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UN Rights Body Launches Probe to Investigate Abuses in Belarus

“Group of Experts” Will Work to Advance Accountability for Human Rights Violations

UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, February 26, 2024.  © 2024 Janine Schmitz/picture-alliance/dpa/AP Images

Today, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution establishing a new investigative body to advance accountability for international crimes committed by Belarusian authorities. This sends a strong message to perpetrators that their crimes will not go unpunished.

The new body – which was advocated for by Belarusian and international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch – has a mandate to investigate grave ongoing abuses, collect and preserve evidence of international crimes, and identify those responsible, building on the work of the UN Human Rights Office’s own investigation.

The resolution also renewed the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, a lifeline to civil society in a context where human rights work has effectively been outlawed.

The adoption of today’s resolution, supported by countries from all regions, demonstrates the growing international concern over Belarus’ escalating rights crisis.

Belarusian authorities have continued their “purge” of independent voices. Hundreds remain behind bars on politically motivated charges, facing ill-treatment and incommunicado detention. Rights defenders, including five members of prominent Belarusian rights group Viasna, are serving politically motivated sentences of up to fifteen years. Authorities have also retaliated against human rights lawyers for representing clients in politically motivated cases.

There is currently no meaningful avenue to justice for such abuses within Belarus and very few avenues in international fora. In 2022, Belarusian authorities officially blocked victims of human rights violations from bringing their complaints before the UN’s Human Rights Committee.

Based on its own independent investigations, the UN Human Rights Office has concluded that grave human rights violations committed in Belarus since the crackdown began in 2020 may amount to crimes against humanity, a conclusion that clearly warrants the robust response delivered by today’s resolution.

While the new investigative body will not resolve the rights crisis in Belarus overnight, its work will be vital in efforts to hold those responsible for these crimes accountable. It will also support human rights defenders and survivors of human rights violations who want recognition of and justice for crimes committed. The UN leadership should ensure – despite the current liquidity crisis – that the new mechanism has the support and resources to start its work immediately.

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