Belarus must end pattern of police brutality and impunity: UN experts
GENEVA (1 April 2021) – UN human rights experts* called on Belarus to end the continued pattern of excessive use of force, arrests, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment against protesters and the repression of journalists and media personnel.
On 25 March 2021, 176 people reportedly were detained during peaceful protests commemorating Freedom Day, and two days later, seven journalists were among 247 people detained.
In the lead-up to Freedom Day the Investigative Committee of Belarus, an oversight body of the state, had warned and threatened protesters planning to participate in “unauthorised mass events” with criminal liability.
“We are alarmed at the high numbers of alleged arbitrary arrest and detention that took place last week which demonstrate a continued pattern of police brutality against demonstrators. We are concerned that, so far, security forces have not been held accountable for excessive use of force both in the pre-electoral period and after the presidential elections on 9 August 2020,” the experts said.
“We are deeply concerned that, instead of bringing perpetrators to justice, the authorities are arbitrarily seeking to silence all forms of dissent, through unjustified violence, intimidation and growingly by bringing criminal charges against those who exercise their fundamental rights, or defend victims of human rights violations.”
In 2020, many journalists and human rights defenders were reportedly harassed and detained while monitoring assemblies, on the grounds of allegedly “participating in, organising or financing unauthorised events” simply for exercising their legitimate functions. This criminalisation is a worrying trend that must stop immediately.
The experts stressed that, “the prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment is not confined to acts carried out against persons deprived of their liberty, but also covers excessive police violence, such as during arrest and the policing of assemblies”.
Reports indicate that the Investigative Committee has dismissed the use of violence and anti-riot equipment by law enforcement officers as justified and proportionate and no criminal cases have been opened in courts against security forces in relation to allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed last year.
“Ensuring institutional and personal accountability for human rights violations is an obligation for states under international law. Failure to do so not only perpetuates the prevailing culture of impunity but may even amount to criminal complicity in serious crimes,” the experts said.
“We have raised our concerns directly with the Government and stressed the need for prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations with a view to ensuring accountability in cases of arbitrary detention and torture and ill-treatment.”
The experts will continue to engage with the authorities of Belarus and closely monitor the situation.
The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Working Group on Arbitrary Detention:Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur),Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, Mumba Malila, Seong-Phil Hong; Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Mr. Clement Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.