URGENT NEED TO SUPPORT BELARUSIAN CIVIL SOCIETY (Statement from the Meeting of the Human Rights House Network)
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS BROUGHT TO SILENCE:
URGENT NEED TO SUPPORT BELARUSIAN CIVIL SOCIETY
Statement from the Meeting of the Human Rights House Network
Bergen, Norway, October 31, 2003
We, delegates to the Human Rights House Network’s annual meeting express our deep concern about the Belarusian authorities’ campaign to destroy civil society in Belarus. The campaign appears to be a systematic attempt to silence human rights defenders and prevent the development of a pluralist democratic society.
On October 28th 2003, the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, one of the few remaining human rights organisations in Belarus, was closed down by the Belarusian Supreme Court. The prominent human rights organisation was the last, so far, of eight such organisations to be closed during 2003. This year’s Human Rights House Network meeting condemn the closure of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” as well as previous shut-downs of other organisations, including “Ratusha”, “Civic Initiatives” and “Legal Assistance to the Population”. Eleven other non-governmental organisations may also be closed in the near future.
The authorities’ campaign has also been directed at the independent media. The major independent newspaper Belorusskaja Delovaja Gazeta as well as seven smaller newspapers have been suspended by the Ministry of Information for three months. Twenty newspapers have incurred penalties. These measures have already led to the closing of some of them.
In addition to such violations of the freedom of expression and association and the right to be a human rights defender, the right to education in the native language is also becoming increasingly restricted. In what seems like an attempt to control education, the authorities recently closed the Yakub Kolas National Humanitarian Lyceum, the only independent wholly Belarusian-language secondary school.
These events coincide with the build-up to the parliamentary elections scheduled for the autumn of 2004 and amount to an all-encompassing attack on Belarusian civil society. The participants of this year’s Human Rights House Network’s meeting wish to express their conviction that a vibrant civil society is mandatory for democracy to grow. Hence, we believe that Belarusian authorities must take action to reinstate safe working conditions for all organisations and individuals working for democracy and human rights. This opinion is shared for instance by the OSCE Mission in Belarus which has recently urged Belarusian authorities to stop their attacks on NGOs and independent media.
The Human Rights House Network would like to draw attention to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Articles 21 and 22, to which Belarus is a state party, expressing the freedom of association and assembly, and Article 19 in UNs Universal Declaration for Human Rights expressing the freedom of expression. These rights are also guaranteed by the Belarusian Constitution. We also refer to Article 1 of the United Nations’ Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, stating that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”. The Human Rights House Network urges Belarusian authorities to bring its conduct in compliance with these commitments.
The delegates to the Human Rights House Network’s meeting appeal to the authorities of all the countries we represent to increase their moral, political and financial support to civil society in Belarus. The meeting also calls upon these authorities to urge their Belarusian counterparts to cease the persecution of civil society and to observe internationally agreed human rights standards. This message can be conveyed through multilateral institutions, but support must also be channelled directly to non-governmental organisations working to promote democracy and human rights.
We, delegates to the Human Rights House Nertwork’s annual meeting, representing non-governmental human rights organisations in Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Kenya, Norway, Poland, Russia, Turkey and Uganda, express our solidarity with human rights defenders in Belarus in their difficult struggle for the respect of democracy and international human rights.