Bi-weekly Press Briefing - 07 July 2023
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Statements | OHCHR , UNOG

HRC 53: SR Anaïs Marin on Belarus - 04 July 2023

Continuing repression and deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, UN Expert 

 

Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said since assuming the mandate five years ago, they had witnessed a steady deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, notably as repression reached unprecedented levels in 2020.  The situation remained catastrophic today and was unfortunately worsening.  The policy of the Government had effectively eradicated independent human rights defence groups from the Belarusian landscape, and complicated the work of international mechanisms established to monitor the human rights situation in the country.  The report to the Council focused on freedom of expression and highlighted the continuing repression against independent media and trade unions and restrictions to academic freedom.  Ms. Marin said the international community needed to continue gathering evidence of human rights violations, while continuing to seek engagement with the Belarusian Government.

Belarus was not present in the room to take the floor as a country concerned.

In the discussion on Belarus, some speakers said the human rights situation in Belarus was appalling, and strongly condemned the systematic and widespread violations of international human rights law in Belarus, including unlawful deprivation of life and numerous cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.  Belarus had a climate of ongoing political repression against many groups of the population, with an ongoing impunity for human rights violations, which could represent crimes against humanity.  Speakers also strongly condemned the continued impunity for the excessive and disproportionate use of force during protests and deliberate attacks against civil society, pro-democratic movements, human rights defenders, persons belonging to national minorities, journalists and other independent media workers, and independent labour and trade unions members.

 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

Report

The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in BelarusOpens in new window (A/HRC/53/53).

Presentation of Report

ANAÏS MARIN, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said since assuming the mandate five years ago, they had witnessed a steady deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, notably as repression reached unprecedented levels in 2020.  The situation remained catastrophic today and was unfortunately worsening.  The Belarusian Government had amended an already restrictive legislation aimed at dismantling civic freedoms, leading to a surge in politically motivated prosecutions and sentencing.  More than 1,500 individuals were still being detained on politically motivated charges, with an average of 17 arbitrary arrests occurring daily since 2020.  This year saw an increase in the practice of incommunicado detention, which targeted political opposition members and civil society activists currently behind bars. 

Prominent political figures, such as Siarhiej Tsikhanousky, Maria Kalesnikava, and Viktar Barbaryka, suffered ill-treatment in punishment cells, where they were systematically denied basic rights.  Over 1,600 undesirable organizations had been forcibly dissolved, including all remaining independent trade unions.  This policy had effectively eradicated independent human rights defence groups from the Belarusian landscape, and complicated the work of international mechanisms established to monitor the human rights situation in the country.  The criminal prosecution of Viasna and its personnel, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, was a distressing example of this repression.  Over 100 lawyers had been disbarred since 2020, which severely impacted the rights to defence and due process for victims of human rights violations.  No one had been held accountable in Belarus for arbitrarily detaining tens of thousands of peaceful protesters in 2020.  This general impunity, and the climate of fear resulting from ongoing repression, had compelled hundreds of thousands of Belarusians into exile.

The report to the Council focused on freedom of expression and highlighted the continuing repression against independent media and trade unions and restrictions to academic freedom.  Independent media outlets had been labelled as extremist organizations and banned, while journalists and media workers experienced raids, arrests and detentions.  The authorities had restricted the informational space to State-controlled media, while independent sources, labelled as “extremist”, faced censorship and content blocking.  Academic freedom was systematically attacked in Belarus and academics critical of the Government were discriminated against and dismissed from their workplace.  In schools, children were discouraged from expressing their own opinions, especially on political issues. 

The right to education for linguistic minorities was also being challenged, with the closure of Polish language schools.  Individuals also faced challenges to their freedom of opinion and expression when trying to speak out against the armed attack by Russia on Ukraine.  Anti-war actions had led to numerous detentions and arrests, some on charges of planning terrorist attacks, a crime which could be punished by death.  The disregard for human life and dignity was evident during the crackdown against peaceful protesters in 2020 and there had been no thorough investigation into the crimes committed by law enforcement.  The international community needed to continue gathering evidence of human rights violations, while continuing to seek engagement with the Belarusian Government.  Ms. Marin called upon the Belarusian authorities to fulfil their international human rights obligations.

