NGOs call for a UN Human Rights Council resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus
February 21, 2011
We believe it is critically important for the Human Rights Council to condemn unequivocally the widespread human rights violations perpetrated in the aftermath of the December 19, 2010 presidential election and the ongoing government crackdown on the opposition and civil society, and to articulate a set of improvements it expects the Belarusian government to implement to address these concerns.

Your Excellency,

We are writing to urge you to support the adoption of a resolution on Belarus at the 16th Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. We believe it is critically important for the Human Rights Council to condemn unequivocally the widespread human rights violations perpetrated in the aftermath of the December 19, 2010 presidential election and the ongoing government crackdown on the opposition and civil society, and to articulate a set of improvements it expects the Belarusian government to implement to address these concerns.

As you may know, there are credible allegations that Belarusian riot police and other law enforcement personnel used excessive force to break up a massive demonstration against the election outcome, beating hundreds of people and causing serious injury to several, including presidential candidates Vladimir Neklyaev and Andrey Sannikov. Video and witness testimony gathered by Belarusian human rights groups amply demonstrates that law enforcement beat everyone within their reach with batons, kicked those who had fallen to the ground, and randomly beat people as they tried to escape.

The authorities also arbitrarily detained, mistreated, and summarily sentenced more than 700 people arrested in the aftermath of the demonstration. A survey of former detainees conducted by a coalition of the Legal Transformation Center, a Belarusian nongovernmental organization, and the Independent Observation Mission, a group of nongovernmental activists from several countries, found that hundreds of them were beaten upon arrest, dozens were forced to sign arrest reports with false information about their arrest, and most were not allowed to contact their families or a lawyer. Human Rights Watch research in Belarus has corroborated these findings.

Nearly all of the detainees were sentenced in summary trials to 10 to 15 days of administrative detention. Most of the trials were held behind closed doors, without defense counsel, lasted no longer than 10 to 15 minutes, and most of the sentences contained identical language. Hundreds served their time in detention in overcrowded cells with little heat and were not able to communicate with their families.

At least 30 political opposition members, including three presidential candidates, remain in custody facing riot charges. If convicted, they face up to 15 years of imprisonment. The authorities have not allowed them to have private, confidential access to their lawyers. The Ministry of Justice asked the Minsk City Bar Association to revoke the licenses of several defense lawyers working on these cases after they voiced concerns about the well‐being or detention conditions of their clients. This cannot but serve as a clear warning to all lawyers working on these cases. The authorities have also harassed and intimidated the families of some of these detainees in an attempt to coerce them to persuade their loved ones in custody to cooperate with the authorities and admit guilt.

In the wake of the post‐election protest the authorities have raided the offices of at least three human rights groups-the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Human Rights Center Viasna, and the Center for Human Rights. Only one of these groups is nationally registered, and the government denies registration to NGOs for arbitrary reasons. Because carrying out work for unregistered organizations is unlawful, many NGO activists are vulnerable to criminal prosecution for their work. In recent weeks several have received specific warnings from the prosecutor's office to cease their work.

For more than a decade, Belarus's human rights record has been extremely poor as the government has sought to stamp out dissent. It maintains strict control over the media through harassment and detention of journalists, lawsuits against independent or opposition newspapers, and monitoring of Internet usage. The government has a long history of harassing and threatening human rights NGOs. Civil society activists are frequently arrested, fined, and detained for participating in unsanctioned, peaceful assemblies. The government took several positive steps in advance of the presidential election, such as allowing for televised debates among presidential candidates. But intergovernmental monitoring bodies, including the Organization for Security and Co‐operation in Europe (OSCE) found the elections did not meet international standards, making this the latest in every national election held in Belarus since 1994 that failed to do so.

Top UN leaders and experts have spoken out about the human rights situation in Belarus. On February 1, 2011, Secretary‐General Ban Ki‐moon expressed concern about "reports of harassment and continued detention of journalists, civil society activists and opposition candidates" and called for their release.

In a statement issued on December 21, 2010, the High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed "deep concern" about "the use of force against demonstrators who were not participating in hostilities, violence against and abduction of opposition candidates and their supporters, detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders, and searches and harassment of independent non‐governmental organizations." Stressing that authorities "must fully respect and ensure their political opponents' rights to peaceful demonstrations and freedom of speech," she called for "the immediate release of opposition candidates and their supporters who did not call for and were not involved in any violence;" and for "the Government of Belarus to ensure that human rights defenders, journalists and civil society organizations are free from any harassment."

A group of HRC special procedures also expressed concern about Belarus in their February 3 joint statement about the suppression of public voices in a series of countries, noting that the rights to freedom of expression, assembly and association "are among the most fundamental rights underpinning a democratic society."

