European Bank for Reconstruction and Development to consider release and rehabilitation of political prisoners in its activities in Belarus
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) published on 12 March a new strategy for the Republic of Belarus designed for the next three years. It is noteworthy that the development of the concept paper was contributed to by representatives of Belarusian civil society.
The strategy, among other things, states that “in light of recent political and economic developments, while continuing its policy of constructive engagement to promote reform, the Bank will further calibrate its engagement in Belarus to limit its involvement with state-owned enterprises in the areas of trade finance, energy efficiency credit lines and private equity funds.”
During the Strategy period, the Bank will monitor the following benchmarks:
In the political sphere:
• Progress toward meaningful political accountability, including the strengthening of checks and balances in the political system, removal of impediments to NGO and opposition parties’ active engagement in political life and even-handed application of the rule of law.
• Progress in increasing media freedom and freedom of expression.
• Progress in enforcing the human and civil rights protections guaranteed in the Constitution, including freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention, and the release and rehabilitation of those recognised by the EU and other members of the international community as political prisoners.
Among Belarusian NGOs, whose opinion has been taken into account in the strategy, are the Human Rights Center "Viasna", the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Legal Transformation Center, the Leo Sapieha Foundation, the Belarusian Organization of Working Women, and other known associations and institutions (about three dozen). The detailed description of the consultation process, as well as an in-depth analysis of the proposals by Belarusian NGOs, accompanied with EBRB’s explanations on the extent to which certain recommendations were taken into account, can be found in the final document, which summarizes the consultation process.
In drawing up the strategy the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development also took into account the position of authoritative international organizations – the Open Society Foundation, Human Rights Watch, Index on Censorship and others. In particular, the recommendations of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) stress as the main characteristics of the Belarusian regime, which should be subject to attention, the documented facts of cruel and intense pressure on the activists of the Belarusian democratic community on December 19, 2010, the continuous harassment of the public and the media, harassment, intimidation, detention, and prosecution of human rights defenders and opposition activists. FIDH stresses that Belarusian civil society as a whole is faced with constant pressure and harassment while the economic and social rights of Belarusian citizens are increasingly being violated, and the workers are denied their basic labor rights. As an example, FIDH cites the persecution of the leader of the Human Rights Centre "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski, whose imprisonment since August 4, 2010 is recognized as arbitrary detention by the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Assessing benchmarks developed by the EBRD, FIDH stresses the need to address specific priority criteria. In the case of Belarus, FIDH emphasizes the need to take into account such criteria as, among other things, putting an end to the persecution of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society activists, as well as the abolition of Article 193-1 of the Criminal Code of Belarus, which provides for criminal penalties for activities on behalf of an unregistered organization, establishing a de facto criminal liability for members of hundreds of associations that have lost registration. FIDH considers it necessary to ensure that Belarus created an environment that would allow NGOs to register without any obstacles.