” Go61.ru, April 17, 2017, http://www.go61.ru/news/1622090 (accessed May 17, 2017).

[38] Human Rights Watch interview with Nuriddin, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, September 30, 2016.

[39] Human Rights Watch interviews with Umid, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, September 30, 2016, and with Anton, with Sultan, with Ismoil, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, October 1, 2016.

[40] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with worker on Rostov Arena, October 27, 2016.

[41] Human Rights Watch interviews with Timur, with Azmat, with Umid, with Oleg, and with Nuriddin, Rostov Arena, Rostov-on-Don, September 30, 2016.

[42] Human Rights Watch interview with Kirill, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 14, 2016. For more information regarding retaliation against Kirill by his employer, see Section III.

[43] Human Rights Watch interview with Roman, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 15, 2016.

[44] Human Rights Watch interview with Sergei, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, July 17, 2016.

[45] Human Rights Watch interview with Melis, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 13, 2016.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Yaroslav, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, July 17, 2016.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Aibek, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 12, 2016.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Egor, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 14, 2016.

[49] Human Rights Watch interview with Pavel, St. Petersburg Stadium, St. Petersburg, July 18, 2016.

[50] Human Rights Watch interviews with Nuradil and with Bakytbek, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow, July 12, 2016.

[51] Human Rights Watch interviews with Muzafar and with Kadom, Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg, January 9, 2017.

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Kadom, Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg, January 9, 2017.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Muzafar, Ekaterinburg Arena, Ekaterinburg, January 9, 2017.

[54] Labor Code of the Russian Federation, arts. 92 and 212, together with Federal Service for Protection of Consumer Rights and Human Welfare, Methodological Recommendation “Work hours and breaks for workers during cold weather outdoors or in unheated buildings," No. 2.7.2129-06 (2007).

[55] International Labour Organization (ILO), “Ambient Factors in the Workplace, and ILO Code of Practice,” (2001), http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/---ed_protect/---protrav/---safework/documents/normativeinstrument/wcms_107729.pdf; and Ingvar Holmér, Per-Ola Granberg, and Göran Dahlström, “Cold Environment and Cold Work,” ILO, March 21, 2011, http://www.iloencyclopaedia.org/component/k2/item/717-cold-environment-and-cold-work (accessed May 25, 2017).

[56] Human Rights Watch interviews with Kirill and with Egor, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 15, 2016.

[57] Daniel Etchells, “FIFA To Tour Venues for 2018 World Cup in Russia,” Inside The Games, February 21, 2017, http://www.insidethegames.biz/articles/1047294/fifa-delegation-to-tour-venues-for-2018-world-cup-in-russia (accessed May 17,2017).

[58] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with worker on Rostov Arena, October 27, 2016.

[59] Human Rights Watch interview with Roman, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 15, 2016.

[60] “Hundreds of Rostov Arena Builders Haven’t Been Paid in Months [Сотни строителей стадиона Ростов-Аренамесяцами не получают зарплату],” Donday,ru, April 8, 2017, http://donday.ru/sotni-stroiteley-stadiona-rostov-arena-mesyacami-ne-poluchayut-zarplatu.html (accessed May 17, 2017).

[61] “Another Builders Strike on the Rostov Arena. Workers Demand Wages [Очередная стачка строителей “Ростов-Арена”. Рабочие требуют зарплату],” GO61.ru, April 13, 2017, http://www.go61.ru/news/1618984 (accessed May 18, 2017).

[62] Human Rights Watch, “Race to the Bottom,” pp. 44-46; “Russia: Sochi Migrant Workers Targeted for Expulsion,” Human Rights Watch news release, October 2, 2013, https://www.hrw.org/news/2013/10/02/russia-sochi-migrant-workers-targeted-expulsion.

[63] Human Rights Watch interviews with Kirill, Kaliningrad Stadium, Kaliningrad, July 14, 2016.

[64] “FIFA Council Agrees on Four-Phase Bidding Process for 2026 World Cup,” FIFA.com, May 10, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/news/y=2016/m=5/news=fifa-council-agrees-on-four-phase-bidding-process-for-2026-fifa-world--2790472.html (accessed May 19, 2017).

[65] John Ruggie, “For the Game. For the World.” FIFA and Human Rights. Corporate Responsibility Initiative Report No. 68 (2016), Cambridge, MA, https://www.hks.harvard.edu/centers/mrcbg/programs/cri/research/reports/report68 (accessed May 16, 2017).

[66] Ibid.

[67] “FIFA Statutes. April 2016 edition,” FIFA.com, http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/02/78/29/07/fifastatutsweben_neutral.pdf (accessed May 16, 2017).

[68]“Fact Sheet: FIFA’s Work on Human Rights,” FIFA.com, November 2016, http://resources.fifa.com/mm/Document/AFFederation/FootballGovernance/02/87/55/00/FIFABackgroundInfoonHumanRights_Neutral.pdf (accessed May 14, 2017).

[69] “Independent Advisory Board of Human Rights Experts to Meet on 13 March,” FIFA.com, March 10, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/governance/news/y=2017/m=3/news=independent-advisory-board-of-human-rights-experts-to-meet-on-13-march-2875485.html (accessed May 15, 2017).

