"We acknowledge a deep crisis of human rights in Belarus"
Statement by Valiantsin Stefanovic, vice-chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", at a UN Security Council Arria-Formula Meeting on the Human Rights Situation in Belarus. August 4, 2020
"Dear ladies and gentlemen,
First of all, I would like to thank you for the opportunity to speak today, the time dramatic for all the Belarusian people, the days of the struggle for freedom and human rights.
The presidential election came with numerous cases of repression from the very beginning. Nevertheless, it gave rise to unprecedented enthusiasm and faith in the possibility of change. However, numerous violations and falsifications during the election process, and particularly during the absolutely intransparent vote counting led to people's anger and frustration, as well as mass protests on the Election Day and the following days all over Belarus. In anticipation of such developments, we, representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations, addressed the authorities asking to steer clear of the use of violence and bloodshed. Unfortunately, the authorities did not hear us. Peaceful protesters were attacked by special police units, which showed the disproportionate use of violence, and used riot gear and other weapons. Hundreds of people were injured, at least three protesters died due to direct police actions, and over 7,000 were detained.
Further events appalled our society even more. Detainees were subjected to torture, cruel and inhuman treatment. Hundreds of people have been tortured.
For several days, starting from August 9, Belarusian law enforcement officers performed actions that intentionally caused severe pain, as well as physical and mental suffering to the citizens of Belarus. They inflicted bodily harm and psychological traumas of various degrees of severity. They did it in various institutions of the law enforcement system, both in the process of detention and while in custody.
The victims were subjected to torture and cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. In particular, they were insulted, beaten with batons, maltreated, injured (bone fractures, wounds, and massive bruises), and electrocuted with stun guns and shot with rubber bullets. The police sprayed gas in confined spaces with citizens inside, forced them to stand naked on their knees for hours on the asphalt, threatened them with the use of weapons and sexual violence. The detainees were deprived of sleep, hygiene products, food and water, denied medical assistance and necessary medications.
In addition, the police held up to 40 people in cells designed for 4 to 6 people, including citizens with a confirmed COVID-19.
The victims were massively subjected to measures of psychological pressure: they were forced to sing the national anthem of Belarus and shout slogans for a long time, to kneel down, to pledge loyalty and recognize superiority of the current government and law enforcement agencies of Belarus. All these insults and humiliation were based solely on political views of the citizens.
Many of the victims were taken to hospitals after their release. Some were in critical condition and are still recovering. A large number of those arrested needed psychological therapy after their release.
The Human Rights Center "Viasna" recorded more than 500 testimonies of the victims of torture. The victims testify that torture was widespread and systemic, and was used as politically motivated punishment of citizens for expressing their opinion and participation in anti-government protests. We can definetely say that we are dealing with the crimes against humanity, which do not have time limit in our national legislation. However, currently the prosecutor's office and the Investigation Committee failed to start any criminal cases on these grounds.
The repression intensified in the post-election period. At least 80 people are under criminal investigation for participation in the protests. At present, there are 41 political prisoners behind bars (information as of the time of writing; the current number is 49), including election contenders, their team members, bloggers, opposition activists, and participants of peaceful protests.
The Belarusian human rights community, and I, as a representative of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", continue to urge Belarus authorities to immediately stop the repression and violence against its citizens, to immediately release all political prisoners, to take measures for effective investigation of all acts of torture, and to follow their international commitments.
Today we acknowledge a deep crisis of human rights in Belarus, which cannot be and is not an internal affair of the country. The whole world should be concerned about unprecedented violation of human rights and its own laws by the current government of Belarus."