UN Member States gathered in person in Geneva on Monday for a new session of the Human Rights Council; proceedings began with a decision to hold a rare Urgent Debate on the situation in Belarus.
Leading the request, the European Union delegation - represented by Germany - highlighted what it called a “steep deterioration of the human rights situation” in the country, before and after the disputed presidential election in August.
The delegation for Belarus rejected the proposed debate, citing outside interference.
“The enforced disappearances, the forced abductions, expulsions and arbitrary detentions continue to take place every day in Belarus,” said Ambassador Michael von Ungern-Sternberg, for the European Union. “In past days we have witnessed a further escalation of violence and intimidation against members of the Coordination Council and other representatives of civil society. The opposition leader, Maria Kolesnikova, was abducted and journalists lost their accreditations. Therefore, the situation on the ground clearly warrants an Urgent Debate. The Human Rights Council should not stay silent on this matter.”
Ambassador von Ungern-Sternberg maintained that “the reasons for this request are clear. There has been a steep deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus in the run-up to and aftermath of the Presidential election of 9 August 2020. Which was held in the absence of meaningful international observation and was neither free nor fair.”
The development at the Council’s 45th session follows condemnation of violence against demonstrators in Belarus by UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, since the presidential election on 9 August.
Over the weekend, UN Secretary-General António Guterres also expressed deep concern about the continued use of force against peaceful protestors and the detention of people exercising their democratic rights.
Dismissing the EU proposal, Belarus’s Ambassador Yury Ambrazevic noted that the Presidential elections of 2020 had returned Alexander Lukashenko to power.
He had been “victorious”, the Ambassador noted, “and he received the corresponding congratulations from the heads of China, Russia, Kazakhstan and many other States”.
Nonetheless, “part of our society was not in agreement with these events”, the Ambassador continued, leading to “highly politicised” events and “a high level of political activity by the citizens. In the capital and in certain other states, street protests have been taking place.”
It was unfortunate and “very sad – that some people have suffered, both protesters and employees of law enforcement agencies have been injured”, he continued, noting that “in all cases”, wherever there had been “clashes between protesters and law enforcement, we have conducted checks and verifications”.
Ambassador Ambrazevic also insisted that the Government was “working on a proposal to update the Belarus constitution and considering how to organise a national dialogue in order to overcome the political standoff that has formed within our society. Work is being done also to restore national harmony within the country.”
Urgent Debates can be requested during regular sessions of the Council to tackle urgent situations requiring a rapid response from the body. In June, the Council gave the green light to an Urgent Debate on systemic racism, alleged police brutality and violence against protesters, following the killing of American George Floyd in police custody.
After a roll-call vote on the proposal on Belarus by the Council’s 47 Members, Council President Ambassador Tichy-Fisslberger announced that the outcome was “25 votes in favour, two against and 20 abstentions. Which means that the proposal to hold an Urgent Debate on Belarus is adopted.”
The Urgent Debate would be held this Friday, she added.