Presidential hopefuls speak on human rights issues
The ‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’ campaign activists have interviewed a number of Presidential hopefuls, inquiring about their views on human rights protection in Belarus and the possibility of introducing the post of ombudsman, in case they are elected President.
Yaraslau Ramanchuk: ‘We have to match the CE, OSCE and other European structures’
Deputy chair of the United Civic Party Yaraslau Ramanchuk views human rights protection through the lens of a nation-wide referendum to be held provided he wins office: ‘As soon as I become President, I will immediately arrange a referendum on amending the Constitution, which is expected to actually secure division of powers. This will become the basis for implementing reforms in many spheres of activities – politics, economy etc.’
However, Mr. Ramanchuk says these changes are not separated from human rights protection, but in fact are based on it: ‘What reforms can there be without a guaranteed right to freedom of speech or freedom of peaceful assembly, or the right to freedom of conscience? Let alone the sacred right of property. The human rights and freedoms in these reforms are perceived as a matter of course. This is going to be possible, when we adjust our Constitution to the current standards of key European structures: the Council of Europe, the OSCE and so on.’
Yaraslau Ramanchuk believes that the institution of ombudsman itself, or a human rights commissioner, should be formed by the Parliament, as it is done in the overwhelming majority of European countries: ‘In doing this, we will have to use the experience of Central and Eastern European countries in what concerns the right choice of ombudsperson, what money this institution should exist on etc. I suppose we are going to benefit from this.’
Mikalai Statkevich: ‘Even a decorative Ombudsman - it's not bad’
The leader of the organizing committee of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (People's Hramada) Mikalai Statkevich supports the introduction in our country of the institution of commissioner for human rights (Ombudsman): ‘I am not against the fact that someone will receive money for protecting human rights in Belarus. Theoretically, the commissioner for human rights should be appointed by a democratically elected parliament, rather than by an authoritarian head of state. However, even if such an institution suddenly emerges at the pleasure of the latter, then it may also bring certain advantages. It is clear that in this case our ombudsman would most likely have decorative functions. But he will still have to respond to the most egregious human rights violations. And this will surely cool some of our security forces or government officials who still view the oppositionists as enemies of the people.’ The human rights protection itself is considered by the possible candidate as a very important and serious matter.
Vital Rymasheuski: ‘The human person is the highest value’
One of the leaders of the unregistered Belarusian Christian Democracy Party Vital Rymasheuski admitted that he ‘certainly supports the introduction of an authorized Ombudsman in Belarus.’ According to the young politician, such a post should be a sort of a public committee, which by its independence will be as close as possible to the judicial system and will neither depend on the executive nor the legislative system.
In general, Mr. Rymasheuski is convinced that the protection of human rights in our country ‘is a primary question’: ‘The human person is the highest value on the Earth and therefore requires close attention and protection. At the time, such protection cannot be provided by the State. Therefore, the first matter which we address when we come to power is the protection of the rights of every person.’
Yury Hlushakou: ‘The main thing is to implement the claimed’
Vice-chair of the Party of Greens Yury Hlushakou believes that the ombudsman should be completely independent: ‘I think we need a national set of ombudsmen. And they must be elected not only at the national but at the regional levels, as well, e.g. as a complement to parliamentary elections. Such a body will be able to solve very serious problems, which are now facing the country.’
Mr. Hlushakou categorically excludes the merest possibility of appointment of the commissioner for human rights by the executive power: ‘I do advocate the abolition of the presidency in Belarus, and I think that we need to protect the rights of the Belarusians in diverse sectors - the right to work, the right to health, the right to rest and leisure etc. Many of the presidential candidates have a lot of liberal positions, paying no attention to these rights, which is unacceptable in the current situation prevailing in Belarus.’
Yury Hlushakou himself is still a member of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, and takes quite an active part in the human rights organization’s activities. He began his political activities in the Union for the Protection of Human Rights, which existed in the 1990s in Homel: ‘We were then romantic, and believed that people, who promised ‘the bright future’, will keep their word. But the opposite happened. The people received everything but the rights.’
