Impunity for human rights abuses in Belarus must end, OSCE human rights office says
WARSAW, 13 November 2020 – As pervasive violations of OSCE commitments and international human rights obligations in Belarus continue, the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) calls on the country’s authorities to end impunity of those responsible for human rights violations, up to and including deaths, and hold them to account.
ODIHR is alarmed by the continued use of excessive force by law enforcement, the ongoing mass detention of overwhelmingly peaceful protesters, an increase in the number of criminal charges against the protesters, and by the well-documented reports of widespread and systematic use of torture and ill-treatment in detention, including sexual violence. This is accompanied by increasing pressure on defence lawyers and threats to fair trial rights.
Since the presidential election three months ago, thousands of people have been arbitrarily detained for making use of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, sentenced to administrative arrest and sanctioned with disproportionate fines. ODIHR notes with particular concern the rise in the number of criminal charges against peaceful protesters.
At the same time, government statements are calling for more prosecutions and tougher punishments for protesters. This, as well as recent reports of pressure and intimidation of defence lawyers representing protesters, seriously undermines the independence of the judiciary and due process. Plans to limit public accessibility to trials and withhold the identity of prosecution witnesses from defendants risk further infringements of fair trial rights.
ODIHR also deeply regrets the fact that despite numerous complaints of torture and other ill-treatment submitted to the relevant authorities, not a single criminal case has been opened against those responsible. On the contrary, the number of complainants have recently been notified that no such investigations will be opened. Security agents who do not display service numbers, frequently wear balaclavas, and use civilian cars without licence plates, increase the likelihood that the perpetrators of violence against peaceful demonstrators and other human rights abuses will continue to act with impunity.
ODIHR takes this opportunity to urge the Belarusian authorities to meet their international obligations and OSCE commitments to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the right to a fair trial and the independence of the judiciary, to uphold the absolute prohibition of all forms of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and to hold all perpetrators of human rights violations to account. ODIHR once again offers to provide expertise and tools to help strengthen human rights and democratic institutions in Belarus, for the future of all citizens.