FIDH expert comments on Viasna’s case (continued)
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.
This is not the first case when the founders of the NGO face abuse of international human rights standards, the sad story dating back to Viasna’s closing down in 2003. The UN Human Rights Committee considered the closure as a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and, in its conclusions, called upon the Belarusian authorities to grant registration to the NGO…
- The thing is that the Supreme Court did have an opportunity to implement the Committee’s resolution, but failed to do so. At the same time, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was even more abrupt in its treatment of the issue: in its reply to an appeal by Nasha Viasna’s founders, it mentioned that the Committee’s recommendations are only advisory in nature.
Indeed, the Optional Protocol of the Covenant does not mention the binding nature of the Committee’s resolutions. However, it should be observed that the Covenant guarantees the most fundamental and inherent rights. In case the Committee discovers a violation and resolves that adequate measure should be taken, the state has no choice: to correct the violation, it should implement the measures stated by the Committee. It is their implementation only that can guarantee the rights enshrined in the Covenant.
That is why, in this case in the context of the international law one can say that the Belarusian authorities once again ignored a compulsory international instrument, namely the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Do you think the human rights activists had any chance to win the case against the Supreme Court?
- I would say that the claimant’s defence was based on appealing the Ministry of Justice’s arguments pertaining to the founders’ list and the guarantee letter, as well as the evidence indicating that the other arguments by the Ministry were groundless. So, the Constitutional and international legal aspects of the lawsuit were to a certain degree subsidiary. In this situation, one can say that the human rights activists were playing on the Ministry’s part of the field. And, naturally, had no chances to win. Boxers have a saying: ‘If you are boxing at your part of the ring, you may well win on points, in case you are fighting at the opponent’s part, you must win by knockout.’ In other words, one cannot win on points against the Ministry of Justice with the existing judiciary system. The thing is that one cannot win by knockout, either: even if the Ministry of Justice remains down, the judge would not raise the winner’s hand. Because the judge is in a sense the Ministry of Justice, as well.
Is there a way out of the vicious circle?
- It is a large-scale judiciary reform only that can alter the present state of affairs. It would demand, in particular, a wide public consideration, which in its turn requires availability of independent media and so on. In general, any issue of today’s Belarus, however technical it may seem, would eventually crash against the drawbacks of the Belarusian democracy, both in the judiciary and the existing state system, in general.
At the same time, the Belarusian civil community is among the poorest in the ex-Soviet territory, because, despite all the problems I witness at Russian and trans-Caucasian NGOs, they are legally active there. A major national NGO cannot exist illegally. E.g. despite the complicated status-changing procedures, tax claims and financial troubles, dozens human rights NGOs legally function in Russia. Even Azerbaijan, where the regime keep inventing new restrictions for NGO activities, the organizations at least are able to exist and work legally, which is not the case in Belarus.
If one could compare the situation with Belarusian NGOs with something, this could be only the Central Asia as a worse example. However, in my opinion, Belarus would rather like being compared with Russia, Lithuania or Germany, than with Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. And, as far the state control over the civil community is concerned, Belarus should not be compared with the former.