A. Bialiatski’s Speech at Liquidation Trial of “Viasna”
To my mind, there are two levels for evaluation of the suit of the Ministry of Justice. The first of them, factual evaluation, has been given by my colleagues from “Viasna”.
I’d like to turn attention to the present relations between the Ministry of Justice and NGOs. Non-governmental organizations have repeatedly proposed dialogue to the Ministry of Justice. They have tried to tie normal contacts, find and solve all controversial issues. In the end of 2002 a number of NGOs submitted an open letter to the Ministry of Justice, expressing their concern with the methods of its work and the very approach to the existence of such organizations. The observed tendencies are almost complete suspension of registration for NGOs, excessively thorough control of their documentation and, as a result, hundreds of warnings for commas, full stops and quotation marks, troubles with registration of juridical addresses for NGOs.
As a result, in the end of 2002 we met with Minister Halavanaw and expressed concern with the fact that the Ministry of Justice slightly turns from a mediator between the authorities and non-governmental organizations into a gendarme, and not a very wise one, whereas the whole world laughs at his commas and full stops. You can’t explain it to a foreigner, it doesn’t make any difference whether he/she lives in the West or in the East, that “Viasna” was warned for having the first letter in the lower case in the word “Human” on its seal. An ordinary man will ask whether it matters and whether the work of “Viasna” will be more or less effective because of this. Is it such a serious misdeed as to deserve not an oral admonition, but, actually, official punishment of the organization? Existence of such warning, issued by the Ministry of Justice, we have heard it at the trial, is one of the stones tied to the neck of “Viasna” to drown it.
However, after the meeting the situation has become only worse. At least two of the four NGOs that met with Minister, “Legal Assistance to Population” and “Viasna” have already received summons to court. “Legal Assistance to Population”, in fact, doesn’t exist any more. The list of the active, really working NGOs, liquidated by the Ministry of Justice or regional justice boards, is growing.
Open appeals of several dozens of NGOs to the Ministry of Justice with the urges to stop the brigandage had no effect. Neither helped the round table, held in summer that concerned the relations between NGOs with the Ministry of Justice and other State bodies. By the way, Ms. Fishkina’s chief, Mr. Sukhinin, attended this round table. The organization of Alena Tankachova who was the host of this round table, “Independent Association of Juridical Research”, received three black marks, three warnings and actually joined the line of the organizations to be liquidated.
It is not an occasion that activists of NGOs use the term “clearing”, known since the first stage of the war between Chechnya and Russia, to characterize such attitude of the Ministry of Justice to NGOs.
Almost 10 years ago the Law about NGOs was adopted to order the relations between NGOs and the authorities. This law was adopted by the authorities for having information about the events, taking place in the third sector, about the organizations existing there and their needs. Now all this is put to dust and ruin by the Ministry of Justice.
As it was during the communist rule, NGOs are closed and driven out to the underground. The authorities view them not as a partner, but as a rival and even an enemy to do away with. The example of “Viasna” here is a classical one.
Dear court, the charges of the Ministry of Justice against “Viasna” are beyond any criticism. For the last two years “Viasna” hasn’t received any warnings, so the Civil Code was used against it.
The control bodies read the Statute parts concerning the member fees and regional branches is such a way that I recollect the play “Pinskaya Shliakhta”, where a court official “will turn red into white”.
They’ve reminded about two warnings to “Viasna” for its participation in the electoral campaign, but if the authorities were so good and “Viasna” was so bad, why these elections aren’t recognized anywhere? Why did it happen, that (here I quote from the report of the OSCE mission on monitoring of the election, that had more than 50 members): “The Presidential election of 2001 didn’t meet the OSCE undertakings concerning the democratic nature of the election, formulated in the Copenhagen document of 1990 and the standards of the Council of Europe”?. This very report reads that “at the last stage of the pre-electoral period the Ministry of Justice charged the PA “HRC “Viasna” with violation of the order for nomination of observers. “Viasna” and 7 other NGOs were warned for alleged violations. On 8 September, the eve of the election, at the sitting of the Central Electoral Commission that considered these issues, Head of “Viasna” proposed to correct the mistake by the end of the day, but the proposal was deflected. As a result the Central Electoral Commission annulled accreditation for about 2 000 of “Viasna” observers.
How can you explain that the Ministry of Justice took the parallel calculation of votes for the questioning after the voting (exit-poll) and made a number of public statements about this, showing its incompetence? Who will warn you for this, dear “specialists”?
