We can see dialogue beginning, UNHRC expert says
On May 23, the Minsk-based Territory of Rights event space hosted a follow-up meeting on the concluding observations adopted by the UN Human Rights Committee after the consideration of Belarus’s fifth periodic report in October 2018.
The event focused on further work to implement the UNHRC recommendations to the Belarusian government. It brought together representatives of the country’s leading human rights and non-governmental organizations, as well as foreign experts Ilze Brands Kehris, member of the UN Human Rights Committee, Andrea Meraz of the Geneva-based Center for Civil and Political Rights and a representative of the Human Rights House Foundation Matthew Jones.
The day before, the experts met with representatives of the Belarusian government, which, according to Ms. Ilze Brands Kehris, was a long-awaited start for the dialogue.
“Before the meeting, I had mixed feelings, as I realized that undertaking such a dialogue is a big step for Belarus. On the other hand, it is still unclear what will happen next, how this dialogue will develop in the future, and whether this meeting will lead to a desire to work with us. Perhaps, this dialogue is simply meant to create the appearance of constructive work,” the UN expert said.
Ms. Brands Kerys says that the Belarusian officials were approached with two key issues.
The first is discussing the procedure of implementation of the UNHRC recommendations. The other question concerned the format of the dialogue as a regular and efficient process. It is important that officials could hear human rights defenders and process information in their own language.
Unfortunately, the meeting failed to result in a draft mechanism for the implementation of the recommendations.
“I know that the representatives of civil society and representatives of the state continue to struggle over the legal status of the recommendations, as the state refers to their alleged non-binding character. I come from Latvia, which still sometimes practices such a formalistic approach. However, in Belarus, the problem has escalated to such an extent that sometimes officials say they will not listen to us, because what we say is not so important and not compulsory,” the expert said.
Representatives of the country’s civil society welcomed the start of the dialogue with cautious optimism.
In particular, head of the Legal Initiative Viktoryia Fiodarava said it was a positive step to invite representatives of unregistered organizations.
Lawyer of the Human Rights Center "Viasna" Pavel Sapelka said that officials needed deep and comprehensive education in the sphere of human rights in order to catch up with the level of knowledge of civil society representatives.
A representative of the Initiative FORB Dzina Shautsova suggested restarting the government’s approach so that it could talk with the society in his own language.
The exchange of views involved Viasna’s representative Valiantsin Stefanovich, director of the Legal Transformation Center Volha Smalianka, deputy head of the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities Mikhail Matskevich and others.
In November 2020, Belarus is expected to present to the UN Human Rights Committee its interim report on the implementation of the Committee’s recommendations. Therefore, international experts say that they will follow monitoring and information support from the civil society in Belarus, especially on such key issues as the death penalty and the right to peaceful assembly.