International human rights activists call on OSCE to condemn persecution of colleagues in Belarus
On October 23, Warsaw hosted an event on the challenges and threats faced by human rights defenders in the OSCE region. The meeting was held within the framework of the OSCE Human Dimension Conference.
What are the main causes of the challenges faced by human rights defenders in the OSCE region, especially with regard to freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association? How can we overcome these challenges, and what effective remedies can human rights defenders use? These issues were discussed by the participants of the meeting – representatives of official delegations, civil society and international organizations.
Representatives of two international human rights organizations, Human Rights House Foundation and Freedom House, spoke about Belarusian human rights defenders.
The HRH representative called on the OSCE to publicly condemn threats against human rights defenders, open criminal and other forms of persecution against them. “We are witnessing a trend towards an increase in the number of cases of attacks on human rights defenders, in particular in regard to the rights to freedom of assembly and association. Many of our partners from Azerbaijan, Belarus and Russia are faced with obstacles that were erected as a result of the introduction of restrictive legislation,” said Ane Tusvik Bonde, HRH regional manager. “The new presidential elections will be held in Belarus on October 11. Despite the fact that political prisoners were released this fall, restrictive legislation, which violates the right to freedom of assembly and association, continues to operate.” She urged all OSCE participating states to support the international monitoring mechanisms, as well as legislative changes to provide for the extension of the activities of civil society, so that its representatives could work freely and express their views.
According to a Freedom House representative, one should not consider the recent release of the six political prisoners as a fundamental change in the attitude of the Belarusian authorities to the rights of its citizens, unless more decisive steps are taken. “There is still a restriction of the rights of former political prisoners, the country still severely limits civil rights, persecutes civil society activists and independent journalists,” said the speaker and urged the OSCE participating states to hold Belarusian accountable for failing to meet the commitments under the Helsinki Final Act. “Freedom House calls on the government of Belarus, as a State Party to the Helsinki Accords, to act in good faith and to undertake a comprehensive reform and to ensure respect for human rights in the country,” said she.
Freedom House called on the authorities of Belarus to: allow civil society activists to exercise basic human rights without fear of reprisals, irrespective of whether their organizations are registered or not; simplify the procedure for registering NGOs; lift the restrictions on the possibility of obtaining financial assistance to NGOs; put an end to the harassment of journalists covering social and political issues, and abolish mandatory accreditation for reporters working with foreign media.