Women's rights in Belarus on UN agenda
The UN office in Geneva has hosted several meetings of representatives of the Belarusian civil society with the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), an event that is expected to be followed by the Committee's consideration of the official report of Belarus, scheduled for October 28.
On October 24, a meeting of the Committee was attended by representatives of the civil societies from Belarus, Burundi, Bhutan and Canada, which presented the key issues of concern relating to the discrimination against women in their countries. The coalition of Belarusian NGOs and initiatives (in cooperation with the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights) was represented by Hanna Baranouskaya and Kseniya Kirychenka (initiative Identity and Law, Association ILGA), Volha Karach (civil initiative Our House) and Stefania Kulaeva (anti-discrimination center Memorial).
The speakers identified a number of problems, including:
- lack of effective anti-discrimination mechanisms, with limited and declarative nature of the Belarusian legislation in this area, in which there is no specific term ‘discrimination against women’;
- harassment of women for social and political activism in various forms. In particular, emphasis was placed on the expulsion of human rights activist Alena Tankachova;
- refusals to register public associations, the purpose of which is to promote the elimination of discrimination against women, as part of the problem with the freedom of association in the country;
- withdrawal of children from women belonging to vulnerable groups: people with disabilities, migrants, Roma, Muslims, persons in detention, LGBT, elderly people;
- violence, beatings, humiliation of women as a result of the criminalization of prostitution.
Experts of the Anti-discrimination Committee asked clarifying questions regarding the statement, the answers to which have been sent in writing.
In addition, the UN human rights system has published an alternative report prepared by a coalition of organizations, which included the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Documentation Center, the Center for Strategic Litigation, the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, the Center for Legal Transformation Lawtrend, the initiative Human Rights Impact, Human Constanta, Association ILGA World, the initiative group Identity and Law, Roma Integration, and the Center of Equal Rights Expertise. The text of the report can be found here.
In addition, separate reports were submitted to the Committee by the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, whose statement was presented at the meeting by the coalition, and the Memorial Center with the information support from the Her Rights Center and others.
“The NGOs’ alternative position is important because on October 28 CEDAW will consider the situation in Belarus and make recommendations to the government. The reports from civil society organizations intended to provide the Committee with various viewpoints. We hope that our report will contribute to the reduction of various forms of discrimination both at the legislative level and at the level of law enforcement,” Hanna Baranouskaya said.
“The peculiarity of this work is that the preparation of the alternative report and promotion of problems that are relevant to Belarus in the framework of the UN mechanism involves a wide range of human rights organizations, not just NGOs dealing with the issue, as well as international experts,” Olga Salomatova of the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women is one of the two available international mechanisms (along with the Human Rights Committee) that can be used by Belarusians to protect individual rights.