Ales Bialiatski: The authorities are deepening political and social crisis of the people of Belarus
Belarus has ignored most of the recommendations made during the Universal
Periodic Review procedure (UPR), as well as those by the UN Human Rights
Council. It can be seen from the Views and responses of the
Republic of Belarus on the Conclusions adopted for further consideration by the
competent authorities in the UPR on May 15, 2010. The
content and the importance of these recommendations to the country’s civil
society will be discussed with the chair of the Human Rights Centre
"Viasna" Ales Bialiatski.
- Mr. Ales, to what extent the answers of the Belarusian authorities to the recommendations of the universal periodic review show the desire of the authorities to initiate a dialogue with the European community to improve the situation of human rights?
- Having had a close view on the answers, I have unfortunately come to the conclusion that this is nothing but an opinion of the Belarusian side, since there are no real answers, no real desire to change something on the basis of the very serious recommendations that were made by national delegations from different countries. The answers are vague and look like formal letters, despite the seriousness of the issues.
It is obvious that the Belarusian authorities did not draw any conclusions from the harsh criticism of the international community on the total violation of civil and political freedoms in Belarus, neither were they able to be honest in taking these proposals, avoiding the issue instead.
Moreover, it seems to me that the document submitted by the Belarusian government, despite the fact that it was written in a restrained diplomatic language, exposes the cynical nature of the responses, since almost none of the question posed by the national delegations of many countries to the Belarusian government received a substantive reply.
Let us take recommendation #98.4 on torture and use of violence. In their reply, the authorities argue that all is well at the legislative level, since there are a lot of tools to protect persons from torture, violence and other degrading punishment. Therefore, they considered this question inadmissible. They claim that in Belarus there is no torture and violence, and no additional measures to counter them in places of detention. But the facts speak to the contrary. And this is recorded in the Alternative report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council by Belarusian human rights defenders. Moreover, the definition of torture in the Belarusian legislation has not yet been determined.
The following recommendation addresses the media. Accusations of the Belarusian government restrictions affect the theme of distribution and receipt of information, difficulties in registration of new periodicals, harassment of journalists.
Meanwhile, the totally bureaucratic response lists a number of public and private media, and reports that there are no restrictions on the dissemination of information. This, they say, indicates a favorable environment for the media and freedom of speech in Belarus.
Those who know the actual state of the freedom of speech are aware of numerous instances of non-registration of new periodicals, unequal conditions for the existence of public and private media, endless financial checks and warnings to independent media issued by the Ministry of Justice, the harassment and threats toward independent journalists. Such a response by the authorities can be considered but a blatant lie and a mockery of reality.
The same applies to freedom of association. The Belarusian authorities have fully rejected the recommendations of the UPA. Meanwhile, the right to create new public organizations is limited, as well as the activities of those previously founded. They once again give the number of registered public organizations and political parties and state that limits exist only for those public organizations, engaged in war propaganda, extremist activities or inciting social, religious or racial hatred. But this is so clearly secured by the Constitution.
And what can they say then about hundreds and hundreds of unregistered civic initiatives, including human rights groups For example, the Human Rights Centre "Viasna" have thrice knocked at the door of the Ministry of Justice, receiving one refusal after the other. And how many attempts did "Brest Spring", the "Young Front" and other organizations and parties make? I have to note the excessive complexity of the laws on the activities of public associations and political parties, which require special legal knowledge both at the registration stage and during the activities of non-governmental organizations. The laws of many other countries on this matter have been greatly simplified, which allow NGOs to operate effectively in favor of civil society.
The same situation is with the issue of the death penalty, which Belarus found unacceptable, too. The authorities refer to the results of the referendum which was held in support of the death penalty. Nevertheless, no actions have yet been made to change the situation, which severely limits Belarus in its adherence to the international community, including membership in the Council of Europe.
The issue of enforced disappearance of citizens was also considered unacceptable, although they talked about specific missing politicians and a journalist in 1999-2000. The reply said that in Belarus there is no evidence that state agencies and officials were related to such criminal activities. However, the report of a prominent politician Christos Pourgourides, and numerous appeals of the Belarusian human rights defenders provided a list of names and persons who actually might have been involved in it, which were not properly treated by the prosecuting authorities. They chose to pretend that this problem does not exist in Belarus.
The unacceptable recommendations include allegations of prosecutions of citizens on political grounds. The authorities provide dogmatic responds that such facts are not confirmed. But the practice of the last sixteen years shows quite the opposite. This is another lie! Thousands of civil society activists, among them such well-known politicians such as Alexander Kozulin, Pavel Seveiarynets, Mikalai Statkevich, Andrei Klimov, Mikhail Chyhir, Uladzimir Kudzinau were subject to criminal and civil liability for their political activities, many of them were recognized prisoners of conscience by the international human rights organization "Amnesty International". The practice of persecution of political opponents by the Belarusian authorities, unfortunately, continues.
- Has Belarus accepted or implemented any of the reccomendations?
- It should be noted that all the answers to the 38 recommendations can be divided into several categories: acceptable, unacceptable, already implemented, and those under implementation. So even here there are many questions. For example, the Belarusian authorities claim that they have implemented recommendations on national minorities, that there is no discrimination of the citizens or their organizations, and the state has provided financial assistance for their development. It is again a lie. What can they then say about the huge row with representatives of the Polish minority earlier this year? Polish periodicals have been repeatedly seized, many activists have been prosecuted under civil procedures, subject to financial checks and interrogated by the KGB.
The authorities also claim that the society enjoys equality of rights between men and women. But as we can see from the official statistics, women are not equally paid for their professional activities and the socio-political life. The problem of hidden discrimination, hidden gender inequalities that exists in many countries, is also a problem of ours. And here we must not trumpet triumphantly, but to engage in correcting the situation constantly, year after year. However, Belarus suddenly solved the problem "on paper" in its response to the recommendations of the UPA.
One more thing. Quite relevant is the situation with the presidential election. The recommendations stated that the legislation on elections and electoral procedures themselves are not democratic, transparent and free. These statements are not hollow: every Belarus’ election over the past 10 years was conducted with serious violations and were not recognized by the international community. However, the authorities are convinced that there is no need to reform electoral laws in Belarus. The authorities argue that such changes have occurred, and they provided for a greater democratization. In fact, the Belarusian human rights organizations that monitored the local council elections this spring, came to the inverse conclusion: the changes in the electoral legislation of January 2010, changed little, they were cosmetic in nature and had almost no effect on the improvement of transparency and the democratic nature of elections.
Summing up the responses of the Belarusian side, I should note that 18 recommendations proposed for consideration to the Belarusian authorities were fully recognized by them as unacceptable, 12 recommendations were allegedly implemented, one is in progress and 3 have been taken for implementation. The analysis shows that, by and large, the authorities have ignored the comments of the international community and we can expect no changes in the practice of expanding freedoms and democratic principles so far.
Such responses can in no way meet the expectations of Belarusian human rights defenders. The fact that human rights problems in Belarus have reached such huge dimensions and Belarus today is actually a third-rate country is the fault of the Belarusian authorities. Unfortunately, the Belarusian authorities do not contribute to improving the situation, but on the contrary, are deepening the social, political and social crisis of the Belarusian people.