UN Human Rights Committee rules in favor of Viciebsk activist
The UN Human Rights Committee has published a decision in the case of Taras Surhan, resident of Viciebsk, whose rights under Part 2 of Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights were violated by the Belarusian government.
Part 2 of Article 19 of the Covenant says that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”
The events related to the complaint took place six and a half years ago. On July 16, 2009, the day of solidarity with the victims of repression, he tried to attach a white-red-white flag to the parapet of a bridge in central Viciebsk. He was then detained by police officers and taken to the police station, where he faced administrative charges, and the flag was seized.
A few days later the activist stood trial. He was accused of participating in an unsanctioned picket, and in accordance with Part 1 of Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, he was fined 175,000 rubles (43 Euros). Taras Surhan’s attempts to appeal against the court decision were unsuccessful: the Viciebsk Regional Court and the Supreme Court confirmed the ruling by the Čyhunačny District Court.
In his communication to the HRC, Taras Surhan said by displaying a national flag, which is not prohibited in the country, he expressed his political views, while the right to publicly express one’s opinion is guaranteed by Article 33 of the Constitution. In his opinion, the court made a mistake by convicting him of a violation of procedures for the organization and holding mass events, because he was the only protester, so there was no mass event at all.
The government did not comment on the merits of the case, only insisting that the complaint should be declared inadmissible because the activist allegedly failed to exhaust all domestic remedies, namely failed to submit a supervisory appeal to the Prosecutor General. Later, representatives of Belarus said that the Committee had registered the activist’s complaint in violation of Article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Belarus's reluctance to cooperate with the HRC did not go unnoticed. The Committee’s decision dedicated a separate chapter to the position of the Belarusian authorities:
“The Committee recalls that article 39 (2) of the Covenant authorizes it to establish its own rules of procedure, which the States parties have agreed to recognize. By adhering to the Optional Protocol, a State party to the Covenant recognizes the competence of the Committee to receive and consider communications from individuals claiming to be victims of violations of any of the rights set forth in the Covenant (preamble and art. 1). Implicit in a State’s adherence to the Optional Protocol is an undertaking to cooperate with the Committee in good faith so as to permit and enable it to consider such communications, and after examination to forward its views to the State party and to the individual (art. 5 (1) and (4)). It is incompatible with these obligations for a State party to take any action that would prevent or frustrate the Committee in its consideration and examination of a communication and in the expression of its Views. It is up to the Committee to determine whether a case should be registered. By failing to accept the competence of the Committee to determine whether a communication shall be registered and by declaring outright that it will not accept the Committee’s determination regarding the admissibility and the merits of communications, the State party has violated its obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol.”