Miklós Haraszti: “Human rights situation inside Belarus showed no signs of improvement” (video)
The Human Rights Council held yesterday an interactive dialogue with Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus.
In his introductory remarks, Mr. Haraszti said the human rights situation inside Belarus showed no signs of improvement as the Government had not addressed any of the entrenched and systemic violations, nor had it created an environment for free and fair elections. Particularly endangered were the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the rights to just and favourable conditions for work, and the freedom to choose one’s workplace.
“Belarus had made welcome efforts to ease the regional tensions through mediation. The Riga Eastern Partnership Summit had welcomed promising signs in European Union-Belarus relations, and the country had promised to consider a resumption of the European Union-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue. At the same time, the Government’s continued refusal to recognize the Human Rights Council’s country mandate was a substantial setback in its engagement with the international community. The human rights situation inside the country showed no signs of improvement during the reporting period. A long list of basic human rights was systematically denied to citizens through an intentional combination of restrictive laws and abusive practices. The Government had not addressed any of the entrenched and systemic violations, nor had it created an environment for free and fair elections. Particularly endangered were the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, the rights to just and favourable conditions for work, and the freedom to choose one’s workplace. The situation was all the more disturbing in light of the upcoming presidential election in the autumn of 2015.
Compared to previous years, some positive developments had taken place, such as fewer persons incarcerated for long prison terms in retaliation for their political activities, and the release of the leader of a major human rights organization. Nevertheless, the Special Rapporteur urged the Belarus authorities not only to release, but also to fully rehabilitate all political opponents who were imprisoned. Another entrenched practice that was continued and even increased was the arbitrary short-term detention of activists, journalists and human rights defenders. Despite some steps to simplify the legal system, the independence of the judiciary remained undermined by the President’s power to appoint and remove all judges and prosecutors at any time. Fair trials were denied by hearings held in closed sessions, and court rulings that relied heavily on law enforcement testimonies, while defence witnesses were ignored.
The Law on Mass Media had taken down the last vestiges of free expression. The authorities blocked independent web sites, and the use of the Internet was increasingly interpreted as “unauthorized public event” and subject to sanctions. Discrimination continued in various fields, from the treatment of sexual minorities to labour rights. In a country where 70 to 80 per cent of workplaces were in State owned sectors, the precarious employment conditions had worsened since last year. Short-term contracts were the rule rather than the exception. A recent decree introduced taxes on all employable citizens who were not employed, and punitive measures against those who did not work. The Special Rapporteur urged Belarus to accept all recommendations made during the Universal Periodic Review and to address equally all rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural, in line with the principle of interdependence and indivisibility of all human rights.”
Speaking as the concerned country, Belarus said it was building its democratic society by itself and it differed in opinion from the European Union in how it should go about it. Belarus rejected any project that was against its national interest and in particular against its national security interests. The mandate on Belarus should be abolished and should not be renewed. It was a political project aimed at destabilizing Belarus and it was a failure.
In the interactive dialogue, speakers expressed concerns about the continued deterioration of the situation in Belarus, including the systematic repression of journalists, human rights defenders and political opponents, media censorship, non-free and unfair elections and the use of the death penalty. Speakers expressed disappointment that the authorities of Belarus continued to refuse to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. Other speakers believed the situation in Belarus did not warrant such a mandate and criticized the selectivity and politicization of the Human Rights Council.
Speaking were the European Union, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of like-minded States, Syria, Albania, Greece, Ireland, Russian Federation, Czech Republic, France, United States, Tajikistan, Lao People’s democratic Republic, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Poland, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Canada, Norway, United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Switzerland, Latvia, Austria, Kirghizstan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Viet Nam, Nicaragua, Slovakia, China, Iran, Myanmar, Turkmenistan, Belgium and Australia.
European Union expressed concern at the deteriorating situation in Belarus exemplified by repeated violations of freedom of assembly, crackdown on peaceful protests, harassment of human rights defenders and activists, and restrictions on Internet freedom. The European Union strongly condemned the continued application of the death penalty in Belarus and asked the Special Rapporteur which aspects of the process in the lead up to elections should be prioritized and monitored.
Also speaking were the following non-governmental organizations: International Federation of Human Rights Leagues, Human Rights House Foundation, International Fellowship of Reconciliation, Human Rights Watch, United Nations Watch and World Association for Citizen Participation Civicus.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Haraszti stated that for two decades, Belarus had had no opposition in Parliament, which showed the real face of the Belarusian parliamentary system. Belarus was the only country in Europe where there were no privately owned broadcasters. Pluralism could at least be established in the existing State channels. Unregistered civil society organizations could be registered, which would be an immediate improvement. Mr. Haraszti stressed that Belarus was not fully cooperating with international human rights mechanisms. Acting on treaty body recommendations would be another real and immediate improvement. Belarus was not responding to repeated requests by mandate holders. Belarus had not accepted recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review in the areas which were most of concern. Many of those recommendations had had to be repeated again in 2015. When it came to the death penalty, steps were manifold and could be taken by Parliament. A practical moratorium on executions could be the first step.
See full footage at the UN website.