Stefanovich: “The emergence of principles for human rights defenders will boost proficiency in the community”
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" has joined the Principles of Human Rights Work in Belarus. According to the organization’s chairman Ales Bialiatski, the decision was taken at a meeting of Viasna’s Council on September 4.
The Principles were elaborated jointly by representatives of various human rights organizations in Belarus for almost two years. The process was initiated by the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, coordinated by the Belarusian Documentation Center, which arranged discussion of the principles within the human rights community.
As a result, the document incorporates a set of professional and ethical rules that define the requirements for human rights defenders and their activities, based on moral criteria and traditions of human rights protection in Belarus, as well as on international standards.
The Principles are not regulated by law or obligations before the authorities. These are the rules of self-restraint, which, as jointly agreed upon by organizations and individual human rights activists, will be performed independently and voluntarily.
The Principles apply to the relationship between individual human rights defenders, the victims of human rights violations, government bodies, international organizations, civil society organizations and other professional communities, as well as the media.
Viasna’s activists also contributed to the development of the Principles.
“A number of principles that guide today the work of human rights activists around the world were formulated and laid down in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants and other documents,” Valiantsin Stefanovich, Viasna’s lawyer, said. “The Principles which we have developed and which were joined by the HRC “Viasna”, we declare that in our activity we will proceed from the moral standards and traditions of human rights activities in Belarus. One of our principles is the universality of human rights, which means that we recognize and protect everyone without exception or discrimination on any whatsoever grounds, such as race, color, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The human rights activist cannot tolerate racist, homophobic and other degrading remarks of various kinds of discrimination or advocate for the death penalty and so on.”
The human rights activist believes that it is particularly important at a time when some governments are trying to revise the principle of universality of human rights and to find an excuse for their violation, sometimes referring to cultural relativism.
“I believe that adherence to the Principles is very important because it shows the maturity, high professional level and de-politicization of human rights activities in our country. After all, there is a conflict of interest, when human rights defenders should not use their human rights activities in the political sphere, not to be engaged by one or another political party, whose purpose is coming to power. Human rights activists are guided by their own principles and approaches, and put the protection of human rights above to all.”
Announcing Viasna’s accession to the document, the organization’s Ales Bialiatski expressed the hope that “the Principles, which contain many useful and beneficial thoughts and language, will contribute to greater consolidation of the Belarusian human rights community.”
At the moment, the Principles were joined by the HRC "Viasna", the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian Documentation Center, the Human Rights Movement "Our Belarus", the Movement "Mothers 328", the Legal Assistance to Population, Identity and the Right initiative group, the Belarusian PEN Center, and the Legal Initiative.
The document is open for accession by both human rights organizations and human rights defenders in their individual capacity.