OSCE ODIHR event: Belarus is surprisingly tenacious in restricting freedom of assembly
On December 17-18, Vienna hosted the third round table organized by the OSCE ODIHR to discuss the methodology of monitoring peaceful assemblies. It was attended by over 30 representatives from different countries of the OSCE region, including Georgia, Ukraine, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Turkey, Albania, Great Britain, Germany, Moldova, Hungary and Belarus.
The event was supported by experts Anita Danka and Neil Jarman.
Representatives of Belarus, Natallia Satsunkevich of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and Dzmitry Charnykh of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, stress that the country can hardly be a positive example of respect for freedom of peaceful assembly. Both national law and practice violate international standards of human rights. The recently adopted amendments to the law on mass events failed to fundamentally change the situation.
“Belarus is surprisingly tenacious in restricting freedom of assembly, while completely devaluing the essence of human rights itself, its values and principles. I would like to emphasize that Belarus, as an OSCE member state, has certain obligations to be implemented.
My goal is helping the authorities to respect human rights, suggesting how to simplify rather than complicate procedures. The human rights community is open to cooperation in good faith with all stakeholders. But at the moment the situation is not optimistic.
According to the results of monitoring conducted from January 1 to date, violations in the sphere of peaceful assembly amounted to 169 prosecutions under Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, including administrative fines totaling more than 35,000 euros and 124 days in jail!
During the year, independent observers were twice detained by law enforcement officials as they were monitoring peaceful assemblies. These egregious practices of the authorities should be stopped immediately,” said Natallia Satsunkevich.
Dzmitry Charnykh particularly focused on the issue of arrests of non-partisan observers. He called on the OSCE ODIHR and international counterparts not to leave this issue without attention and to actively urge the Belarusian authorities to stop repressions against independent monitors.
The human rights activist also noted discriminatory approaches in allowing peaceful assemblies in Belarus, resulting in bias against pro-democratic NGOs when applying for public events.
The right of every person to assemble peacefully is at the heart of a democratic society enshrined in law and in the Constitution of Belarus and the international treaties of human rights. ODIHR has traditionally paid great attention to the monitoring of peaceful assemblies as a source of independent information.