UN report: Belarus must release political prisoners and investigate human rights violations Document
At the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet presented a report “Situation of human rights in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath”. It provides an overview of the situation of human rights in Belarus with respect to the 9 August 2020 election, including the infliction of arbitrary detentions, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, failure to effectively investigate allegations of such violations, and lack of respect for due process and fair trial rights.
The High Commissioner included updates on critical developments and incidents on which her examination has collected, consolidated, preserved, and analyzed information and evidence with a view to contributing to accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.
Last year, in its resolution 46/20, the Human Rights Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath, and to carry out a comprehensive examination of all alleged human rights violations committed in Belarus since 1 May 2020. The Council also requested the High Commissioner to present an interim oral update at its 48th session and a comprehensive written report at its 49th session. In accordance with that mandate, the High Commissioner established an examination team on the situation of human rights in Belarus with a secretariat based in Geneva. On 19 May 2021, the High Commissioner appointed three experts to assist her in the discharge of the present mandate: Karinna Moskalenko (Russian Federation), Susan Bazilli (Canada), and Marko Milanović (Serbia).
Belarus considered any cooperation with OHCHR non-productive and impossible within the framework of the mandate under Resolution 46/20. According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, the resolution is based on a hostile approach and has nothing to do with the real situation in the country:
“Belarus, as one of the founding states of the United Nations, participates in most international human rights instruments, recognizes the priority of universally recognized principles of international law, and ensures compliance of national legislation with them. Our country, while remaining committed to fulfilling its international human rights obligations, remains open to the OHCHR for mutually beneficial contacts beyond the politicized decisions of the HRC,” one of the statements said.
However, OHCHR experts prepared a report primarily based on information received during 145 first-hand interviews (with 95 men, 49 women, and one male child), conducted both in-person and remotely. A wide range of victims, witnesses, lawyers, non-governmental organizations, and other stakeholders were met in person or communicated with via remote means.
IAPB, the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, whose Steering Committee is co-chaired by the Human Rights Center Viasna, provided significant assistance to the UN procedure. The Platform aims to collect, process, verify and store information, documentation, and evidence of serious violations of international human rights law committed in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and beyond. It has been collecting documentation to be used in any future independent criminal investigations and prosecutions under international law in national, regional, or international courts and tribunals that have or may in the future have jurisdiction over these crimes under international law.
OHCHR notes that there are currently no effective remedies available domestically for Belarusians subjected to the unnecessary use of force carried out between 9 and 14 August 2020, nor for the tens of thousands of women, men and children arrested arbitrarily, subjected to torture, and inhuman or degrading treatment, and denied the rights to due process and a fair trial.
OHCHR noted that criminal investigations have been initiated in at least four competent jurisdictions outside Belarus in relation to the human rights violations and potential international crimes committed in Belarus. In this regard, it is vital that efforts to collect, document, and preserve evidence of the violations continue with a view to assisting future accountability processes.
The High Commissioner recommended that, among others, the Government of Belarus:
- Immediately release all prisoners sentenced on politically motivated grounds and cease all other ongoing violations of human rights identified in the present report, including the systematic repression of civil society, independent media, and opposition groups, and refrain from committing such violations in the future;
- Promptly initiate effective, transparent, and independent investigations into all past violations of human rights that can be qualified as crimes under national or international law, including mass arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and other ill-treatment, and the gender dimension of any such crimes, and ensure that investigations can cover the full chain of command that may bear individual criminal responsibility;
- Provide full reparation, including compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, appropriate forms of satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition to all victims of human rights violations, in accordance with international and domestic law;
- Implement structural reforms that can enable the full realization of the right to participate in public affairs and other related civil and political rights, including the freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, for all Belarusians.