"Human Rights Watch" Sends Letter to Lukashenka
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
350 Fifth Avenue, 34th Floor
New York, NY 10118
October 2, 2003
Republic of Belarus
Via Facsimile: 011-375-17-226-06-10
Dear President Lukashenka,
We write to express our deep concern regarding charges against Viasna, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that, among other things, is involved in election monitoring. We believe the charges against Viasna, which might lead to its liquidation, are arbitrary and are part of a broader campaign against freedom of expression and the development of a pluralist society in Belarus.
Human Rights Watch has been monitoring the severe limitation of civil and political rights in Belarus in the past months. In May and June alone the government suspended the operations of five newspapers, closed the Belarusian Lyceum, a high school known for its independent spirit, and liquidated five nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) on what appear to be politically motivated administrative charges. It also made a new course on state ideology mandatory for all Belarusian university students as of September 1.
This tightening of control over civil society appears connected to the referendum planned for autumn 2003 on allowing you to run for a third term of office. We believe Viasna has become a target because it has actively monitored the conduct of the vote in Belarus and published its findings about its failure to meet international standards for free and fair elections.
The Ministry of Justice has charged that Viasna’s registration, done in 1999, was flawed. Yet, when Viasna was inspected by the Ministry of Justice in 2001 and 2002, no violations were found. Also, the Ministry of Justice’s charges make no reference to the outcome of its most recent inspection of Viasna, which covered the period of March through to September 2003.
The second charge against Viasna is that it has represented in court individuals who are not Viasna members. It derives from a 1999 case, when the Code of Criminal Procedures still permitted organizations to serve as public defenders in court for private citizens. The Ministry of Justice also charges that Viasna violated the Election Code in 2001. In doing so, the Ministry refers to a ruling of the Central Election Committee, which cancelled the accreditation of two thousand observers from Viasna on the day before the 2001 presidential elections.
According to the Law On Public Associations, liquidation procedures may be started if an organization receives two warnings from the Ministry of Justice for the same violation within twelve months. However, Viasna has not received any warnings from the Ministry of Justice since August 2001.
The circumstances outlined above strongly suggest that the government’s case against Viasna is politically motivated. The government’s actions violate Belarus’ obligations under article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to protect the right to freedom of association. We urge you to stop the proceedings against Viasna, and also take the opportunity to reiterate our call to abolish Decree 13, which bans NGOs from representing non-members in courts.
Thank you in advance for your attention to the concerns raised in this letter.
Europe and Central Asia