Human rights activists: Belarus' participation in the UPR gives hope for changes
Universal Periodic Review is one of the few UN mechanisms recognized by the Belarusian authorities. The UPR provides for cooperation between the authorities and civil society. The process of this interaction is still far from perfect, but human rights activists seek to use the platform of the UPR to promote the necessary changes.
This was discussed on April 15 at the press conference of representatives of human rights organizations - Human Rights Center "Viasna", the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Belarusian Association of Journalists.
Time will show what effect the efforts of Belarusian NGOs in this respect will have. May 4, Belarusian State will report to the Working Group of the UPR, which consists of 47 members of the Human Rights Council. To do this, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry has prepared a national report submitted in March. 11 Belarusian NGOs, on their part, prepared a comprehensive alternative report and presented it to the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in September 2014, as well as a number of topical reports: Center for Legal Transformation Lawtrend prepared a report on freedom of association in cooperation with the Assembly of NGOs; Office of rights of persons with disabilities and human rights project "GayBelarus" prepared a report on discrimination; Belarusian documentation center prepared a report on the issue of enforced disappearances.
Following this, Belarusian civil society elaborated recommendations for the Belarusian Government within the framework of the UPR. These recommendations were presented at the preliminary session in Geneva, held on 8 - 10 April at the initiative of the international organization UPR-Info. Human rights activists spoke to representatives from 41 national delegations to the Human Rights Council, and also managed to arrange private meetijngs with some of the delegations with the aim of promoting their recommendations. In less than a month it will become known which of these recommendations will be used by the national delegations during the procedure of the UPR for Belarus. The session will be attended by representatives of "Viasna", Lawtrend and the Assembly of NGOs.
In the meantime, participants of the press conference told about the nature and peculiarities of their work that preceded the 2nd round of the Universal Periodic Review for Belarus.
Chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak said that after the 1st round of the UPR for Belarus (2010), human rights organizations had made an interim report on the implementation of the recommendations received by the authorities, which indicated that most important recommendations, which could contribute to the advancement of human rights man had not been met.
In his speech the head of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee also noted that the importance of the UPR is that the state should pass it in collaboration with civil society at its different stages - from the preparation of the report to the implementation of the recommendations. However, according to the human rights activist, the process of interaction "is very far from perfect in present-day Belarus”.
"During the 1st cycle of the UPR, experts from non-governmental organizations (including the member of "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich) were invited for a meeting with the Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Natallia Piatkevich. However, at that time there was no procedure for a formalized participation of civil society in the discussion of the progress of the preparation of the materials for the report. This time, during 2014 there were several conferences, at which state agencies and representatives of NGOs discussed the strategies of participation in the UPR. There was presented a draft national report. However, all this was done without participation of representatives of unregistered NGOs, who weren't invited. There was also little time and procedural opportunities to discuss the recommendations on their merits,” stated Aleh Hulak.
In this regard, he noted that the process of interaction between the state agencies and civil society should be more inclusive and should involve all organizations which are involved in the procedure of the UPR, the more that they have to operate in the absence of the state registration not on their own will, but due to the reluctance of the appropriate state agencies to issue such a registration to them.
Presenting the recommendations of Belarusian NGOs to the Government of Belarus, Deputy Head of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovich said that they covered a wider range of problems than the coalition alternative report, and reflected the view of the country's human rights community on the human rights issues in Belarus in various spheres. The list comprises 48 recommendations, divided into blocks: "Technical assistance and cooperation with treaty bodies and special mechanisms of the United Nations", "Death penalty", "Enforced disappearance", "Torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment", "Arbitrary detention" "Civil society participation in the National Action Plan", "The justice system and national human rights mechanisms", "Freedom of expression, information and freedom of the press", "Freedom of thought, conscience and religion", "Freedom of assembly and association", "Discrimination against people with disabilities","Forced labor and labor rights".
As statd by Mr. Stefanovich, human rights activists were working withi this document during the pre-session in Geneva. April 9 there were preliminary hearings on Belarus, which, according to human rights activists, sparked interest in a sufficient amount of national delegations. "Before us there was the United States, which attracted a record number of government delegations - 53. And the hearing on Belarus was attended by 41 delegations, which I think is really much by the standards of the United Nations. On our side, there were four speakers – me as a representative of "Viasna", representatives of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, "GayBelarus" and Belarusian Human Rights House of Barys Zvoskau. We have circulated these recommendations among the delegations present."
During the passage of the UPR, there will also be considered recommendations to Belarus from international organizations such as the OSCE ODIHR and various mechanisms of the United Nations.
The representative of "Viasna" stressed that the importance of UPR lied in the fact that it was one of the few mechanisms of the United Nations recognized by the Belarusian authorities. "As you know, the government selectively cooperate with UN mechanisms: they do not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, not implement the decisions of the Committee on Human Rights. Belarus does not like to admit it, especially with regard to itself. Universal Periodic Review is passed by absolutely all State Parties to the United Nations, so Belarus does interact. No doubt, it is very important for us to use this opportunity for promoting the interests of Belarusian human rights organizations. That's why we take an active part in this procedure.”
This thought was continued by an expert of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Aleh Aheyeu, who spoke about the interests of BAJ during its participcation in the UPR. “We are trying to use the UPR as a platform to promote their proposals for changes to the law on the media". He noted that four of the five proposed BAJ recommendations [see paragraphs 29 - 33] were aimed at changing the law enforcement practices relating to abuse during the accreditation of journalists, making them liable for the cooperation with foreign media, arbitrary detention, including during the coverage of mass activities and abuse of legislation on combating extremism. According to experts, the UPR allows us to hope that some changes can take place.