Belarusian civil society organizations are courageously speaking out—calling on UN member states to reject Belarus' bid for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The statement by the Public Legal Aid Association is below....
- The Republic of Belarus currently shows disdain for the values of human rights and violates the international obligations to which it has committed in this area: in particular, the Republic of Belarus does not submit regular reports on the human rights situation in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and also ignores the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee on specific violations of the rights of citizens of Belarus. Furthermore, the government of Belarus prevents Belarusian society from learning about the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee, which also violates the international obligations to which it has committed.
- The Republic of Belarus is the only country in Europe that sentences people to death and carries out these sentences. The practice of carrying out death sentences has occasioned repeated criticism of Belarus by international human rights and humanitarian organizations.
- Freedom of speech in the Republic of Belarus is groundlessly and significantly limited by the executive authorities. The system for distributing publications is under the total control of the administration and does not allow for the distribution of publications expressing a point of view that differs from the positions of the Belarusian government. Television and radio are subject to strict censorship. Investigations into the murders of journalists that took place in 2004 and 2005 did not uncover the perpetrators. Every year dozens of journalists in Belarus are subject to arbitrary arrest (including more than 40 such cases in 2006) and journalists frequently face criminal prosecution for carrying out their professional duties.
- There is no independent judiciary system in Belarus, and all agencies of judicial authority are under the direct control of the executive branch.
- Freedom of religion in the Republic of Belarus is extremely limited. In particular, state registration of religious organizations is required before they can operate. Registration of such organizations is extremely limited. As a result, the arrest of participants in unsanctioned worship is a frequent occurrence, as is the deportation of clergy members.
- Academic freedom does not exist in the Republic of Belarus – the state completely controls universities, appoints their deans, and determines the content of their academic programs, which are required to include lessons on so-called “state ideology,” which are propaganda promoting an authoritarian system. The European Humanities University was closed by the authorities in 2004 and forced to move abroad. The International Humanities Institute was also forced to close in 2004, as was the National Humanities Lyceum in 2003.
- Nongovernmental organizations and human rights groups are under constant pressure in Belarus. Every year the courts of Belarus issue decisions prohibiting the activities of dozens of nongovernmental organizations. Those working for unregistered nongovernmental organizations in Belarus can be and are found criminally liable and are subject to prison terms of up to two years.
- The freedom of peaceful assembly is severely limited in the Republic of Belarus. The authorities prevent the conduct of peaceful assemblies and demonstrations and often violate even the very harsh Belarusian law on demonstrations. This includes hindering the conduct of peaceful meetings indoors.
- Belarus has political prisoners – Aleksandr Kozulin, the Social Democratic Party candidate in the 2006 elections, and political figures Andrei Klimov, Nikolai Statkevich, Pavel Severinets, Artur Finkevich, Dmitry Dashkevich are all behind bars, among others.
- The problem of violent disappearances has not been solved by the government of Belarus: the Belarusian authorities have not taken meaningful steps to identify and try those guilty in the disappearances of a number of opposition politicians and journalists.
For many years now, these circumstances have been the basis for valid criticism on the part of the international community toward the government of Belarus. The Belarusian authorities have been subjected to repeated condemnation in resolutions issued by international institutions. The UN Commission on Human Rights has appointed a special rapporteur for Belarus whose reports attest to a steady worsening of the human rights situation in the country and the unwillingness of the Belarusian government to cooperate with international bodies.
Considering the above, we believe that the current human rights situation within Belarus makes it impossible for representatives of Belarus to serve on the UN Human Rights Council. Electing a representative of Belarus to the UN Human Rights Council will mean a devaluation of this body and will make it impossible for the Council to carry out the role of protecting the human rights and freedoms entrusted to it. There are also serious concerns that the participation of Belarus on the UN Human Rights Council will slow development within the humanitarian sphere inside Belarus and might not only hinder a solution of human rights problems in Belarus, but could also entail a further worsening of the situation of human rights structures and human rights activists within the country. We feel that this must not be permitted.
We view efforts to attain membership for the Republic of Belarus in the UN Human Rights Council as a political step undertaken by the Belarusian government to counter criticism on the part of the world human rights community that has nothing to do with a genuine desire to serve the principles stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Only genuine actions promoting the values of human rights can serve as a criterion for membership in the UN Human Rights Council – any other principle used in determining the makeup of the Council will lead to the discrediting of this body.
We call upon the international community to refrain from including representatives of Belarus on the UN Human Rights Council until such time as the government of Belarus is able to demonstrate a true striving to adhere to the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Chair, Public Legal Aid Association
Executive Director, Public Legal Aid Association
Lawyer, Representative of former Republic of Belarus presidential candidate, A. V. Kozulin