Another Belarusian Human Rights Organization, Legal Assistance to Population, has been “Liquidated” Statement by the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Vienna and Minsk, 12 September 2003. On 8 September 2003, a judge of the Minsk City Court, Natalia Zhupikova, issued a ruling in a suit filed by the Department of Justice of the Minsk City Administration, ordering the closure of the human rights organization Legal Assistance to Population. The judge ruled that the independent, non-governmental organization (NGO), in contravention of the law, had rendered paid judicial services to citizens and, in addition to that, had a wrong official stamp.
The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC) express their deep concern about this decision, which reflects an ongoing process of thwarting the work of human rights defenders and is part of a new, orchestrated campaign against civil society in Belarus.
In 2003, a number of NGOs were liquidated for alleged violations relating to foreign aid and rules on registration:
• In June, the Christian-Social Youth Union was closed for using an apartment as its office and for mistakes of the Ministry of Justice during re-registration in 1999.
• The regional NGO Civil Initiatives was liquidated for contravention of a Presidential Decree on spending foreign aid. The group had established a public resource centre and youth club and disseminated informational materials.
• In July, the regional public centre Varuta was closed down for using the word “organisation” instead of “association” on official papers.
• The centre for youth initiatives Kontur was liquidated for using an office address differing from its registered location and for spending foreign aid without a permit of the government.
• In August, the regional resource centre Ratusha was closed because of alleged violations of regulations concerning maintaining printing equipment.
Other NGOs received warnings or are currently awaiting trial for alleged petty irregularities. Under Belarusian law, two similar warnings during a year constitute grounds for an NGO's closure.
• In September, the Ministry of Justice filed lawsuits on the liquidation of the NGOs The Females’ Response and the Belarusian foundation Cassiopeia. The suits are based on official warnings of the Ministry on formal and exiguous violations.
• A warning given in August to The Union of Poles forbids it to use Polish language even in internal papers.
• Recently The Belarusian Helsinki Committee received an official warning from the Ministry of Justice for “using a name of the organisation which does not correspond with that stated in the BHC statute”: the BHC had not used inverted commas in the name on the letterhead, seal and stamp.
• The Independent Society of Legal Study received an official warning regarding its participation in trials on closing NGOs.
In recent years, the Belarusian authorities have expanded their arsenal of regulations and decrees pertaining to civil society. Presidential Decree no. 13, which was issued on 15 April 2003, for all practical purposes bars public organisations from representing ordinary citizens in court, and is another attempt at isolating civil society in a "democratic ghetto" by driving a wedge between public organisations and the public. According to innovations in the Law on Meetings and Demonstrations that were adopted on 11 July, political parties and NGOs can be closed for one gross violation during actions they organise.
Against this background, on 1 August President Lukashenka issued a Decree on Republican State-public Associations, which will be financially sponsored by the government and devoted to undertaking tasks assigned by the State.
Taken as a whole, the persecution of NGOs and new initiatives to control and instrumentalize civil society further alienate Belarusian policies and practices from the values and standards upheld by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
For more information:
Aaron Rhodes, International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights,+43 676 635 66 12
Tatsiana Pratsko, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, +375 17 222 48 00