UN High Commissioner for Human Rights urges Belarus to address systemic violations

2012 2012-05-18T14:01:18+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en https://spring96.org/files/images/sources/pillay.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights


The  present  report  is  submitted  in  accordance  with  Human  Rights  Council resolution 17/24, in which the Council requested the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to  monitor the human rights situation in Belarus and to present to the Council, in an interactive dialogue at its twentieth session, a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in Belarus following the presidential election of 19 December 2010.

The  report  covers  the  period  from  19  December  2010  to  23  March  2012.  The  High Commissioner  presented  an  oral  report  on  the  situation  to  the  Council  at  its  eighteenth session.

The situation of human rights has significantly deteriorated in Belarus following the presidential  election.  The  Government's  response  to  a  mostly  peaceful  demonstration  in Minsk, contesting the electoral process, was followed by a massive crackdown on political opponents,  human  rights  groups  and  independent  media.  Overall,  more  than  600  people were arrested and detained on or shortly after election day; 43 opposition leaders, activists and  independent  journalists  were  sentenced,  including  five  out  of  nine  opposition candidates.

Since  the election, the  human rights situation  has further  deteriorated, particularly the rights to freedoms of association, assembly and expression, and the right to a fair trial. Allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody, impunity of perpetrators, violations of due judicial process and pressure on defence lawyers persist. The lack of an independent judiciary and a national human rights institution aggravate the human rights situation and impede progress.

The  High  Commissioner  makes  recommendations  aimed  at  addressing  systemic challenges, as well as urgent human rights issues. As  the  Office  of  the  High  Commissioner  was  not  allowed  access  to  Belarus,  the present  report  is  based  on  a  variety  of  sources,  including  information  provided  by  the Government.


Freedom of association and human rights defenders

59.  According to article 22.1 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, everyone has the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join  trade  unions  for  the  protection  of  his/her  interests.  Nevertheless,  the  Criminal  Code criminalizes the “organization of unregistered public associations” (art. 193.1). Throughout the period under review, human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations were subjected  to  various  forms  of  pressure,  including  arrests,  interrogations,  office  raids  and confiscation  of  materials,  as  well  as  acts  of  intimidation  linked  to  contacts  with international and intergovernmental organizations. These  actions violate the Covenant, as well as articles 5(c), 9.4 and 12 of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

60.  As an indication of the seriousness of the human rights situation in Belarus, a case of reprisal  against  the  Belarusian  Helsinki  Committee  for  cooperation  with  the  Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers was included in the report of the Secretary-General  on  cooperation  with  the  United  Nations,  its  mechanisms  or representatives in the field of human rights.47 

61.  In  the  spring  of  2011,  several  human  rights  defenders  (citizens  of  the  Russian Federation and Ukraine) from the International NGO Observation Mission to Belarus were deported from Belarus; some had not been allowed to enter the country.48 For example, on 16 March 2011, the Head of the Mission, Andrei Yurov (Russian Federation), was briefly detained by Belarusian law enforcement agents under part 2 of article 371 of the Criminal Code  (“Illegal  crossing  of  State  borders  by  a  person  previously  denied  entry  into  the country”).49 

62.  The  Human  Rights  Centre  Viasna  has  also  been  repeatedly  targeted  by  the authorities. Since cancelling its registration in 2003, the Belarusian  authorities threatened Viasna Chairman Ales Bialiatski (also the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights and a member of the Belarusian Association of Journalists) with criminal prosecution  for  “unauthorized  NGO  activity”  (Criminal  Code,  art.  193.1).  The  latest warning was issued in April 2011. On 20 December 2010, KGB officers reportedly raided the Viasna offices, seized computers and documentation, and detained  10 staff members, who were released later the same day. On 4 August 2011, Mr Bialiatski was again arrested, placed  in  a  pretrial  detention  centre  of  the  Ministry  of  the  Interior  and  charged  with  tax evasion. On 24 November, he was sentenced by the Pershamayski District Court in Minsk to four and a half years of maximum security imprisonment and his property confiscated.50 Mr  Bialiatski  was  convicted  for  “concealment  of  incomes  on  an  especially  large  scale” (Criminal  Code,  art.  243.2).  The  court  ruled  that  Mr  Biliatski  had  intentionally  avoided paying  taxes  from  the  money  he  allegedly  kept  in  bank  accounts  abroad;  the  court disregarded the fact that the money was not Mr Bialiatski‟s personal income. He appealed against the verdict, which was, however, confirmed on 24 December 2011 by the Minsk City Court. In February 2012, Mr Bialiatski was taken to Babruysk correctional colony No. 2.51 Another Viasna member, Valiantsin Stefanovich, was also found guilty of tax evasion and, on 16 December 2011, the court in Minsk sentenced him to a fine for having concealed income. 

