International Federation for Human Rights Press Release
A Forum of Human Rights defenders almost forced underground
Paris, January 29, 2004 - The first united forum of human rights defenders of Belarus took place on 23-24 January 2004 in a venue near the capital city, Minsk. The particularity of this event was that it has been prepared and organised in almost clandestine conditions, so tight the civil society is kept in a stranglehold in Belarus, where the situation of fundamental freedoms and rights continue to deteriorate.
This outstanding event was prepared by eight local Human Rights Non Governmental Organisations (including the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Centre of Human Rights, Belarusian Association of Journalists, Legal Assistance to Population, among others); the most of them being already liquidated by judicial decisions dictated by the authorities. The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) was the co-organiser of the event.
It gathered more than 100 Human Rights activists from Belarus and many others from neighbouring countries, such as Poland, Ukraine, Moldova, Czech Republic, and Russia, including the prominent Russian ex-dissident and Human rights defender Sergei Kovalev. The leading International NGOs, as well as representatives of the Council of Europe, OSCE, European Union, United Nations and an impressive number of ambassadors or diplomats accredited in Belarus were present and showing support to the initiative. This wide mobilisation of both civil society and diplomatic corpse at national and international level was a strong response to growing repressions in Belarus.
Despite the efforts of the authorities to prevent this forum from happening (on the eve of the event, the hotel complex Raubichy, under pressure, refused the holding of the forum, and the organisers decided to change the location and to keep it secret until the begining), the two-day forum was a true success.
Beside permanent infringements of Human Rights standards, which have intensified over the last year, the participants underlined their concern that individuals, who hold diverging opinions or who criticise the authorities, are repeatedly subject to pressure, in particular to arbitrary arrests and detentions. Pressure on non-governmental organisations has developed tremendously, and a new open campaign of State persecution has been initiated against NGOs and independent newspapers resulting in their administrative neutralisation.
The forum covered such subjects as the improvement of efficiency and democracy in the national mechanisms in relation with the defense of rights and freedoms of citizens; the constitutional guarantees and mechanisms in the exercise of election rights; the search of truth and justice as for the abduction and disappearance of political figures; the freedom of speech; the freedom of association.
The final joint resolution adopted by the Belarusian participants concluded: “We are confident that the practical implementation of demands presented in this resolution will allow reviving civil society and establishing a system of State power, based on the respect of rights of Belarusian citizens, to overcome the isolation of the country and to build a constitutional democratic State.”
The realisation of these demands has become vital for a country which will become a strategically important neighbour of the European Union in Mai 2004 when Poland and the Baltic States enter European family.