On the cessation of persecution of Belarusian independent trade unions
Joint statement by the Belarusian human rights community
April 21, 2022
On April 19, 2022, an attack on the independent trade union movement took place. Searches were conducted in the office of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) and the offices of its affiliates - the Belarusian Free Trade Union (BFTU), the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (FTUM), and the Belarusian Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers' Trade Union (REM) in Minsk and regions, as well as in the private homes of trade union leaders and activists.
Personal computers, flashcards, personal documents, passports, bank cards, including those belonging to family members of trade union activists, SIM cards, trade union flags, digital devices, and trade union documentation were seized after the searches. The leaders and activists of independent trade unions of Belarus were arrested.
There is no information about the exact number of the arrested trade unionists yet, but at least 14 people have not been in touch since 19 April. Siarhei Antusevich, vice-president of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions, was the only one of them who managed to call home at midnight on April 19 and said that he had been kept in the KGB pre-trial detention center in Minsk. According to the Belarusian Independent Trade Union, the pre-trial detention center of KGB also houses the chairman of the BCDTU Aliaksandr Yarashuk and the trade union's accountant Iryna But-Husaim. Mikalai Sharakh, chairman of the Free Trade Union of Belarus; Aliaksandr Yeudakimchyk, deputy chairman of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers; and Henadz Fiadynich, a representative of the REM, are also kept behind bars in the KGB. Trade union activists Vital Chychmarou, Aliaksandr Bukhvostau are detained. Yana Malash, Hanna Dus, Vasil Berasneu, Dzmitryi Barodka, Mikhail Hromau, Vadzim Paivin, Yuryi Beliakou are not in touch. Ihar Komlik, deputy chairman of the Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (FTUM), was detained, but later released after questioning by the Investigative Committee.
What is the legal basis for the criminal charges against the trade unionists also remains unknown. It is reported that the search warrant lists approximately 10 articles of the Criminal Code, which have traditionally been used over the past two years to persecute civil society and political opposition.
Persecution of independent trade unions and trade union leaders has recently been of a systemic nature. Thus, on April 7, authorities announced an extrajudicial decision of the KGB to define the Belarusian Radio-Electrical Manufacturing Workers' Trade Union (REM) as an “extremist formation”. This is the first time that an officially registered membership-based association has been included in a list of “extremist formations”. It is known about multiple arrests of representatives of independent trade unions and activists of regional trade union cells in February–April 2022.
The above-mentioned actions of Belarusian authorities do not comply with international obligations and national legislation of the Republic of Belarus. The need to recognize the principle of freedom of association is stated in the Preamble to the Charter of the International Labor Organization (ILO). ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, 1998 names freedom of association among the four fundamental rights, which should be observed by the member-states of the International Labor Organization by virtue of the very fact of membership in ILO. The right to form trade unions, protection from discrimination in connection with the exercise of the right to freedom of association is guaranteed by the Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise Convention No 87 and the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining Convention No 98, ratified by Belarus on November 6, 1956. Articles 36, 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus guarantee the freedom of association, including the right to associate in trade unions.
The Belarusian human rights community once again emphasizes that the repression against the Belarusian civil society is of an unprecedented character. Civil society organizations are subjected to inspections, searches, blocked accounts, seized equipment, and discredited, and their members and activists are subjected to administrative and criminal prosecution and other forms of personal pressure. More than 650 organizations are currently in the process of forced liquidation, have been forced into liquidation, or have been forced to decide to liquidate themselves.
The Belarusian human rights community firmly opposes another wave of relentless repression of civil society in Belarus. We reiterate the inadmissibility of persecution of civil society organizations, public and trade union activists, violations of freedom of association, and other human rights in the country.
We demand the immediate release of all detained trade union leaders and activists, as well as all political prisoners. We demand an immediate end to discrimination against independent trade unions, repression, a campaign of intimidation of public and trade union activists, their administrative and criminal persecution, and the total suppression of freedom of association.
We call on international organizations, including trade unions and human rights defenders of all countries to speak up against the gross human rights violations in Belarus and assess the actions of the Belarusian authorities, use all possible means to bring change to the situation and to continue to support civil society organizations in Belarus.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights Center Viasna
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Belarusian Association of Journalists