"Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" campaign to launch an expert mission to monitor the referendum
“Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” Campaign Statement
In connection with the announcement of the referendum on changes and amendments to the Constitution, we, representatives of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign, would like to note the following.
We reaffirm our commitment to the position of Belarusian human rights organizations on constitutional reform as set out in the statement of November 23, 2020, and consider the process of reforming the Constitution important to ensure real separation of powers, to create additional measures to protect human rights.
Unfortunately, over the past eighteen months instead of effective dialogue with people and civil society to discuss proposals to change the Constitution and de-escalate the situation in the country, the authorities have further developed machinery of repression and persecution of dissidents, and adopted a package of draconian amendments to the legislation. On the eve of the announced referendum, the situation with the fundamental rights and freedoms, guaranteed by the current Constitution of Belarus and the country's international obligations, can be called a real disaster. Society is in an atmosphere of total fear. Any criticism is an excuse for harassment at work, arbitrary imprisonment, violence, and torture. Many participants in the political process, who enjoy the support of a significant part of Belarusian society, are imprisoned; some are in de facto exile from the country. In the last eighteen months, more than 100,000 active citizens have left the country to flee persecution. Independent media have been liquidated, dozens of journalists have been imprisoned, and hundreds have been forced to emigrate. Hundreds of civil society organizations were closed, including those involved in election campaigns and election monitoring. One of the campaign coordinators and one of the analysts are currently in custody. Under such conditions, it became impossible to implement the principle of the people's power, including the impossibility of a full-fledged free and democratic process of adopting changes to the Constitution.
A referendum is not just a voting day. Any free and fair election campaign is, first of all, an atmosphere, an environment in which rights and freedoms are fully realized, including freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to participate in the governing one's state, and freedom from discrimination. The possibility of full-fledged monitoring by national and international observers plays an important role in establishing and maintaining confidence in the process of citizens' expression of will and its results.
In this regard, the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” sees no possibility to organize, as before, an election monitoring and send observers to the election commissions and polling stations during the announced referendum on the adoption of changes and additions to the current Constitution. This is a forced measure due to concerns for the safety of observers. At the same time, due to the importance of this election campaign for the social and political processes in the country and its impact on human rights, we announce the launch of an expert mission to monitor the referendum process. It will assess the referendum’s compliance with international standards for a truly free and democratic election campaign.