UN experts condemn Roma arrests in May 2019
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed serious concern about the mass detentions that were carried out in the Roma settlements of Mahilioŭ and other Belarusian cities in May 2019 and were accompanied by insults and physical violence by law enforcement officials.
Dozens of people were taken to police departments on suspicion of involvement in the abduction and murder of a traffic policeman. The death was later officially reported as a suicide.
In their address, the UN experts emphasized separately that the threats and intimidation by law enforcement agencies were aimed to ensure that the detainees would not attempt to protect their violated rights. They are calling on the government of Belarus to provide detailed information about the incident, the investigation into abuse reports and assistance rendered to the victims.
The Belarusian government responded by saying that on May 16 and 17, 2019, 132 Roma persons were interrogated. 52 of them faced administrative charges and were detained for up 36 hours.
The General Prosecutor’s Office reportedly investigated the abuse reports, concluding that representatives of the Roma community did not complain about the events. The authorities also argued that there were no police raids in the minority’s houses.
“Physical force and police gear were not applied against this group of people. No cases of threats and intimidation against them were also established. Actions of employees of law enforcement bodies were not motivated by racial prejudice,” the government insisted.
At the same time, the probe revealed a number of violations committed by police officers in the conduct of administrative proceedings. As a result, eight police officers were fined and another 20 were punished by disciplinary sanctions.
The mass arrests targeting the Roma population in Mahilioŭ were condemned by human rights defenders. They wrote to the Prosecutor General and the Investigative Committee. A joint appeal with the Russian ADC “Memorial” was sent to the United Nations. The case was mentioned at the OSCE HDIM in Warsaw.
“Our appeals to the Special Rapporteurs have yielded results, and we got the information disclosed by the national authorities in response to a request by Viasna’s chairman Ales Bialiatski. And now, from the correspondence between the authorities and the Special Rapporteurs, we have learned that there were some violations, and several police officers were subjected to disciplinary action. We will once again appeal to the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Investigative Committee asking them to re-investigate our reports in order to give a full and objective assessment of the actions of police officers during the police raids,” Pavel Sapelka, Viasna expert, said.
As for the government’s claim that the detainees did not to file any complaints against violations of their rights, Sapelka notes that this is a consequence of the entire scope of problems that accompany the Roma in their daily lives:
“People are scared, they are regularly subjected to police attacks and pre-emptive measures. Therefore, they try to minimize conflict and contacts with representatives of the state. The Roma do not trust the government, and it is hard to blame them because even less discriminated Belarusian citizens do not always believe that complaints can bring punishment for those who committed such violations. We also know that representatives of the Roma are not very competent in the field of law, they do not always have funds to seek the assistance of professional lawyers, and finally, we do not believe that there were no complaints at all.”