[70] “One Year Extraordinary Congress,” FIFA.com, undated, http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/affederation/generic/02/86/79/92/oneyear_extraordinarycongress_neutral.pdf (accessed May 25, 2017).

[71] “Q and A with FIFA General Secretary Fatma Samoura,” FIFA.com, February 26, 2017, http://www.fifa.com/about-fifa/news/y=2017/m=2/news=q-a-with-fifa-secretary-general-fatma-samoura-2868389.html (accessed May 25, 2017).

[72] “FIFA Publishes Landmark Human Rights Policy,” FIFA.com, June 8, 2017, http://www.fifa.com/governance/news/y=2017/m=6/news=fifa-publishes-landmark-human-rights-policy-2893311.html (June 8, 2017). 

[73] Letter from Federico Addiechi, head, sustainability and strategy, FIFA, to Human Rights Watch, June 8, 2017, and “Sustainability Strategy 2018 FIFA World Cup,” FIFA.com, July 2015, http://resources.fifa.com/mm/document/tournament/compethition/02/66/69/50/sustainabilitystrategyfor2018fifaworldcup_neutral.pdf (accessed May 16, 2017).

[74] “Working conditions monitoring system launched at World Cup stadiums,” FIFA.com, May 11, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2016/m=5/news=working-conditions-monitoring-system-launched-at-world-cup-stadiums-2790536.html (accessed May 16, 2017). The April 2016 announcement followed a few initial monitoring steps: a September 2015 self-assessment survey of companies engaged in Russia 2018 construction, and a FIFA and LOC February 2016 inspection of the St. Petersburg Stadium together with the Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) trade union and the Russian Construction Workers Union (RBWU). “Experts Assess Labour Conditions and Workers’ Safety at St. Petersburg Stadium,” FIFA.com, February 9, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2016/m=2/news=experts-assess-labour-conditions-and-workers-safety-at-st-petersburg-s-2764629.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[75] Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017.

[76] “Working Conditions Monitoring System Launched at World Cup stadiums,” FIFA.com, May 11, 2016, and Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017.

[77] Klinsky Institute of Labor Protection and Working Conditions website: http://www.kiout.ru/, and http://www.kiout.ru/clients (accessed May 17, 2017). 

[78] “First Round of Visits to Russia 2018 Stadiums for Monitoring Working Conditions Completed,” FIFA.com, July 12, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2016/m=7/news=first-round-of-visits-to-russia-2018-stadiums-for-monitoring-working-c-2811754.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[79] Ibid., and Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017.

[80] “Working Conditions: FIFA and Trade Unions Sign Cooperation Agreement for Russia 2018,” FIFA.com, August 26, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2016/m=8/news=working-conditions-fifa-and-trade-unions-sign-cooperation-agreement-fo-2823712.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[81] “Experts Assess Labour Conditions and Workers’ Safety at St. Petersburg Stadium,” FIFA.com, February 9, 2016, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2016/m=2/news=experts-assess-labour-conditions-and-workers-safety-at-st-petersburg-s-2764629.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[82] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Ambet Yuson, general secretary, Building and Wood Workers’ International, May 1, 2017.

[83] Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017.

[84] Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017.

[85] Letter from Addiechi, FIFA, June 8, 2017. “Working Conditions Seminar Held in Moscow,” FIFA.com, March 17, 2017, http://www.fifa.com/worldcup/news/y=2017/m=3/news=working-conditions-seminar-held-in-moscow-2876391.html (accessed May 16, 2017).

[86] “Working Conditions: FIFA and Trade Unions Sign Cooperation Agreement for Russia 2018,” FIFA.com; “Working Conditions Monitoring System Launched at World Cup stadiums,” FIFA.com; and “Working Conditions Seminar Held in Moscow;” and “Fact Sheet: FIFA’s Work on Human Rights,” FIFA.com.

[87] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), adopted by General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI) of December 16, 1966, entered into force January 3, 1976, ratified by Russia October 16, 1973, art. 7.

[88] Ibid. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights also provides that everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working and periodic holidays with pay, as well as the right to just and favorable remuneration, and the freedom to form and join trade unions. UDHR, arts. 23 and 24.

[89] ICESCR, art. 8.

[90] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), art. 22.

[91] ILO Convention No. 155 concerning Occupational Safety and Health, adopted June 22, 1981 U.N.T.S. 279, entered into force August 11, 1983.

[92] UN Human Rights Council, “Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights: Implementing the United Nations ‘Protect, Respect and Remedy’ Framework.” The UN Human Rights Council endorsed the Guiding Principles in resolution 17/4 of 16 June 2011: “Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises,” Resolution 17/4, A/HRC/17/L.17/Rev.1; UN Human Rights Council, “Mandate of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Issue of Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises,” Resolution 8/7, A/HRC/RES/8/7; UN Human Rights Council, “Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and Other Business Enterprises,” Resolution 17/4, A/HRC/17/L.17/Rev.1.

[93] Ibid., Guiding Principle no. 21.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am