CoE Commissioner for Human Rights: “Belarus has a lot of challenges ahead in order to become a fully democratic country”
Nils Muižnieks, Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, has told about his perception of the human rights situation in Belarus and the prospects of cooperation between Belarus and the Council of Europe in an interview with Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe Belarus service.
Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, but we can see certain improvement in relations between the EU and Belarus. Almost all of the sanctions have been suspended, some dialogue on human rights has been started. Do you see the role of your office and possibly even of the Council of Europe in this process in the near future?
Nils Muižnieks: I hope so. I hope that Belarus will develop in this direction and will strengthen its ties with the Council of Europe. Until now, my role was to draw attention to the situation of human rights defenders, and I tried to do it in different contexts.
I tried to invite human rights activists from Belarus to the events that I organized: round tables with human rights activists from other countries of the Council of Europe, so that they escaped from the isolation in which they found themselves in Belarus. Members of my team also participated in an event in Minsk to discuss the possibility of creating the office of the ombudsman. Therefore, I feel that there is a desire on the part of representatives of the Belarusian authorities to cooperate more with the Council of Europe... And it is clear that human rights defenders, journalists and others want to stay in contact with their colleagues in other European countries. If my office can contribute to this, then I'm happy to do it, but it is clear that there are serious problems in the field of human rights in Belarus, which should be addressed: a very restrictive legislation against NGOs, pressure on the media, the death penalty – lots and lots of challenges ahead of Belarus on the way to become a fully democratic country in which human rights are respected.
Belarus is the only European country that is not member of the Council of Europe and is not represented in its Parliamentary Assembly. The Belarusian parliament has lost the PACE special guest status, which it possessed from September 1992 to January 1997, after a referendum in 1996, which gave greater powers to President Lukashenka. The Council of Europe said that the changes to the Constitution, as well as the new elections to Parliament, were undemocratic. A dialogue was resumed in 2009, when PACE decided to change the policy of isolation, which, in their opinion, did not bear fruit. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty is the basic condition for the restoration of the special guest status for Belarus.