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Miklós Haraszti: Lifting of mandate should not be used to reward spectacular steps by Belarusian authorities

2017 2017-02-02T13:17:49+0300 2017-02-02T13:30:29+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Miklós Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Photo:

Miklós Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Photo:

Miklós Haraszti, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, has met in Vilnius with Belarusian and international human rights activists to discuss priorities for further cooperation. According to Haraszti, he is rather optimistic about the issue of renewing his mandate expected to be discussed this year.

During the meeting with the UN Special Rapporteur, which was held on January 31 at the Belarusian Human Rights House, representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations and initiatives, their international colleagues from the Human Rights House Foundation, FIDH, and Freedom House discussed a wide range of questions on the situation in Belarus and topical areas of cooperation. Miklós Haraszti also spoke about the ongoing work within the framework of his mandate and shared some of his future plans.

Describing the situation of human rights in Belarus last year, the UN Special Rapporteur stressed that while there was no deterioration, it does not mean that there were any improvements, since no systemic reforms have been carried out yet.

Mr. Haraszti shared his position on certain issues in his interview for the website of the HRC “Viasna”.

“In my opinion, today there is a tactical peace in Belarus in the state’s war against the society. This tactical peace should be expanded into a strategic peace. After all, ‘tactical’ means that the state still has the legal and practical position from where it can start to bomb the society. It is necessary to recede from this position. It is for this that the citizens of all countries in the world give their money to the state — so that it was positive towards their civic rights. And I must say that the tactical peace was created by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while all the other ministries continue oppressing practical rights. That is, they still have their fists doubled, but now they are in their pockets. But we should keep our hands open and stretch them out for a handshake,” said the Special Rapporteur.

Talking about the working conditions of human rights defenders in Belarus and their ability to interact with the authorities, he expressed his view on the role of international organizations in this process:

“Human rights organizations find it particularly difficult to work if they are not registered. I believe that head of the UN office in Minsk should be more positive in working with these organizations. In my opinion, it is scandalous that he does not invite unregistered organizations to important events, thus virtually approving of their non-registration in violation of international norms by the government... In the first place, this is the responsibility of international organizations and diplomats — creation of triangles in which the government will have to consider that they take these human rights organizations into account. And I can’t help wondering: how is it possible that they do not... I’m not saying that international organizations are to blame. Of course, they are embarrassed to take a hard stance, because the government tells them to be positive and it is not that easy in moral terms.”

Meeting with Miklós Haraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus, at the Belarusian Human Rights House in Vilnius. 31 January 2017

Telling about his plans, Haraszti said that on February 3 he was going to visit the OSCE in Vienna, where he was invited to discuss the situation in Belarus, as the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly had decided to hold its summer session in Minsk. On February 6, Haraszti, along with representatives of Viasna and FIDH, is going on a working visit to EU bodies in Brussels. He also keeps working on the preparation of his next report on the situation of human rights in the country, which will be presented at the UN HRC in June and in the fall he plans to attend the UN General Assembly in New York.

The main issues which will remain in the focus of his attention are the following: freedom of expression, legal lifting of the warning system, allowing foreign investment in the media, allowing pluralism of television and radio, lifting the blocking and filtering of Internet sites, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, lifting Article 193.1, registering organizations, stopping the constant harassment of people who participate in gatherings, having a positive approach of authorities towards freedom of assembly, lifting the permission-based regime and introducing the notification-based regime, as well as the death penalty.

“So these are the basic civil and political rights and the authorities should eradicate the totally negative approach to these rights,” said he.

When asked about the likelihood of a renewal by the UN Human Rights Council of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate on Belarus, Miklós Haraszti said that this will most likely be done, since, except for a few "spectacular steps, after one year not even the simplest improvement has been made."

“Without a doubt, the degree of support of the mandate last year [of the UN HRC 47 member states 15 voted in favor of the resolution, 9 — against, and 23 abstained] influenced the lifting of the European sanctions against Belarus. But this scrutiny of human rights should be upheld regardless of the geopolitical interestablishment and intergovernmental détente. Both are natural, because Belarus has a somewhat independent stance in the international debates around Ukraine, because Belarus puts importance into the issue of national independence and territorial integrity, therefore it is important for similarly-thinking countries in the West of the continent to have a better relationship with the country. But since the delegates of the European Union and other countries understood that this should be separated from the issue of the human rights improvement, that this is a fake logic that should not be followed, because when the international standing and geopolitical importance of the country is elevating, therefore the human rights situation should also be named better, even if it is not better. So the point is that now, after one year not even the simplest improvement has been made in the actual body of law, in the actual practice of the state. It would be as easy as it was last year to understand that these two issues have to be separated. So in that sense I am optimistic.

But I am also pessimistic. Because real optimism will be when the mandate has to be lifted because there is improvement in the human rights situation. In a funny way, the elections were not better at all than the previous elections, except that two opposition candidates have been picked to be presented to the international community. Jokingly said, that’s a 200% improvement of pluralism.

What I believe is that continuing the mandate is also needed to send a message, because there should be real steps besides these spectacular steps. Lifting of the mandate should not be used to reward these spectacular steps, these promises which have to be fulfilled. That is my position. I believe logic will prevail, real interests of human rights will prevail and the mandate will be continued,” Haraszti said.

The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus was introduced by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012 following a wave of repression in the country after the 2010 presidential election. The mandate remains the only instrument that the international community can use to monitor the situation in Belarus. The Belarusian government does not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and refuses to cooperate with him. Over the years, Miklós Haraszti has not had the opportunity to visit Belarus, since it requires an official invitation of the authorities. In his work, the Special Rapporteur uses information from Belarusian human rights activists, experts, journalists, with whom he meets abroad, drawing the necessary information from the official documents, as well as from the correspondence of the citizens of Belarus with other UN human rights mechanisms.

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