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UN Human Rights Council should launch independent international investigation to address impunity for rights abuses in Belarus

HRW Statement - Item 4 ID on High Commissioner's report on Belarus - HRC52

Protesters display broken paper prison bars representing the Belarusian population in prisons and the lack of freedom in Belarus, in Krakow, Poland on August 9, 2022. © 2022 Artur Widak/NurPhoto via AP

Mr. President, 

We thank the High Commissioner for presenting his Office’s latest report on the human rights situation in Belarus. 

As the report makes clear, the situation has continued to drastically deteriorate since 2020, when the country plunged into an atmosphere of total repression and fear.  

Human rights work has effectively been outlawed by the authorities. 

Over the last few weeks alone, we have seen three human rights defenders from Viasna, including 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner Ales Bialiatski, handed shockingly long prison sentences in direct reprisal for their human rights work. They join three other Viasna colleagues already behind bars. Meanwhile, woman human rights defender Nasta Lojka has been seriously ill-treated in detention, including on at least one occasion tortured, while she faces 12 years in prison on bogus charges. 

Authorities are also trying to eviscerate independent journalism and reporting on rights violations. Last week, Maryna Zolatava and Liudmila Chekina of leading independent news outlet TUT.BY were sentenced to 12 years in prison on politically motivated charges. 

As the report before this Council makes clear, there is no hope for justice at national level. Human rights lawyers representing clients in politically motivated cases are themselves being targeted, being disbarred, or even prosecuted

At the same time, Belarus’ withdrawal from the First Optional Protocol to ICCPR has cut off one of the very few remaining international avenues to seek remedy. 

We agree with the assessment that grave human rights violations committed since 2020 may amount to crimes against humanity. Potential crimes of this nature require a more robust response from the international community, including this Council, as does the pervasive impunity which fuels them. 

This Council should launch an independent investigative mechanism, in line with the report’s recommendation(A/HRC/52/68 , para 67.c), as requested by 27 organizations including Human Rights Watch ahead of this session. 

We would like to ask the High Commissioner to elaborate further on specific measures states could take to protect victims, witnesses, and others who have fled Belarus, and to advance justice for international crimes through national proceedings. 

Thank you. 

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