Lack of reforms and contempt for fundamental freedoms in Belarus raise concerns ahead of elections, says UN expert
The overall environment in Belarus remains hostile to dissident opinions and unduly restricts civil and political rights, says UN expert Anaïs Marin.
"I regret the absence of real reform of the country's electoral legislation despite numerous previous recommendations," said Marin, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, presenting her first report to the General Assembly.
"The legal and institutional frameworks in the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections remain conducive to practices that undermine the integrity of electoral processes and therefore the right of citizens to participate in public affairs," she said.
Marin stressed that respect for fundamental freedoms was essential in electoral processes and noted that civil and political rights continuously suffered from an unfavourable legal framework in Belarus.
She welcomed some legislative improvements, like decriminalising participation in the activities of non-registered organisations, but said such developments were emblematic of the Government's piecemeal approach. It was willing to accept some changes in legislation but unwilling to make any real change at policy level.
The UN expert also highlighted the additional restrictions imposed on freedom of speech on the Internet and the dissuasive financial costs incurred by rally organisers under the amended law on mass events.
She also pointed to the numerous problems journalists and bloggers faced in their daily work, and condemned the fines and arrests imposed on individuals with opposing views.
"Critical thinking and dissent are essential aspects of freedom of opinion and expression," she said.
"Electoral campaigns are times when fundamental freedoms should be given extra protection. However, many much-needed changes have yet to be introduced."
Marin stressed her willingness to engage constructively with the authorities in efforts to promote and protect human rights, despite the fact that she had not yet been granted access to the country.