Joint statement of Belarusian human rights organizations on violations of freedom of association and pressure on human rights organizations
Over the past year, Belarusian civil society organizations have been under constant pressure and judicial persecution. This includes smear campaigns in the government-controlled media, criminal cases against civil society activists, numerous audits, police raids, detentions, and forced liquidations.
To date, we know about the forced liquidation of more than 250 civil society organizations. Among them there are numerous human rights organizations. Back in July 2021, the authorities ordered the closure of such human rights institutions as Human Constanta, Center for the Promotion of Women’s Rights “Her Rights”, Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Center for Legal Transformation, and TimeAct. On August 9, the Supreme Court ruled to liquidate the Belarusian PEN Center; on August 27, the Belarusian Association of Journalists; on August 30, Ecohome; on September 30, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee; and on October 5, Legal Initiative. On the same day, October 5, the Minsk City Court ruled to liquidate Zvyano. In addition, decisions were made to liquidate a number of other organizations whose activities are aimed at protecting the rights of vulnerable groups.
Seven human rights defenders, members of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" are still held in detention: chairman Ales Bialiatski, member of the Board and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) Valiantsin Stefanovich, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” Uladzimir Labkovich, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers Maryia (Marfa) Rabkova, Viasna member and head of the Center for Strategic Litigation Leanid Sudalenka, and Viasna volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrei Chapiuk.
According to the Guidelines on Freedom of Association developed jointly by the OSCE / ODIHR and the European Commission for Democracy through Law, States should not interfere with the rights and freedoms of associations and of persons exercising their right to freedom of association. A restriction shall always be narrowly construed and applied and shall never completely extinguish the right nor encroach on its essence. In particular, any prohibition or dissolution of an association shall always be a measure of last resort. At the same time, international standards of freedom of association protect both registered and unregistered organizations.
The Declaration on the Right and Duty of Individuals, Groups and Bodies of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms states that everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities opposing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
We would like to remind that the Republic of Belarus, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has undertaken to respect and ensure to all persons within its territory and jurisdiction the rights recognized by the Covenant, including the right to freedom of association, without distinction, including with respect to race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other beliefs, national or social origin, property status, birth or other circumstance.
In accordance with the above, we, Belarusian human rights organizations:
- emphasize our continued commitment to human rights values and principles and declare the continuation of our peaceful legitimate human rights activities;
- intend to continue to contribute to the construction of a society based on respect for the rights of every human being and of a state based on the rule of law.
- reiterate the inadmissibility of persecution of human rights defenders, members of civil society organizations, civil society activists, violations of freedom of association and other human rights in the country.
- demand an immediate end to the pressure on civil society activists, members of civil society organizations, and the re-registration of forcibly liquidated civil society organizations, including human rights organizations.
- demand the immediate release of human rights activists and volunteers of the Human Rights Center "Viasna", as well as other political prisoners;
- insist on stopping government-orchestrated smear campaigns targeting both specific civil society organizations and civil society in general;
- call on the international community to continue to support pro-democracy civil society organizations and Belarusian human rights defenders, help end repression against civil society and citizens in connection with their peaceful activities to defend and promote human rights.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Belarusian PEN Center
Belarusian Documentation Center
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Association of Journalists