According to the Ministry of Justice, one of the reasons to close “Viasna” is violation of the law during elections, but the Ministry pretends not to see that in the recent years we have monitored the elections in Serbia, Sweden, Poland, Estonia, Slovakia, Azerbaijan (this month) and have valuable international experience, were among organizers and supervisors of the election in Kosovo in 2001.
The deprival of accreditation of “Viasna” observers on the eve of the elections shows the will of the authorities to hide the truth from Belarusian citizens and the international community, the truth about mass falsifications and terribly deficient electoral legislations that allows manipulation of the votes.
The Ministry may have received the social order to liquidate “Viasna”, which helps people and tells them the truth, because of the Parliamentary election in 2004 and the possible referendum to change the Constitution with the aim to change the presidency term, or for our periodical monitoring of human rights violations in Belarus, for open criticism towards Belarusian authorities in their relations with the civil society, mass media and the religious confessions the rights of which are violated.
Who ordered to liquidate “Viasna”? You don’t need to answer, Ms. Fishkina, it’s a rhetorical question to which we can answer on our own.
Of course, we feel offended that the Ministry of Justice acts as a blind weapon in the hands of, to put it mild, dishonest people and makes a crime. I am sure that sooner or later we will find out who ordered to close “Viasna”, but it doesn’t exculpate the ministry officials, including the minister and You, Ms. Fishkina.
The authorities pay no attention to the negative international reaction. They, in private, the Ministry of Justice, ignore the resolution of the UNO Committee on human rights, adopted in spring 2003 where the pressurization of Belarusian NGOs is considered; they pay no attention to the resolution of the Council of Europe where the CE countries express the same concern.
Let’s take the latest appeals and letters to the Minister of Justice or Lukashenka. For instance, “Amnesty International”, one of the best known international human rights organizations is “gravely concerned with the recent closure of a number of NGOs, engaged in support and defense of human rights in Belarus. Liquidation of these NGOs is a violation of the undertakings of Belarus in the sphere of human rights.
Last week the famous Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society, holder of two Nobel peace prizes, applied to the Ministry of Justice with the request to revoke the suit against “Viasna”, pointing out that “There are therefore no doubts that the ongoing liquidation suit against Viasna is politically motivated, and part of a large-scale campaign against Non-Governmental Organisations in Belarus. The Human Rights Center Viasna is one of the most important and influential human rights organisations in Belarus. To liquidate Viasna for political reasons would be a fatal mistake, not only in the short run, but also because the civil society sector in general, and human rights organisations in particular, are and always will be a necessary element of any well-functioning country.”
The UN Supreme Commissar on human rights and special representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights activists Hina Jilani who watches the state of Belarusian human rights activists and organizations has started acting.
Finally, on 23 October, at the sitting of the OSCE regular assembly the USA Ambassador in OSCE Mr. Stephen Menekes urged Belarusian authorities “to stop the attack on NGOs and let them make their contribution in the development of Belarusian society. Belarus can make the first step by closing the case against “Viasna”, -- he said. “Belarus isolates itself which serves neither the interests of Belarus, nor interests of any country, the representatives of which gathered at this table”. He pointed out that “in 1990 in Copenhagen the participating States fixed the right of individuals to association including the right to create and participate in NGOs that deal with protection of human rights and fundamental liberties. In the Charter of European Defence, adopted at the Istanbul summit in 1999 the participants made a further step by confirming the right to NGOs to “contribute to the development of civil society, respect to human rights and fundamental liberties. The attack on the third sector contradicts to these agreements.” That’s how foreign diplomats characterize this process (!): attack on the third sector”…
However, the authorities decided to use the notorious Stalin’s principle: no man – no problem. They decided: no organization – no problem either… Is it so?
Closure of “Viasna” is not a usual case about liquidation of an organization that violates Belarusian legislation, doesn’t work or doesn’t execute its statute. We haven’t violated the law. We are open and always want to be heard. We have always passed our hand for cooperation and they put this suit into it. Our case is politically motivated, as well as liquidation of other human rights, youth, regional resource and other NGOs, dozens of them. The most outrageous is that the Ministry of Justice obediently executes the political assassination of public organizations.
When the liquidation suit was filed, it happened according to our expectation. The most active and authoritative organization are closed. By this suit Belarusian authorities noted our active public activity and principled position concerning the situation with human rights in Belarus. Liquidation of “Viasna” is more a problem of authorities than a problem of “Viasna”.
Dear court, it is said enough, but Belarus fasted and faster falls into the abyss of authoritarianism and lawlessness. The suit for liquidation of “Viasna” is one more proof of this. It’s a pity, but the Ministry of Justice, which was to have supported the authority and weight of Belarusian legislation, plays here its unsightly role.