FIDH and Viasna: Mass Roundups of Roma People Must Be Investigated
(Minsk-Mogilev-Paris) FIDH and its member organization in Belarus, the Viasna Human Rights Centre, urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately put an end to all violence and persecution against the Roma community and to launch an independent and impartial investigation into the human rights abuses that took place in Mogilev, where 300 people were arbitrarily arrested, including 100 detained last month in raids which specifically targeted this minority ethnic group.
FIDH and the Viasna Human Rights Centre have received information from reliable media and eyewitnesses that on 16 May 2019, authorities in Mogilev, Belarus, conducted mass roundups of citizens of Roma ethnicity. During the raids on residential Roma communities, members of law enforcement detained approximately 100 individuals, including women, men and teenagers. According to eyewitnesses, the arrests were carried out with brute force, insults, and intimidation of members of this ethnic minority. The women were shortly released, while over 50 men remained detained for three days. No subsequent charges were brought against any of the individuals.
It became known later that the police initiated administrative complaints under Article 17.1 of the Belarusian Code on Administrative Misdemeanors, “minor hooliganism”, against the detainees, however none of them was brought to responsibility. These circumstances confirm the arbitrary nature of the arrests, which were based solely on the individuals’ ethnicity and violated the relevant rules on administrative and criminal procedure, as well as applicable international human rights law standards governing deprivation of liberty. Despite these blatant violations, the Office of the Prosecutor of Belarus stated in a press conference on Tuesday that “no violations, no evidence of power abuse were found”.
Media reports linked the operation targeting the Roma community to the investigation into the killing of a traffic police officer, lieutenant Yevgeny Potapovich, earlier that day. In initial public statements, representatives of the investigating authorities indicated possible involvement of Roma citizens in the abduction and murder of the police officer. Ultimately however, the investigating authorities concluded that the traffic police officer had committed suicide. The roundups were unanimously condemned by Belarusian civil society actors and some top government officials, including the Head of the Administration of the President of Belarus Natalia Kachanova, who apologized to the Roma community for the incident. Nonetheless, an investigation into the human rights abuses committed by the police was ineffective.
Discrimination and ethnic profiling of members of the Roma ethnicity by the authorities are commonplace in Belarus despite the fact that the country’s constitution guarantees the equal right to protection and equality before the law for all citizens of the country, regardless of their ethnicity or other affiliation.
While Belarus has undertaken measures to prevent discrimination on the basis of ethnicity—having ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as the UN Convention against Racial Discrimination—much remains to be done in this regard. In the UN Human Rights Committee’s Concluding Observations on Belarus’ fifth periodic report last October, the Committee noted that Belarus should take effective measures to address the issue of discrimination against Roma, combat hatred towards them, and eradicate racial profiling by law enforcement agencies, in particular by organizing mandatory trainings on these topics. Belarus should step up its efforts to ensure the inclusion of Roma children in school and the achievement of adequate educational standards on an equal basis with other children.
These mass arbitrary detentions of members of the Roma ethnic minority indicate the continuation of negative practices on the part of the Belarusian authorities regarding this vulnerable group. In this regard, we, the representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights and its member organization in Belarus, the Viasna Human Rights Centre, demand from the authorities of the Republic of Belarus to:
1. Conduct a thorough investigation of all cases of arbitrary detentions of citizens, members of the Roma ethnic minority, conducted by the security forces in the city of Mogilev on 16 May 2019 as part of the investigation of the criminal case on the fact of the murder of a police officer.
2. Take steps to investigate cases of cruel and inhuman treatment of the detained citizens.
3. Provide appropriate measures to protect the rights of citizens violated by unlawful actions of law enforcement agencies, including the right to material compensation for the harm caused.
4. Take comprehensive measures aimed at preventing ethnic profiling and discrimination against members of the Roma community and strictly observe their international obligations with regards to human rights.
For further information, please contact:
FIDH: Eva Canan +33 6 48 05 91 57 / firstname.lastname@example.org