UN Human Rights Committee is no authority for Vitsebsk court
On May 17 the Chyhunachny District Court of Vitsebsk completed hearing the lawsuit brought by Mrs. Antanina Pivanos to demand compensation for confiscated embroidery with a prayer. On March 25, 2008 she gave it to the oppositionist Barys Khamaida, which was regarded as an unauthorized street event by the police and then by the court.
The incident took place on Freedom Day outside the so-called Blue House, where Khamaida has been selling independent press. Mrs. Antanina Pivanos decided to give him a gift, an embroidered cloth with the words of “Our Father.” The red threads on white fabric were regarded as a poster of opposition nature by the police. As a result, Antanina Pivanos was punished by a fine in the amount of two basic units (200,000 rubles) for allegedly participating in an unsanctioned picket. The embroidery was seized.
Appeals against this decision did not succeed in Vitsebsk Regional Court and later in the Supreme Court. Over four years have passed since After Antanina Pivanos submitted her complaint to the UN Human Rights Committee, and it eventually received a positive decision. According to the Committee, the Belarusian authorities violated Mrs. Pivanos’ rights under Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. According to Par. 2 of this article, the citizens of the state-parties to the Covenant, among them Belarus, have the right to freely express their thoughts. It is this right of a resident of Vitsebsk that was illegally violated.
According to the decision of the Committee, the Belarusian authorities were obliged to pay compensation. Subsequently, Mrs. Pivanos sued the Ministry of Finance of Belarus and demanded 7 mln rubles in damages: the handmade embroidery was estimated at 5 mln, another 2 million was in non-pecuniary damages and legal costs.
However, representatives of law enforcement agencies did not appear in court. The representative of the defendant did not recognize the claim on the grounds that the decision on the administrative case had not been canceled – according to the Belarusian legislation, the damage may be compensated only in this case.
Judge Valiantsina Kavaliova dismissed Mrs. Pivanos’ claim, calling it “unjustified.” As for the Human Rights Committee’s decision, she said it was “nonbinding” in nature.
“Belarus recognized its commitment to the UN Human Rights Committee and confirmed its agreement to comply. Today we must decide what is more important to our country: our officials’ duties, or our country’s obligations. The obligations are to be scared, inviolable and not distorted by any officials. Indeed, if they are not, it turns out that the state waives all of its obligations... Compensation is a requirement of justice,’ says Mikhail Zamalin, Antanina Pivanos’ lawyer.
Mrs. Pivonos is now going to send an appeal to the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Court to tell the facts of the case of the “seditious” embroidery “Our Father...”