Front Line issues statement on refusal to register human rights organisation Nasha Viasna
Front Line is concerned by the decision of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus, on 22 April 2009, to maintain the previous decision of the Ministry of Justice not to register the human rights organisation Nasha Viasna (Our spring). Nasha Viasna is the new name of the human rights centre previously known as Viasna (Spring), which was closed down by the Supreme Court following the demand of the Ministry of Justice on 28 November 2003. The human rights center Viasna is one of the most active Belarusian human rights organisations, specialising in particular in the defence, protection and promotion of political and social rights.
On 26 January 2009 the human rights organisation Nasha Viasna applied for registration to the Ministry of Justice of Belarus. On 22 April 2009, the application was denied. This was not the first time that this human rights organisation's registration application was turned down. In August 2007, members of the human rights centre Viasna applied for registration but the Ministry of Justice, and later the Supreme Court of Belarus, turned down the application for spurious reasons. On 24 July 2007, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a Communication n°1296/2004 regarding the closure of the human rights centre Viasna. The UN Committee found that Article 22(1) of the 1966 UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of association had been violated and considered that the co-authors of the complaint were “entitled to an appropriate remedy, including the re-registration of 'Viasna'”, and that Belarus was “under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future” (§9).The chairman of the human rights centre Viasna, Mr Ales Bialiatski, brought the matter to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and demanded that the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee be adhered to but the Ministry responded that the views of the UN Human Rights Committee are not binding and only function as recommendations.
In 2003, the human rights centre Viasna was closed down by the Belarusian authorities in the context of massive repressions against civil society. Nevertheless, members of Viasna continued to carry out their legitimate human rights work and assist victims of different human rights violations.
Front Line would like to highlight that only one human rights organisation, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, is officially registered in Belarus. According to Article 193-1 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, the “illegal organisation or activities of public associations, religious groups or foundations or participation in their activities” is punishable by from six month to two years in prison. On 15 April 2008, in its resolution 1606 , the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe reiterated the position of the UN Human Rights Committee concerning the closure of Viasna and urged the Belarusian authorities to “repeal (...) Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code, criminalising activities of non-registered associations”. However, this recommendation was not implemented and other Belarusian non-governmental organisations continue to struggle for their registration. On 9 April 2009, the Ministry of Justice refused for the second time to register the Belarusian Assembly of pro-democratic Non-Governmental Organisations.
On 25 April 2009, Nasha Viasna applied for registration for the third time, but in the event of another refusal, the human rights defenders have decided that they will stop addressing the Ministry of Justice.
Front Line believes that the refusal to register the human rights organisation Nasha Viasna constitutes a blatant violation of the freedom of association, guaranteed by the Belarusian Constitution and international human rights instruments, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Front Line urges the Belarusian authorities to:
1. Review the decision of the Ministry of Justice to close down the human rights centre Viasna or register a new human rights organisation, Nasha Viasna;
2. Repeal Law No. 71-3 of 15 December 2005, and in particular Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, criminalising activities of non-registered associations;
3. Guarantee in all circumstances that human rights defenders in the Republic of Belarus are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals, and free of all restrictions, including judicial harassment.
Front Line respectfully reminds you that the United Nations Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, adopted by consensus by the UN General Assembly on 9 December 1998, recognises the legitimacy of the activities of human rights defenders, their right to freedom of association and to carry out their activities without fear of reprisals. We would particularly draw attention to Article 6 (b and c): “Everyone has the right, individually and in association with others: (b) As provided for in human rights and other applicable international instruments, freely to publish, impart or disseminate to others views, information and knowledge on all human rights and fundamental freedoms; (c) To study, discuss, form and hold opinions on the observance, both in law and in practice, of all human rights and fundamental freedoms and, through these and other appropriate means, to draw public attention to those matters”, and to Article 12 (2): “The State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration.”