Situation in Belarus still frozen, human rights defenders say
Certain positive changes have taken place in the sphere of human rights over the past year, but the problem of their protection is still relevant, Belarusian human rights activists told belapan.by on the occasion of Human Rights Day celebrated on December 10.
“The human rights situation remains frozen. No significant changes have occurred since the authorities released political prisoners last year. The authorities continue to control public activity. At the same time, the severe practices were replaced by softer ones — it is typical of administrative trials against political activists, which usually end up with fines,” Ales Bialiatski, head of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, said.
The human rights activist said that the lifting of the EU sanctions in February 2016 became a deterrent to reprisals against civil society. However, the pressure on political activists continues.
“For example, the number of persons punished this year for holding peaceful assemblies, according to our estimates, has tripled. Fines of $300-500 are a strain on their incomes,” Bialiatski said.
Thus, according to Viasna leader, the authorities continue to restrict public activity of citizens, and no positive changes are happening in general. The expert stresses that there is no transformation at the legislative level.
“The situation has not been corrected. This means that at any time if the political situation changes, we can again return to the tough opposition between the civil society and the authorities. It concerns us, we have already experienced a certain period of liberalization in 2007-2008, but we remember how it ended after the 2010 presidential election,” he stressed.
Bialiatski is skeptical about the adoption in October of a National Human Rights Plan.
“So far, it is too early to assess the plan. Dozens, if not hundreds, of government regulations have not been met or downplayed. Political will is necessary to change the overall political climate in the country, and we don’t have it today,” the human rights activist said.
The emergence of “both positive and sad nuances’ in the field of human rights in 2016 is stressed by the chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak.
“The sad thing is that there is no system breakthrough in practice. However, a positive aspect is the emergence of the National Human Rights Plan, which gave the sphere more or less clear direction. It is important that Belarus has designated these efforts, instead of continuing to demonstrate its special way with all the ensuing consequences,” Hulak said.
BHC chairman stressed that, despite certain softening the repressive practices against citizens participating in peaceful assemblies still exist.
“It shows a lack of systemic change in the authorities’ perception of the right to peaceful assembly,” he added.
At the same time, Hulak believes that we should not exaggerate the role of the lifting of the EU sanctions in the liberalization of judicial harassment against opposition activists.
“It’s hard to say which is the cause and the consequence. Both the authorities and the EU demonstrated their willingness to cooperate and geopolitical and economic factors also had certain impact,” Hulak said.
The UN Human Rights Day is celebrated annually to mark the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. The document set general standards, which should be achieved by the people of all countries. The Declaration proclaims the rights of the individual, civil and political rights and freedoms — everyone’s equality before the law, right to liberty and security of person, freedom of conscience, and others. All people, according to the Declaration, have equal rights, regardless of the differences in the political systems of their countries.