47 victims complain to UN Committee against Torture
The Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee have appealed to the UN Committee against Torture on behalf of 47 victims of police-related violence, urging the Committee to investigate the systematic use of torture in Belarus in early August 2020.
The human rights defenders provide evidence that for at least a few days, starting from August 9, law enforcement officers of the Republic of Belarus in various territorial units of the Republic of Belarus, in various institutions of the law enforcement system of the Republic of Belarus (both during arrest and during the period of detention), committed acts which deliberately inflicted severe pain on citizens, as well as physical and mental suffering, manifested by causing bodily harm of varying severity, as well as causing psychological traumas.
They stress that the ill-treatment of detainees constitutes acts of torture, as defined in the UN Convention against Torture, i.e. any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.
In particular, numerous testimonies of the victims (detained citizens) indicate that they were subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. They were insulted, beaten with truncheons, tortured, injured (including fractures, wounds, and extensive hematomas), injured with electric shockers and rubber bullets, exposed to pepper sprays in confined spaces together with other citizens, forced to stand naked on their knees for hours on the asphalt, threatened with weapons, sexual violence, deprived of sleep, hygiene products, food and water, denied provision of medical assistance and provision of necessary medication, etc.
In addition, the detainees were held in inhuman conditions: up to 40 people were held at a time in cells designed for 4-6 people, including citizens with a confirmed COVID-19 infection.
Measures of psychological pressure were also applied to the victims en masse: they were forced to sing the national anthem of the Republic of Belarus or to repeat pro-government slogans, to kneel, to admit the loyalty and superiority of the current government and law enforcement agencies, and insulted based on political views, etc.
The motives for the systematic torture that took place on the territory of the Republic of Belarus were:
- punishment of citizens for committing political actions (voting for an alternative candidate for the President of the Republic of Belarus, wearing white armbands or bracelets symbolizing voting for an alternative candidate, as well as other symbols that do not contradict the current legislation of the Republic of Belarus, participation in peaceful rallies and protests against election fraud);
- intimidation of detained citizens in order to prevent them from expressing their opinion on the fact of falsification of the elections of the President of the Republic of Belarus and in order to prevent further participation of such citizens in peaceful rallies and protests.
The use of torture on the territory of the Republic of Belarus was carried out by officials and other persons acting in an official capacity, and the actions of these persons were obviously authorized by the current government of the Republic of Belarus, since:
- the detentions were carried out by employees of law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Belarus;
- the detentions were documented in procedural documents by employees of the internal affairs bodies of the Republic of Belarus.
The victims, represented by human rights defenders, ask the Committee against Torture to conduct an investigation into the systematic use of torture in the territory of the Republic of Belarus in accordance with the procedure provided for in Article 20 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Information about the use of torture, in their opinion, can be additionally examined for signs of crimes against humanity, as defined in Article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The Republic of Belarus is not a party to the Rome Statute. However, in accordance with article 13(b) of the Rome Statute, the Court may exercise its jurisdiction with respect to a crime referred to in article 5 in accordance with the provisions of this Statute if a situation in which one or more of such crimes appears to have been committed is referred to the Prosecutor by the Security Council acting under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.
The International Criminal Court will only consider a situation when all domestic remedies have been exhausted. Therefore, the applicants stress that the facts of the use of torture and unlawful detention were appealed by the victims through numerous complaints and statements requesting criminal proceedings against the persons who used torture. At the same time, not a single criminal case against the perpetrators has been opened by the law enforcement agencies of the Republic of Belarus.
“We believe that this is done deliberately at the instruction of the current government of the Republic of Belarus. Moreover, we do not exclude that the incumbent Head of State of the Republic of Belarus and the heads of the security ministries of the Republic of Belarus approve of the use of violence against citizens, consider violence and torture to be the only way to protect against the population. As a result, the citizens of the Republic of Belarus are not able to use the means of protection provided for by the current legislation of the Republic of Belarus, and are forced to rely exclusively on the mechanisms provided for by international treaties,” says the statement to the Committee.
The human rights activists and the victims urge the Committee to consider the appeal as soon as possible, as the country continues to systematically detain peaceful protesters, both illegally and inappropriately.