Human Rights Activists of Viasna Again Try to Obtain State Registration
On 23 July an initiative group of human rights activists applied to the Ministry of Justice for registration of the human rights public association Viasna. In the time when the authorities liquidate many NGOs and refuse to register new ones (as it recently happened to the human rights movement For Freedom!), a group of Belarusian human rights activists decided to unite their forces and try getting a state registration. A well-known human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) told us about the reasons which influenced this decision and the situation of the civil right to association in Belarus:
‘Human Rights Center Viasna was liquidated in autumn 2003 by the Supreme Court of Belarus on the initiative of the Ministry of Justice. We considered and still consider that this verdict is politically motivated and has nothing to do with the Belarusian legislation and the activity of NGOs in our country. By this step Belarus violated its voluntary international undertakings in the field of human rights and the declaration concerning human rights activity which was signed at 1998 UN Assembly. Despite the liquidation, the activity of former Viasna members as private individuals continued. As a result, 3,5 years after the liquidation we came to the decision to apply for juridical registration of an organization. It is worth mentioning, that liquidation of Viasna took place against the background of the campaign on liquidation of NGOs, which was conducted in 2003. During that time the Belarusian authorities liquidated more than 300 NGOs out of 2 000 which really acted in the country. Doubtlessly, the verdict of the Supreme Court concerning Viasna is of pure political nature and grossly violates the civil right to association.’
Analyzing the reasons which influenced the decision to try registering a human rights organization, Ales Bialiatski emphasized:
‘Why have we decided to file a packet of documents for registration of the public human rights association Viasna now? First of all it is necessary to note that the majority of the activists who worked in the former staff of Viasna confirmed their intention to continue working as a collective. In general, we filed the documents with the Ministry of Justice for several principal reasons. First of all, it was fostered by the dialogue that took place at an OSCE conference in Vienna in spring 2007. The situation of the civil right to association in Belarus was discussed at the conference. A human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich read a report. During his speech the chair of the department of public associations of the Ministry of Justice Aleh Slizheuski exclaimed: ‘Nobody prohibits you to repeatedly file documents for registration’. Thus, our registration is an answer to this remark of the representative of the Ministry of Justice, the more that in Vienna the Ministry of Justice declared that there were no obstacles to work of NGOs and registration of human rights associations. Now we will have a possibility to see in reality whether Aleh Slizheuski’s words meet the contemporary situation of the rights to association in the country, whether the Ministry of Justice can really decide something and take responsibility for the work of NGOs or it is just a shield behind which real decisions are taken by officials of the presidential administration who have quite a weird understanding of the notion of human rights and of the activity of NGOs in general. The second reason is that, pitifully enough, the situation of human rights in Belarus has not improved. On the contrary, it stably deteriorates. It is stated by international structures. For instance, during his speech in Geneva in June the special rapporteur on human rights in Belarus Adrian Severin said that in 2006 the situation of human rights became considerably worse. Naturally, in the case the society needs human rights aid, when there are thousands of citizens who need help, we try to register an organization which could do it professionally and would aim to defend their rights and represent their legal interests. That’s where the main aim of Viasna’s activity ensues – to provide implementation of human rights and freedoms which are guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Constitution – ensues from. In this situation we come to the authorities with open hands and unambiguously state that the situation of human rights in Belarus is abnormal. That’s why we are ready to work on correction of the present situation: first of all – with citizens and, secondly – with the authorities, would they be ready for it. This is how it is done in many other countries of the world. The Belarusian authorities will have an opportunity to openly show to the international community their attitude to human rights activists and public organizations of Belarus instead of blank declarations about the situation of human rights in the country and statements that the Constitution is not violated and everything is alright with democracy.’
Correspondent: But recently they refused to register the human rights movement For Freedom!. It is an alarming symptom…
Bialiatski: Before filing the documents we had close consultations with our international partners. First of all, we informed the OSCE office in Minsk about it. They paid a huge interest to this situation and requested copies of all documents which were submitted to the Ministry of Justice. The chair of the Belarusian OSCE mission Ake Petersen promised that they would attentively watch the registration process. A special commission of the United Nations Organization also expressed such intention. Besides, such influential organization as the International Federation for Human Rights (which I am the vice-president of) expressed its concern with the right to association in Belarus and registration of Viasna in particular. The FIDH president Souhayr Belhassen stated that the organization would also watch registration of Viasna and use its mechanisms of influence on the international evaluation of the situation in the case the organization will be groundlessly refused registration. Thus, registration of the public human rights association Viasna is not only an internal affair of Belarus. It will act as an indicator of the readiness of the Belarusian authorities to implement the international undertakings and the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.