Human rights defenders expect concrete measurable results
Representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations have met with the Undersecretary of State for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Benedetto Della Vedova, Chief of Staff Lorenzo Golanti and the ambassador of the Republic of Italy to Belarus Stefano Bianchi.
The Belarusian side was represented by Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, a Board member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Zhanna Litvina, deputy chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich, director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) Aliaksei Pikulik and director of a private information and consulting institution “Region 119” Alena Krasouskaya-Kaspiarovich.
The Italian diplomats stressed that since last August they have witnessed some positive developments in the human rights situation in Belarus. In particular, they welcomed the release of political prisoners and the fact that the October 2015 elections took place without the use of violence against political opponents, and the candidates had the opportunity to hold meetings without hindrance from the authorities.
The human rights activists said that human rights issues should remain on the agenda of European policy-making.
Valiantsin Stefanovich, in particular, noted some improvement since August 2015:
“Indeed, we welcomed the release of political prisoners and the reduced level of repression. So far, the authorities have refrained from harsh forms of repression against political opponents and civil society representatives, including administrative arrests and prosecution for political reasons.
However, I noted that the situation is far from being perfect. We expect and insist on more systemic steps aimed at improving the human rights situation. Legislation on civil and political rights is still intact and filled with a variety of repressive and restrictive regulations. This applies both to freedom of assembly and freedom of association. Despite the fact that a number of recent peaceful assemblies were held without the direct intervention of law enforcement officers, however, participants in such meetings later face administrative charges and are sentenced to heavy fines. Staging a legal demonstration or rally, as before, is virtually impossible in Belarus."
Valiantsin Stefanovich expressed particular concern about the application of the death penalty in Belarus, noting that since the beginning of this year the courts have already passed two death sentences, and four more people are currently on death row.
The discussion touched upon the theme of last year’s presidential elections in Belarus.
“With regard to the elections,” said Stefanovich. “We noted that indeed violence against political opponents was not applied, but also social activity was poor, we did not particularly observe any mass protests. There was no progress either in the election procedures or in the nature of the elections. We completely agree with the findings of the OSCE ODIHR election observation mission and believe that the vote cannot be called fair and democratic. Now we are waiting for the authorities to take steps aimed at implementing the recommendations made by the OSCE ODIHR during their earlier missions.”