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UN Human Rights Council: Call for a Country-Specific Mandate on the Human Rights Situation in Belarus

Oral Statement under Item 4 - Interactive Dialogue with the HCHR on Belarus

A year after the Human Rights Council in June 2011 expressed concern over an unprecedented wave of human rights violations, the government of Belarus continues to curtail the rights to freedom of association, assembly and expression, and the right to a fair trial.

Human Rights Watch visited Belarus in May 2012 and found that in recent months Belarusian authorities have arrested dozens of opposition activists and human rights defenders on what appeared to be bogus charges of hooliganism or similar misdemeanor offenses designed to intimidate activists and to prevent them from attending public protests or carrying out their activities. The Legal Transformation Center, which monitors administrative hearings in Belarus, told Human Rights Watch that charges of ‘hooliganism’ are among the most “popular” charges the authorities have recently used in politically motivated cases. For example, on May 24, Aleh Vouchak, a leading human rights defender and head of the human rights organization Legal Assistance to Public, was arrested, accused of ‘swearing at passers-by’ and swiftly sentenced to a nine-day sentence in a hearing that did not meet fair trial standards. Human Rights Watch is concerned that Vouchak's arrest was retaliation for criticizing the government and for meeting with a Human Rights Watch researcher the day before.

Non-governmental organizations that are critical of the government operate under a constant threat of either being shut down or having their members jailed. In November, Human Rights Watch monitored the trial of Ales Bialitski, a leading human rights activist who was convicted on trumped up charges of tax evasion, sentenced to 4.5 years, and had all his assets confiscated. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups believe that Bialitski’s conviction and sentence were unjustified and politically motivated.

Recently Belarusian authorities have attempted to restrict freedom of movement of activists in and out of the country in order to limit the flow of information about the on-going repression. More than a dozen foreign human rights activists have been expelled or barred from entering Belarus over the last year. A number of Belarusian opposition activists, human rights defenders, and journalists have been barred from leaving Belarus under arbitrary pretexts. Despite numerous requests, the authorities have so far failed to offer credible reasons for these travel bans.

The independence of the judiciary is seriously undermined in Belarus and lawyers are regularly pressured to not take on "political cases" under threats of getting disbarred or losing their license. As many as seven lawyers have been disbarred in 2011 for representing activists and opposition leaders.

In this context, and given Belarus’ increasing closure to human rights scrutiny, Human Rights Watch calls on the Human Rights Council to establish a country-specific mandate, such as a special rapporteur, on the situation of human rights in Belarus, in orderindependently to document abuses and monitor the implementation of recommendations put forth by the High Commissioner and other UN mechanisms.

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