ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on world leaders to boycott the opening of the 2018 FIFA World Cup to protest Russia’s involvement in the years-long Syrian war.
“In hosting one of the most televised events in the world, Russia is courting world public opinion and looking for respect,” HRW’s executive director, Kenneth Roth, said in a statement.
“World leaders should signal to President [Vladimir] Putin that unless he changes track and acts to end atrocities by Russian and Syrian forces in Syria, they won’t be in their seats in the VIP box with him on opening night,” Roth added.
Russia has been Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main backer since the civil war erupted in the country. With Moscow’s military support, the tide of the seven-year-long crisis has effectively turned in Assad’s favor.
HRW has documented Russian-Syrian joint military operations in the past, describing the offensives as having “caused thousands of civilian casualties.”
Billions of people worldwide are expected to tune into the prestigious football tournament, and the watchdog has urged the public not to ignore Russia’s “atrocities.”
“World leaders should not allow a sporting event to gloss over a pattern of atrocities in Syria that now looms over two million civilians,” Roth stated.
The 2018 FIFA World Cup will take place between June 14 and July 15 with 32 teams from five different confederations competing.
As the host nation, Russia received automatic qualification to this summer’s tournament.
A bidding nation requires a majority of 12 votes to host the tournament. Russia notably beat the likes of Portugal, Spain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and England in the bidding process to host the 2018 tournament, winning 13 votes.
Russia will play the first match of the tournament against Saudi Arabia on June 14 at the Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.