Meanwhile, the election program of Hlushakou (probably, the only of all the candidates for the presidency) clearly states his position on the introduction of an ombudsman in Belarus in case of his coming to power.
However, he views it as follows: ‘I understand that the programs can promise anything. The main thing is to implement the claimed. To me, the protection of human rights is one of the main priorities in my political activities.’
Dzmitry Us: ‘First, electoral reform, and then protection of human rights’
Businessman Dzmitry Us appeared in politics after running for deputies of local councils this year. It was then that he, in his words, experienced what constitutes human rights in our country. During his nomination, 5,000 people signed for his candidacy, and in the final minutes of voting it turned out that Dzmitry Us received two times less votes. It was then when Mr. Us decided to fight for fair elections. Therefore, he first of all relates the protection of human rights to the reform of the electoral system of the country: ‘Speaking of human rights does not make sense, unless the country reforms the electoral system, while deputies are appointed by executive committees or anyone else. In the election, it is the voters who should be the main actors, and not someone else. Once we reform the electoral system, we can then begin talking about improvement of human rights protection system. First you need to ensure that everyone can exercise his right to choose his deputy or the president.’
Ales Mikhalevich: ‘We must protect the rights of the disabled and stray pets’
Ales Mikhalevich, manager of a translations and legal service agency supports the introduction in our country the institution of Ombudsman: ‘Of course, I support the emergence of such an institution in Belarus. The Constitution must specify the order of existence and operation of such a structure.’
Ales Mikhalevich says that human rights are directly mentioned in the last of the three main points of his election program, entitled ‘Active Society’: ‘Without the protection of human rights a person cannot be truly active. It has to do with the protection from the contract system, and the protection of the rights of workers, in general.’
Ales Mikhalevich’s priorities after his coming power are as follows: ‘For me, it is more important to perform economic reforms - people should not be disappointed with the new government. However, everything is important for me. The protection of human rights, too. Meanwhile, I view the protection of rights as the protection of the rights of the disabled and stray pets. That's when we will become a civilized country.’
Viktar Tsiareshchanka: ‘We cannot live without the ombudsman’
Chair of the Board of the Association of Small and Medium Business Viktar Tsiareshchanka says that if he receives a certificate of a presidential candidate, his election program will surely have a section on human rights: ‘First and foremost, of course, labour issues, protection of workers. We especially need to take care of low-income people - the elderly and children.’
Viktar Tsiareshchanka also speaks in favour of the introduction of an ombudsman: ‘We cannot avoid this. This is a requirement of the international law. If we want to be in normal relations with other states, our neighbors, not some third countries, then we must accept the introduction of such an institution. Even if we are not going to do that now, then in a year or two we will need it sharply. Migration occurs, a lot of people of different nationalities and aspirations go through the country. Again, we should take into account the fact that we are in a common economic space with Russia.’
Viktar Tsiareshchanka views the order of introducing the institution of the commissioner (ombudsman) for human rights as follows: ‘On behalf of the president or the government there should be an initiative for the parliament to form the institution. In general, I perceive human rights in the broad sense of the word.’
As for the current head of state and candidate for the presidency Aliaksandr Lukashenka, his election platform in 2001 promised to introduce the post of commissioner for human rights. There have been two presidential terms since that time, and this provision of Lukashenka’s program has yet remained unfulfilled.
The President has repeatedly and publicly expressed his vision of human rights. A year ago, during a meeting with Lithuanian journalists, he said: ‘You, of course, understand human rights in your own way. And I understand them classically. First of all: demos - the people, kratos – the power. This says it all... You do not recognize our referendum? Then how can the government talk with people, if you deny such a democratic approach as the referendum and solving issues in the referendum? This is how we solve them. Not in the parliament, out of public view... Human rights are, above all, the right to life, right to decent work, earnings, education, health care, the right to receive information.’
‘Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections’