Human rights activists insist mass torture in Belarus is crime against humanity
On September 16, FIDH Vice President and Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Valiantsin Stefanovic took part in an online press conference entitled “Belarus: Torture as a Targeted State Policy” and organized by the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the Human Rights Center "Viasna". During the conference, several victims of torture were able to tell their stories.
According to Valiantsin Stefanovic, it was crucial to transmit information about mass torture to the public and international media, especially ahead of the debate on the situation in Belarusat the UN Human Rights Council, which will take place this Friday.
"We can hear again and again from various state sources, the media, Lukashenka himself, from the Minister of Internal Affairs, that nothing really happened, that the girls just painted their buttocks blue to show traces of beatings. During the press conference, we heard three different stories from different people, which are in some ways the same and in some ways different. We heard shocking facts about how women and girls who were stripped naked in front of riot police were humiliated and threatened with rape,” the human rights activist said.
Secretary-General of the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) Gerald Staberock said that we “have to understand the present crisis not only as a political crisis but, above all, as a human rights crisis. And in this human rights crisis, torture is the signature piece to the repression that we are facing. Following the elections, we have seen an intentional, deliberate, planned and organized policy of cruelty, in which torture, cruel and degrading treatment add deliberate expression of punishing or sending a message.”
“We have seen a change in tactics overtime. But torture and violence remain present, as we will see. And one of the things that we’ve seen, in particular, apart from the violence continuing, especially in police vehicles and arrests, etc., and a turn to more arrests, is the reprisals, the threats to victims of torture and ill-treatment. The state is unwilling to address the situation. And here again, we are in the field of the crime against humanity. We see that there is no recognition of a problem, no empathy to victims, no apology. Victims, if they go seek medical support, risk that they are reported for prosecution. People who lodge complaints face reprisals through illegal charges that will immediately be leveled against them. So we have torture as an intentional policy and with impunity, compounded by reprisals on victims,” Staberock said.
Valiantsin Stefanovic concludes that torture in Belarus is widespread and systemic.
“It was not an excess of two or three people. It swept across the country and, apparently, these actions were prepared. Their objective was to punish people for participating in peaceful demonstrations, for expressing their opinion and, in general, for supporting the wrong candidates. It was politically motivated torture, which is a crime against humanity,” Stefanovich said.
On Friday, the UN Human Rights Council will hold an urgent debate on Belarus. Gerald Staberock believes that it is “vital in a situation where the country is not willing to recognize the human rights crisis and to take remedial action, that the UN HRC acts decisively, has a strong resolution, a strong saying to end violations like torture, to assure accountability, and to establish effectively a robust fact-finding investigative and evidence-collecting process, like it has done in other countries.”