The secretary-general of the United Nations has condemned discrimination against homosexuals in a speech to the International Olympic Committee ahead of today’s opening of the winter games.
Touching on the issue of gay rights in Russia that has overshadowed preparations for the Sochi Winter Olympics, Ban Ki-moon said: “Hatred of any kind must have no place in the 21st century.”
The secretary-general was speaking after the organisation Human Rights Watch posted a video on YouTube of gay people in Russia being bullied, chased and beaten, compiled from footage the group said was uploaded by the perpetrators themselves.
In a speech to the IOC yesterday, Mr Ban pointed out that Principle 6 of the Olympic Charter enshrines the committee’s opposition to any form of discrimination. He added that many professional athletes, gay and straight, were speaking out against prejudice and discrimination. Mr Ban said: “We must all raise our voices against attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex people. We must oppose the arrests, imprisonments and discriminatory restrictions they face.”
The remarks come as activists and protesters step up their campaign against Russia’s law restricting gay rights activities.
The legislation, signed in July by President Vladimir Putin, outlaws pro-gay “propaganda” that could be accessible to minors. Critics say it is so restrictive and vague that it deters almost any public expression of support for gay rights.
IOC president Thomas Bach has repeatedly said Mr Putin has given assurances to officials that there will be no discrimination of any kind at the games.
He told the secretary-general: “I can assure you the International Olympic Committee has all the assurances that the Olympic Charter will be fully applied in this Olympic Games, including the fundamentals of Principle 6, because this is what sport is standing for.
“It is standing for respect and it is standing against any form of discrimination.”
Yesterday, Dmitry Kozak, Russia’s deputy prime minister, insisted there was no discrimination against anyone based on their “religion or their sexuality or their nationality” and insisted the new laws were to protect children. He said: “We are all grown up and every adult has his or her right to understand their sexual activity. Please do not touch kids, that’s the only thing. That’s prohibited by law in all countries whether you are gay or straight.”
In his speech, Mr Ban commended Mr Putin for his “commitment to peace, unity and development through sport”.
Mr Ban called for observance of an “Olympic truce” during the games. He said: “I repeat my call for all warring parties to lay down their weapons during the games – and to lift their sights to the promise of peace.”
Citing conflicts in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, he said a truce “can enable life-saving humanitarian relief to reach suffering people and create an opening to lasting peace”.
Athletes sent a message that people and nations could put aside their differences. “If they can do that in Sochi’s sporting arenas, leaders of fighters should do the same in the world’s combat areas,” he said.
The UN General Assembly adopted a resolution in November calling for a global truce during the Olympics, which run until 23 February, and the Paralympics, which are held from 7-16 March.
The resolution cites ancient Greece’s traditional Olympic truce period that allowed free passage of athletes and spectators from often-warring city-states to the original games every four years.
The 193-member world body has passed resolutions since 1993 calling for a truce, but countries continue fighting wars.
Russia insists Sochi is as safe as anywhere else in the world
Russia insisted the Sochi Winter Olympics were as safe as any place in the West from militant attacks after the American government issued a warning to airports and some airlines that toothpaste tubes could be used to make a bomb on a Russia-bound plane.
Russian forces are on high alert over threats by Islamist militant groups based in the nearby north Caucasus to attack the games. Twin suicide bombings killed at least 34 people in December in Volgograd, some 400 miles (700 km) northeast of Sochi.
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, speaking on the eve of the opening ceremony, said Russian security services were working with colleagues from Europe and North America. He said: “There is no reason to believe the level of danger in Sochi is greater than at any other point on the planet, be it Boston, London, New York or Washington. We can guarantee the safety of people as well as any other government hosting any mass event.”
A senior US security official this week said Washington had issued a warning to airports and some airlines flying to Russia to watch for toothpaste tubes that could hold ingredients to make a bomb. Airlines and airports have been aware for several years of the dangers of bombs being concocted on aircraft from smuggled liquids and have limited the carriage of liquids and pastes by passengers.