US Amnesty International’s Eurasia Cogroup Chair: Together we will win
Viachaslau Bortnik, Belarus-born American human rights defender and head of the Eurasia Cogroup at Amnesty International USA in Washington D.C., has visited the Minsk office of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”.
“Unfortunately, there are no thorough changes. Of course, after the release of six political prisoners, some people may think that the situation has improved. And unfortunately, there is not much interest towards Belarus in the United States, since the US in its foreign policy is mainly interested in Syria, Afghanistan, Iran, and Russia, and also the events in Ukraine. However, human rights organizations, as well as diaspora groups are following the events in Belarus and they want US government to know what actually happens in this country, not just relying on the fact that these six prisoners were released and everything is alright,” said Mr. Bortnik.
At the same time, Viachaslau Bortnik stresses that he has good contacts in the Department of State and the US Congress:
“There are many Congressmen who support the democratic processes in Belarus and are interested in the human rights situation in the country. We meet with them every three months and give new information.”
He outlined the main steps of the Belarusian authorities, which did not go unnoticed by human rights activists in the United States:
“Despite the actually small changes in the situation of human rights in Belarus, we see that the regime is changing its tactics: new means are already being used to prevent any alternative activity in the society. First of all, we are concerned about huge fines to civil society and political activists, and people are intimidated by this, too. Of course, it may seem that the fines are not such a tough measure as arrests are, but still when the bailiff comes to your house to arrest the property, then you will think if you should join the protest or not, work for independent media or not.
Also, not so long ago Amnesty International issued a report on the use of telecommunications companies for illegal surveillance in Belarus, which describes how the Belarusian authorities are using a variety of technical means to spy on people. And we know that almost all Belarusian democratic activists, human rights defenders and journalists are in a situation where they are being watched 24 hours a day.”
Among the main activities of his organization in Belarus, Viachaslau Bortnik mentioned efforts to combat the death penalty, the problems of violations of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association and freedom of expression. In addition, Amnesty International activists have been working with the US government, staging protests in front of the Belarusian embassies in Washington and New York and the Belarus mission at the UN, working with the US media to convey information about the human rights situation in Belarus.
Addressing his colleagues, the US activist said that he was impressed by the activities of the Belarusian human rights defenders.
“You are very brave people. I keep in touch with many of the Belarusian human rights defenders and wish all of you power and strength in this difficult situation. I know that together, in cooperation with the civil society activists here, in Belarus, with youth and women's organizations, minority organizations, we will win,” Mr. Bortnik said.