Well, we'll wait
I must confess that the conference on the death penalty, which was held in Minsk last week, produced mixed emotions, and requires certain evaluation. On the one hand, it’s unconditionally positive aspect is that the conference on such an important human rights issue as the death penalty was held on such a high and representative level. It was attended by PACE Special Rapporteur on Belarus Mr. Rigoni, EU Special Representative for Human Rights Mr. Lambrinidis, and a number of representatives of EU embassies in Belarus. The conference was organized by the UNDP office in Belarus, the British Embassy and the Foreign Ministry of Belarus. It is hoped that such a conference is the first step towards a moratorium on the death penalty in our country. Well, or at least the start of a dialogue on the issue.
However, the speech by Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Valiantsin Rybakou, who expressed the official position of the authorities regarding their refusal to invite to the conference representatives of our organization, is extremely regrettable and disappointing. It’s not just that representatives of the organization that has been actively engaged in the problem of the death penalty for the last eight years were not invited to the conference on this subject, but that the whole situation has once again demonstrated the problem with the registration of Viasna and the government’s general policy towards us and other non-governmental organizations in the country.
It seems that the authorities are not yet able to move away from their confrontational approaches to the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and will be guided by these approaches in the near future. It seems that there is no political decision on the registration of Viasna and there’ll never be one. The time has not come yet. This fact means that it is absolutely useless to send another application for state registration to the Ministry of Justice. Then the authorities will have another ‘argument’ that the founders are not even able to fill in the documents correctly. We will never hear an answer to the question of why the registration authority has not provided a delay to fix the found (and they always find them) minor shortcomings in the papers. More precisely, we will hear that the provision of a delay in the registration is a right, not a duty of the registering authority. We know how it will be. Because we’ve seen it three times – in 2007, and twice in 2009. And I personally do not want to hear once again that someone from the list of the organization’s founders made a mistake in the name of his or her place of work, writing a ‘sports club’ instead of a ‘sports section’, or a ‘secondary school’ instead of a ‘high school’. Sure, we can again go through all the courts, cause a lot of noise, re-apply to the UN Human Rights Committee with a complaint of a violation of our rights by the Republic of Belarus, and the HRC will take another decision on the violation of Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. We already have two such decisions, but the authorities consider them to be non-binding. Of course, we do not agree with this approach to implementing the country’s international obligations, but we also cannot force the government to re-register the Human Rights Center "Viasna".
The problem is that the existing legislation governing the registration of public associations allows the registering authority to refuse registration of the association due to the absence of a comma or a period. Such legislation creates a selective approach to the registration based solely on political expediency. The experience of at least the last 15 years clearly demonstrates this. Not a single political party or a new human rights association has been registered in the country since 2000. The only exception is the registration of the public association “Movement for Freedom” in 2007, during the so-called ‘first liberalization’ of 2007-2010. In the last few months alone, the authorities have refused to register the BCD (for the sixth time), “Tell the Truth” (fourth time), and the public human rights association "For Fair Elections" (fourth time). How many times should an NGO write to the Ministry of Justice to finally obtain state registration? Five, seven, twenty-five times? We have no time for it, nor do we have the strength or the desire. To be more accurate, we do have a desire to receive state registration, and we are ready to apply for registration if the government is willing to take such a step.
In the meantime, nothing has changed. Over the 20 years of its existence, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" acted in a registered status (including the city organization "Viasna-96") from 1997 to 2003, i.e. for only six years old! This clearly reflects the history of our relations with the authorities, they have never been easy, from the very beginning of our activity. I'm not talking about the period of direct repression against members of the organization in 2010-2011, which has led to the imprisonment chairman of the organization’s leader Ales Bialiatski for four and a half years, confiscation of the organization’s office, persecution of its members by the KGB. We remember this time, and will probably never forget it.
Now the authorities seem to be declaring a new agenda, which has not yet led to any significant changes. The authorities have not even taken the minimum steps asked by the Belarusian human rights community. What can we do in such a situation? Just work, as usual, without official registration, which is what we have been doing for the past 13 years.
Well, we'll wait. When you are ready for more constructive steps, you know where you can find us.
Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Human Rights Center "Viasna"