A UN Human Rights Council resolution should deplore the abuses in Belarus and call on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Conduct a thorough a thorough and impartial investigation into the use of force on December 19, 2010;
  •  Investigate the treatment of all arrested, from the legality of and treatment in detention to violations of procedural rights during their summary trials, and to provide a remedy for the victims;
  • Release detainees who were not engaged in acts of violence on December 19;
  • Ensure that all detainees have unimpeded access to counsel; ensure that any eventual trials in relation to the December 19 events be open to the public;
  • Return computer and other equipment confiscated from the Belarus Helsinki Committee, Viasna, and other civil society groups and media outlets over 2010 and 2011, and end harassment of civil society;
  •  Issue a standing invitation for country visits to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, and urgently accept the long‐time pending requests and facilitate the visits of the Special Rapporteur on  freedom of expression, the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders and the Special Rapporteur on torture. The HRC Resolution should also strongly encourage the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers to request a visit to Belarus. All these special procedures should also be encouraged to pay particular attention to the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of their respective mandates.

Your Excellency,

The Human Rights Council has the clear mandate to "address situations of violations of human rights, including gross and systematic violations and make recommendations thereon". It cannot remain silent in the face of the ongoing human rights violations committed in Belarus. An HRC resolution would be instrumental in raising international attention on the human rights violations committed in Belarus and maintaining pressure on the government to end the ongoing crackdown and commit to urgently needed human rights improvements.

We thank you for your attention to these concerns and would welcome the opportunity to provide any further information about the human rights situation in Belarus that you may find helpful.

Sincerely,

Rachel Denber, Acting Director, Europe and Central Asia Divison, Human Rights Watch

Nicola Duckworth, Director, Europe and Central Asia Program, Amnesty International

Will Lasky, Convening and Eurasia Coordinator, CIVICUS

Souhayr Belhassen, President, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

Florian Irminger, Head of the Geneva Office, Human Rights House Foundation (HRHFN)

Aleh Hulak, Chair, Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Olga Smolianko, Director of the Legal Transformation Centre (Belarus)

Zhanna Litvina, Chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists

Fyodar Pauluchenka, Project Head, Charter ‘97 (Belarus)

Siarjiej Mackievic, Working Group Chairman, Assembly of ProDemocratic NGOs of Belarus

Inna Kuley, Chair, Salidarnasc Committee for Defense of the Repressed (Belarus)

Daria Korsak, initiative of relatives of political prisoners "Vyzvalenne" (Belarus)

Tatsiana Reviaka, President, Belarusian Human Rights House (Belarus)

Tamara Siarhei, head of the Civil Initiative against Lawlessness in Court and Office of Public Prosecutor Bodies(Belarus)

Olga Zakharova, member of Observatory Committee, Eurasia IDEA Network

Lyudmilla Alexeeva, chair, Moscow Helsinki Group (Russia)

Nadejda Atayeva, President of the Association for Human Rights in Central Asia

Bjørn Engesland, Secretary‐general, Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Danuta Przywara, President of the Board, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights (Poland)

Lyudmyla Kozlovska, vice‐president of the board Open Dialog Foundation (Poland)

Marek Svoboda , Head of Human Rights Department, People in Need (Czech Republic)

Ivan Sherstyuk, founder, ‘Open Dialog' Foundation, Ukraine‐Poland

Nadejda Atayeva, President, Association for Human Rights in Central Asia (France)

Yodgor Obid, Poet and Member, International PENClub (Austria)

Yuri Dzhibladze, President, Center for the Development of Democracy and Human Rights

(Russia)

Aleksandr Bekhtold, Executive Director, For Human Rights, Ryazan

Alena Ob'ezdchikova, Chairperson of Coordination Council, International Youth Human Rights Movement

Irina Petrushova, editor‐in‐chief ‘Respublika' media group, Kazakhstan

Igor Vinyavsky, chief‐editor newspaper "Vzglyad" Kazakhstan

Vladimir Kozlov, head people's party "Alga!", Kazakhstan

Marek Pavlovski, Member, Civil Platform Party (Poland)

Andzhej Schlivisnki, NGO ‘Molodiye Demokrati' Young Democrats (Poland)

Levan Zhorbenadze, Founder of the ‘Dialog for Development 2008' Foundation (Georgia)

Piotr Niziol, Director, Academic Incubators for Entrepreneurship (Lublin, Poland)

Nikolai Nikolaev, Head of the Volga Basin Department, Civic Movement ‘InterSoyuz supporting labor migrants'(Russia)

Andrej Sheketa, Chairman of the Executive Secretariat, VMOO (Ukrainian Youth Civic Organisation) ‘Batkivschina Moloda' The Homeland is Young (Ukraine)

Vitaliy Shabunin, Head, Foundation for Regional Initiatives (Ukraine)

Alexander Solontaj, Parliamentarian, 5th Convocation of the Uzhgorod Oblast, Expert at the Institute of Political Education (Ukraine)

Pavel Sidorenko, Head, VMOO (Ukrainian Youth Civic Organization) ‘Ukrainian Youth Information Agency' (Ukraine)

Viktor Taran, head of the Centre for Political Studies and Analysis, Ukraine

Mikael Danielyan, Helsinki Association - Armenia

Robert Hårdh, Executive Director, Civil Rights Defenders (Sweden)

 

