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Addressing the situation of human rights in Belarus at the UN Human Rights Council

To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned international human rights organizations, write to urge your Delegation to address the human rights situation in Belarus during the 32nd Session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and to vote in favour of a resolution that would fully renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus under Item 4 of the Council’s agenda.

Since the adoption by the Human Rights Council of its latest resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, there has been no systematic improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus. In August 2015, the government released individuals convicted in previous years on politically motivated charges, but has so far ignored the calls to restore their civil and political rights. Furthermore, new politically motivated detention sentences were pronounced in the past year against Aliaksandr Lapitski and activist Mikhail Zhamchuzhny. All of the legal and systemic restrictions on freedom of expression and association remain in place, and some new ones have been introduced. In this context, critics of the government continue to face the same level of restrictions and remain at threat at any moment of arrest or re-arrest on political grounds for carrying out legitimate activities.

The government of Belarus continues to refuse to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur. However, the work of the Special Rapporteur, in particular the many recommendations he has developed, should serve as a roadmap towards genuine reform for the Belarusian authorities. This roadmap should also inform other governments and multilateral organizations in their discussions with the Belarusian government about its human rights record. Although the government denies the Special Rapporteur access to the country, he has extensively reached out to civil society to get first hand information and reflect on the situation with local voices.

Belarus has a track record of non-cooperation with the United Nations and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Belarus had the office of OSCE closed down in March 2011. In violation of its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Belarus has carried out death sentences despite the call for interim protection measures issued by the Human Rights Committee. As Belarus is not a part of the Council of Europe, the foremost regional human rights system, the Special Rapporteur is effectively the only comprehensive international human rights monitoring tool in Belarus.

In line with a joint statement signed on January 28, 2016 by many Belarusian human rights organisations, we urge your Delegation to clearly support maintaining international scrutiny over the human rights situation in Belarus by renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur until the government of Belarus meets clear benchmarks. These should include the following:

  • Full cooperation with UN human rights mechanisms, allowing the current Special Rapporteur to visit Belarus, and commitment to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and other UN mechanisms;
  • The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty;
  • An end to the harassment of independent or opposition journalists, government critics, and civil society organizations, including by closing politically motivated criminal cases against them, removing the entry ban against human rights defender Alena Tankachova, quashing the convictions of former political prisoners, and registering independent human rights organisations and all NGOs that apply for registration;
  • A commitment to bring the legislation of Belarus in the sphere of human rights in line with international standards. In particular, to repeal legislation that excessively restricts freedoms of expression, assembly and association, including Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes participation in the activities of unregistered organisations.

Not renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur at this crucial juncture would reward the Belarus government for impeding the work of the Special Rapporteur. We look forward to seeing Belarus move towards a genuine path of human rights reform that would allow human rights defenders, journalists and critics to operate without fear of arrest or harassment. However, that will require the Government to demonstrate specific and concrete progress on each benchmark.

By supporting the renewal of the Rapporteur’s mandate, your delegation would send a strong signal to the Belarusian authorities and to Belarus’ civil society that it is committed to lasting human rights changes in the country.

We thank you for your attention and would welcome opportunities to provide any further information about the human rights situation in Belarus.

Yours sincerely,

  • CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  • Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)
  • Human Rights Watch
  • International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)

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