63.  The  defamation  campaign  launched  by  Government-controlled  media  against leaders of the political opposition also targeted human rights defenders and journalists. For example, the Internet website “Traitors” (www.predateli.com), which is linked to the group of  supporters  of  the  incumbent President,52  contains  names  and  pictures  of  human  rights activists,  journalists  and  opponents  of  President  Lukashenka  and  is  considered  part  of  a smear campaign aimed at silencing dissidents.


IV.   Conclusions and recommendations

73.  The information collected and its analysis suggest a pattern of serious violations of human rights since 19 December 2010. A number of actions, on 19 December 2010 and  in  the  aftermath,  were  clearly  aimed  at  curtailing  the  rights  to  freedoms  of association, assembly and expression, and the right to a fair trial. To date, allegations of  torture  and  ill-treatment  in  custody,  impunity  of  perpetrators,  violations  of  due judicial process and pressure on defence lawyers persist. The lack of an independent judiciary aggravates the situation and impedes progress. 

74.  Despite  the  release,  in  August  and  September  2011,  of  a  number  of  those imprisoned  in  connection  with  the  events  of  19  December  2010,  amendments  to several laws have further restricted civil and political rights. This situation indicates that the deficiencies pertaining to human rights in Belarus are of a systemic nature. They  need  to  be  addressed  by  the  authorities  through  a  comprehensive  approach, which  would  include  a  review  of  the  legislation,  policies,  strategies  and  practice pertaining to human rights.

75.  While  presenting  the  oral  report  of  the  High  Commissioner  to  the  Human Rights Council at its eighteenth session, the Deputy High Commissioner made several preliminary  recommendations  to  the  Government  of  Belarus.  As  those recommendations  remain  largely  unimplemented,  OHCHR  reiterates  them, broadening  their  scope  and  adding  additional  ones.  The  High  Commissioner  thus recommends that the Government of Belarus: 

(a)  Immediately and unconditionally release remaining political opponents, activists  and  journalists  who  were  not  involved  in  any  violence  in  the  events  of  19 December 2010 and its aftermath;

(b)  Conduct  an  impartial,  credible  and  objective  investigation  of  the circumstances in which the above persons were arrested and detained, and take steps to promptly rehabilitate them; 

(c)  Conduct a comprehensive, transparent and credible investigation into all reported  cases  of  torture  and  ill-treatment,  and  bring  those  responsible  to  justice; ensure in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of detained and imprisoned persons; and establish an independent national preventive mechanism for the prevention of torture at the domestic level;

(d)  Ensure  the  full  implementation  of  the  rights  to  freedom  of  association and assembly, in accordance with international law, and put an immediate end to all forms  of  political  and  administrative  pressure  on  and  harassment  of  political opponents;

 (e)  Put an immediate end to all forms of pressure on and harassment of civil society  organizations,  as  well  as  individual  human  rights  defenders;  and  release immediately  and  unconditionally  Ales  Bialiatski,  and  withdraw  charges  brought against him and other human rights defenders; 

(f)  Take  measures  to  ensure  that  civil  society  organizations  have  the freedom  to  perform  their  tasks;  revoke  the  official  warnings  issued  against  civil society organizations, and cease the practice of issuing such warnings;

(g)  Put an immediate end to all forms of pressure on journalists and media workers;  withdraw  all  charges  against  journalists  prosecuted  for  their  professional activities, and take measures to rehabilitate them; and recall official warnings issued against newspapers and cease such practice; 

(h)  Ensure  freedom  of  expression  and  create  a  legal  environment  and practices  conducive  to  the  effective  freedom  of  the  media;  eliminate  the  practice  of censorship  and  self-censorship;  and  ensure  that  Internet  control  measures  are minimal  and  that  regulations  do  not  lead  to  censorship  of  electronic  media  and freedom of speech; 

(i)  Ensure full compliance with international standards for due process and fair  trial;  put  an  immediate  end  to  all  forms  of  pressure  on  judges,  lawyers  and members of the bar; and ensure that the bar is free and independent of all forms of administrative control by the Government; 

(j)  Cooperate fully with all United Nations human rights mechanisms, and fully implement all recommendations  made at the  universal periodic review and by treaty bodies and special procedures; 

(k)  Cooperate  fully  with  OHCHR,  including  by  providing  access  to  an OHCHR  technical  team  to  visit  Belarus  and  to  engage  directly  with  the  relevant authorities and civil society actors; 

(l)  Establish  a  national  human  rights  institution  in  compliance  with  the Paris Principles;

(m)  Establish a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty, and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights;

(n)  Initiate  a  comprehensive  review  of  the  overall  legal  framework, including the Criminal Code, as well as the laws amended in 2011, bringing them into line  with  the  State’s  international  human  rights  obligations,  and,  in  doing  so,  seek international expertise available from the United Nations, OSCE and the Council of Europe; 

(o)  Study the findings and observations reflected in the report of the OSCE election observation mission in Belarus, the report of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur58  and  the  report  of  the  OSCE  Office  for  Democratic  Institutions  and Human  Rights  on  trial  monitoring  in  Belarus,59  and  implement  fully  the recommendations made therein.