Uzbekistan

Surat Ikramov, Representative, Initiative Group of Rights Defenders of Uzbekistan

Dilarom Iskhakova, Poet (Uzbekistan)

Bashorat Yeshova, Coordinator, Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Switzerland)

Ismail Dadadzhanov, Representative, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan (Sweden)

Khusniddin Kutbiddinov, Independent Journalist (Uzbekistan)

Tulkin Karaev, Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Switzerland)

Abaz Fayazov, International Organization "Human Rights Defenders" (Switzerland)

Abdulatif Abdurakhimov, Political Refugee (Sweden)

Dilmurod Isakov, "Ezgulik" Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Sweden)

Abdumalik Bakaev, Political Refugee (Sweden)

Abaz Isakov, "Ezgulik" Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Sweden)

Rafik Ganiev, "Ezgulik" Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Sweden)

Nabidzhan Narbutaev, "Birlik" Political Party (Sweden)

Mukhiddin Kurbanov, International Organization of Human Rights Defenders (Sweden)

Asadullo Akhmedov, Political Refugee (Norway)

Dildora Akhmedova, Political Refugee (Norway

Daniel Anderson, Political Refugee (Norway)

David Anderson, Political Refugee (Norway)

Shabkat Khodzhaev, "Birlik" Political Party

Rufia Kiyarmova, "Birlik" Political Party

Ota Rakhimov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Davlat Kazimov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Saodat Kazimova, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Zakhro Kazimov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Bek Davronov, Refugee

Zubaid Iskhanov, Refugee

Ibodat Karimova, Refugee

Anvar Karimov, Political Refugee (USA

Avaz Karimov, Political Refugee (USA)

Ayub Karimov, Political Refugee (USA

Inom Bobokhonov, "Birlik" Political Party

Ilkhom Bobokhonov, Political Refugee (USA)

Shamsuddin Isomutdinov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Rustam Kabimov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Farida Kasimova, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Karim Suyunov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Rafik Eshmatov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Bek Alibekov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan

Zhamshid Bakiev, "Ezgulik" Human Rights of Uzbekistan Society (Sweden)

Mukhammadsalikh Abutov, Organization "Tayanch" (Sweden)

Asror Egambediev, Political Refugee (Sweden)

Xhusniddin Kutbiddinov, Independent Journalist (Uzbekistan)

Ulugbek Khaidarov, Journalist (Canada)

Khait Gafurov, "Birlik" Political Party (Sweden)

Khatam Khadzhimativ, Human Rights Defender (Norway)

Ulgubek Zainabitdinov, "Birlik" Political Party (Sweden)

Kamil Ruzimatov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan (Ukraine)

Zhalil Ikramov, Democratic Forum of Uzbekistan (Ukraine)

Obidkhon Nazarov, Imam (Sweden)

Rustam Makhkamov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Komil Ishmatov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Ikrom Ruzikulov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Orif Kobilov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Sofia Kobilova, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Ikrom Kobilov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Ravshanbek Movlonbekov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Saida Movlonbekova, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Adolat Rakhimov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Abboskhon Dadakhonov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Sanzhar Sobirkhonov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Radzhabali Kosimova, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Tozhikhon Kosimova, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Makhmud Mukhammadzhonov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Natalya Bushuyeva, Journalist (Sweden)

Alisher Taksanov, Journalist (Switzerland)

Darya Esipova, Journalist (USA)

Ulugbek Zainobiddinov, Human Rights Defender (Sweden)

Davron Maxumov, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Shamsia Maxudova, Citizen of Uzbekistan

Mukhammad Tashiev, Citizen of Uzbekistan

 

 

Turkmenistan

Vyacheslav Mamedov, Representative, Democratic Citizen's Union of Turkmenistan

 

Azerbaijan

Leila Yunus, Institute of Peace and Democracy

Khikmet Khadzhizade, FAR Center

Matanat Azizova, Women's Crisis Center

Ismail Veliev, Newspaper "Ganjabasar"

El'chin Mammad, Social Union of Legal Education of Sumgait Youth

Khafiz Safikhanov, Representative, Civil Group "Azerbaijani Campaign Against Mines"

Zakhir Amanov, Newspaper "Janub Heberleri"

Alovsat Aliev, Azerbaijani Migration Center

Il'gar Gasimov, "Legal Aid" (Lenkoran' City)

Mekhman Aliev, , "Turan" News Agency

Anar Mamedli, Center for Election Monitoring and Democratic Education

Mirvari Gabramanli, Organization for the Defense of the Rights of Oil Workers

El'chin Bekhbudov, Azerbaijani Committee Against Torture

Intigam Aliev, Society for Rights Education

Leila Alieva, Center for Stragic and International Research

Khilal Mamedov, Newspaper "Tolishi Sado"

Emin Husseinov, Institute for the Freedom and Security of Reporters

Annadzhi Khasibeili, Association of Lawyers of Azerbaijan

Alekper Mamedov, Center for the Democratic and Civil Control of the Armed Forces

Shakir Agaev, Newspaper "Novoye Vremya" - New Times