Statement by Country Concerned

The President of the Council said Belarus was not present in the room to take the floor as the country concerned.

Discussion

In the discussion, some speakers said the human rights situation in Belarus was appalling.  Since 2020, there had been hundreds of raids on media offices and private homes of journalists and media workers, who faced serious legal consequences and prison sentences.  Over 600 professionals had been arrested and more than 100,000 Belarusians had been forced into exile.  A number of speakers strongly condemned the systematic and widespread violations of international human rights law in Belarus, including unlawful deprivation of life and numerous cases of arbitrary deprivation of liberty, torture and other ill-treatment, as well as sexual and gender-based violence.  Belarus had a climate of ongoing political repression against many groups of the population, with an ongoing impunity for human rights violations, which could represent crimes against humanity.

Some speakers also strongly condemned the continued impunity for the excessive and disproportionate use of force during protests and deliberate attacks against civil society, pro-democratic movements, human rights defenders, persons belonging to national minorities, journalists and other independent media workers, and independent labour and trade unions members.  They expressed concern about the weaponisation of the criminal justice system against human rights defenders, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ales Bialiatski, Valiantsin Stefanovich, Uladzimir Labkovich and Dzmitriy Salauvyou from the Viasna Human Rights Centre, who were sentenced on politically motivated charges on 3 March 2023.

The shutdown of multiple civil society organizations was an example of intimidation and judicial harassment which could not be tolerated; civic space must be protected.  Additionally, several legislative amendments in recent years had deliberately limited the right to freedom of expression and exacerbated the shrinking of civil society and media space.  The Government of Belarus should immediately repeal all such legislation and conduct credible and independent investigations into these incidents.  The extension of the death penalty for certain crimes must be reversed, and a moratorium on the penalty put into place.

By allowing and enabling Russia to use the territory of Belarus for Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine, the leadership of Belarus was responsible for the act of the aggression, some speakers said.  Those responsible must be held accountable for violations of international law.  There was also concern that the deployment of nuclear weapons to Belarus could lead to a further escalation of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, with potentially devastating consequences for the whole world.  Disregarding the rights of the child, Belarus had started the militarisation and politicisation of school programmes.  Hundreds of Ukrainian children had also been allegedly forcibly transferred to Belarus, which implied that Lukashenko may be considered directly responsible for such a despicable war crime.

Belarus should immediately and unconditionally release all arbitrarily detained persons, provide them with full legal redress, and conduct independent and transparent investigations into all allegations of human rights violations.  In this process, it was also vital for Belarus to fully abide by its international obligations.  Belarus should implement the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and grant the mandate holder unrestricted access to Belarus.  The authorities should respect their citizens’ right to freedom of opinion and expression, as guaranteed by the Belarussian constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Belarus was a State party.

Among questions posed by speakers were: how could the international community ensure accountability for the persecution by the Belarusian authorities of journalists, human rights defenders and civil society organizations; could the Special Rapporteur shed light on how the Council could better support the suppressed civil society and independent media in Belarus; what was the Special Rapporteur’s view on how the international community could better support Belarusian journalists and media workers in exile, including on how to effectively reach audiences inside Belarus; given the important role of civil society in promoting human rights on the ground, could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on how best the international community could support the work of civil society in Belarus; and could the Special Rapporteur elaborate on what impact the crackdown on civil society in Belarus had for the upcoming parliamentary election in the country?  The report paid particular attention to the crackdown against academics, teachers, and students in Belarus for holding and expressing dissenting opinions - how could the international community effectively support also those who had not yet fled the country?

 

Statement of Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus at the Human Rights Council, 53rd session.

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