FIDH expert comments on Viasna’s case
Kirill Koroteev, Mission Delegate of the International Federation for Human Rights, has commented on the case of the Human Rights Center Viasna, facing repeated refusals by the state registration bodies, as well as the situation in the field of Belarusian NGOs, in general. Mr.Koroteev attended the consideration of Viasna’s complaint at the Supreme Court on 12-17 August 2009, calling the final verdict a disgrace of Belarusian justice.
Mr.Koroteev, upon the completion of the trial in your comments to journalists you called the verdict by the Supreme Court a disgrace of Belarusian justice. What made you arrive at such an emphatic conclusion?
- I did call the decision a disgrace of Belarusian justice, but Belarusian justice itself seems to have already grown accustomed to it.
On the one hand, the progress of the trial showed that the sides had equal rights and possibilities before the court. That is, the claimants could present their point of view and supply it with evidence. So could the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor’s Office. The judge did consider the evidence. The sides were able to comment on the appearances, by expressing their opinion on the evidence and arguments.
But! The claimants had to face not one but three state prosecutors. Firstly, the Ministry of Justice proper, whose decision was appealed. Secondly, the General Prosecutor’s Office, whose representative resolved to turn down the claim without even reflecting the progress of the judicial pleadings. I.e. in spite of the fact that she was present at the trial, it was evident that she had nothing to do with it, since she a priori had her own negative opinion concerning the appeal. And, finally, the claimants were opposed by the court. Not the judge in person – I have no claims on him. Still, the Belarusian legislation makes it abundantly clear that the judges – their appointment, decisions while in office and dismissal – depend on the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry rules the judges in Belarus – this is what the Code on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges states. That is why the court lacked one essential aspect – unbiased independence.
How could you comment on the reasons for the judgement?
- The prosecutor in his conclusions and the judge in his findings mentioned two basic claims to the papers submitted by Nasha Viasna, which in their opinion deny registration to the NGO. These are incorrect data on the founders of the organization and the legal inaccuracy in a guarantee letter.
The incorrect data on the founders featured several inaccuracies in their occupation – ‘public company’ instead of ‘public limited company’, ‘head of hobby group’ instead of ‘head of hobby circle’ etc. The prosecutor also claimed that one of the co-founders of Nasha Viasna did not allow a representative of the authorities to inspect the premises. In reality, the owner asked to produce a warrant. Let us assume, these two groups of facts did happen and, under the Law on Public Associations, this is a good reason for the refusal.
However, we should not forget that the current case has nothing to do with the accuracy of the submitted papers, but with the fundamental human rights, right to association in particular. The right can be restricted by a law. But a legal reason is not sufficient for restricting it. Under the Belarusian Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Belarus, restrictions should not only be provided by law, but pursue a lawful aim.
As for the reasons, neither the prosecutor nor the judge mentioned why the decision by the Ministry of Justice met with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And, in particular, why the refusal was an adequate measure towards Nasha Viasna’s founders, considering the flaws mentioned. Neither did they explain why the flaws do not allow the human rights activists to exercise their right to freedom of association. Due to poor reasoning pertaining to the fundamental human rights, the rights guaranteed by the Constitution and the Covenant, the verdict by the Supreme Court is defective.