HRDs: Law school of Belarusian State University infringed students' rights forcing them into “confession” videos
On May 24, 2023, a video was published on the official account of the Faculty of Law of Belarusian State University on Instagram, where a student of the Faculty of Law of Belarusian State University “confesses” to disseminating “discrediting information regarding the administration of the Faculty of Law, as well as information discrediting the Belarusian Republican Youth Union of the Faculty of Law.” We, Belarusian human rights organizations, draw attention to the fact that the creation and distribution of such videos is unacceptable and is an illegal action.
In addition, we would like to emphasize that in this case, the administration of the Faculty of Law of the Belarusian State University, as well as quasi-public student organizations operating with the knowledge and under control of the administration (the student union, the trade union organization and the Belarusian Republican Youth Union of the Faculty of Law) are involved in illegal actions.
Since 2020, propaganda Telegram channels and Telegram channels of the Belarusian law enforcement agencies began to distribute “repentant” videos in which people were forced to “confess” to committing illegal acts, their sexual orientation or salary. Please note that a video with a student of the Faculty of Law of BSU follows a similar practice. At the end of the video, the student says “I fully admit my guilt, I repent.” The video sparked widespread discussion on social media and independent media. Sometime after the first video, a second video appeared with the same student, who this time was forced to explain that he was filming the first video voluntarily.
The practice of creating such videos has been repeatedly condemned by human rights organizations, as well as in the report of the OSCE Fact Finding Mission in Belarus in 2023. Regardless of the reasons declared by those involved in the shooting, as well as the motivation of those who shoot such videos, the circumstances in which such videos were created speak of systemic facts of coercion, which at the moment have moved from the practices of law enforcement agencies to the universities, and, which is especially shocking, to the activities of the flagship of the Belarusian legal education - the Faculty of Law of Belarusian State University. In this regard, we want to remind you that the creation and distribution of such videos violates freedom from degrading treatment, freedom of expression, and the right to privacy. When such actions are committed on the territory of an educational institution, this is also a violation of the right to education (in terms of academic freedom and the creation of a favourable atmosphere in an educational institution without insults and humiliation of dignity).
In accordance with Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The very fact of recording such a video under duress, forcing a young person to “fully admit guilt, and repent” in a public space constitutes degrading treatment.
According to article 17, paragraph 1, of the Covenant, no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honour and reputation. A young man is forced to provide his name, surname, place of study, show his face, and confess to committing some actions allegedly condemned by society. All this constitutes an interference with his privacy and is an unlawful attack on his honour and reputation.
The student "recommends" other young people to "keep an eye on what, to whom and in what situations they say" and "to work for the good of our country". The right to freedom of expression necessarily includes the freedom not to express one's opinion (General Comment No. 34 of the Human Rights Committee, para. 10). A similar provision is contained in Part 2 of Article 33 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus: no one can be forced to express their convictions or renounce them.
Obviously, when creating and distributing such videos, these rights were not taken into account in any way. It is perplexing how such violations of human rights are combined with the presence at the Faculty of Law of the Department of Constitutional Law and the subject "Human Rights Law".
Also, we, Belarusian human rights organizations, are particularly concerned that this video appeared in the official channels of a higher educational institution that trains the largest number of lawyers in the country and claims to be the university that provides the best legal education in Belarus.
In accordance with article 13, paragraph 1, of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, education must be directed to the full development of the human personality and the creation of its dignity and must strengthen respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
By virtue of paragraph 38 of General Comment No. 13 of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the right to education can only be exercised if teachers and students have academic freedom. According to paragraph 39 of the above Notes, academic freedom includes the right of individuals to freely express their opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to perform their functions without discrimination or fear of persecution by the state or other entity, to take part in the work of professional or representative scientific authorities and enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights of others in the same jurisdiction.
There can be no talk of any academic freedom, the opportunity to have one's own opinion about the quality of education, about the initiatives being promoted, about the development of versatile personalities in universities where such reprimands are practiced against students.
The realization of the right to education is not boiled down only to the opportunity to attend classes and gain knowledge in various fields, but also involves the use of academic freedom, as well as human rights.
Pursuant to paragraph 9 of the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, governments, legal professional associations and educational institutions shall ensure that lawyers are adequately qualified and trained and aware of professional ideals and moral obligations, as well as human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by national and international law.
The practice of recording “repentance videos” within the walls of the law school threatens with its long-term consequences in the legal community, shows disrespect for law and encouragement of non-legal approaches, means and methods by the administration of the faculty. All this forms completely inadequate ideas among students about law in general, about human rights and the feasibility of their realization. It is difficult to imagine that future lawyers, having gained such “experience” in the implementation of basic human rights, will be able to adequately understand the essence of these rights and protect these rights in the future. The consequences of actions to destroy the basic foundations of legal education, coming from the administration of higher educational institutions, are very deep and difficult to eliminate, therefore it is especially important that these actions receive a principal assessment.
We, Belarusian human rights organizations, strongly condemn the actions of the representatives of the Faculty of Law of Belarusian State University, who are responsible for posting the “repentance video”, and express our support for the student who was forced to appear in these videos.
We demand that the administration of the Faculty of Law, including Dean A. Shidlovsky, Deputy Deans O. Poberezhnaya, V. Sukhoparov, S. Kalinin, as well as Vice-Rector of the Belarusian State University for Ideological Work A. Bakun stop the illegal practice of authorizing and / or organizing such methods of influencing students, take all measures to restore violated rights, apologize to students, subjected to intimidation, and also contribute to the return of the spirit of academic freedom to the university and ensure respect and observance of human rights in relation to students.
We call on the partners of Belarusian State University and the Faculty of Law to bring to the attention of the university administration their position on the inadmissibility of such actions, recall the importance of observing the principles of academic freedom and human rights, and reconsider their cooperation with the Belarusian State University until the restoration of violated rights and the return of the principles of academic freedom to the work of the university.
In addition, we especially appeal to the representatives of the legal community of Belarus and other countries cooperating in one way or another with the Faculty of Law of Belarusian State University and remind them of the special social responsibility and importance of acting in the spirit of law. And we also urge you to reconsider your support and cooperation until the restoration of real legal meanings in the legal education provided by BSU.
Right to Defense
Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Human Rights Center "Viasna"
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities