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Belarus: Human rights situation deteriorates further – UN expert warns in new report

GENEVA (24 June 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, today warned that the situation of human rights in the country has further deteriorated since last year.

“Systematic violation of human rights, in particular civil and political rights, continues,” the independent expert said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council, in which he describes how the general situation in Belarus for the past two decades has been characterized by a systemic denial of human rights to citizens through an intentional combination of restrictive laws and abusive practices.

“The findings of my report show that not only the freedoms of expression, association and assembly were further restricted during the last year,” Mr. Haraszti said. He also pointed out that labour rights continue to be denied, and independent labour unions are suppressed: “The rights to just and favourable work conditions and to the freedom to choose one’s workplace have been further restricted by new legal provisions.”

The Special Rapporteur noted with concern that, ahead of the October presidential elections, Belarus has not addressed the severe limitations in all election-related rights. During past election periods, these restrictions had led to recurring violence and mass retaliation against those who protest the lack of their freedoms.

The independent expert welcomed the release one of the political prisoners, Ales Bialatski, director of Viasna, a major human rights organization in Belarus. He warned however, that the authorities have extended sentences of several remaining political prisoners, using claims of their ‘bad behaviour’ in prison, as in the case of 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevitch, who recently was charged with violating prison rules and moved to a harsher penitentiary institution.

Mr. Haraszti also urged the Belarusian authorities “not only to release, but, for the sake of free and fair elections, also to fully rehabilitate all political opponents who had been imprisoned.”

The Special Rapporteur cautioned that the restrictive permission-based legal framework regulating the activities of civil society organisations and of public events has remained unchanged. “Restrictions increased in parallel to the arbitrary use of short-term and ‘preventive’ arrests against citizens who seek to exercise their rights nevertheless,” he stated.

In that regard, he recalled the case of Elena Tonkacheva, a human rights defender who was expelled from Belarus following administrative charges for speeding; the case of activist Pavel Vinogradov, who was arrested 15 times in 2014; and the mass arrests of political activists before the World Ice Hockey Championship held in Minsk in May 2014.

Mr. Haraszti also reported that the situation of the media has deteriorated in the last year, with new curtailments especially on freedom of the Internet. “Today in Belarus, almost a dozen authorities are entitled to order the blocking of websites deemed to be ‘harmful for the state’. Internet postings are regularly interpreted as proofs of ‘unauthorized public events’, and are punished accordingly,” he noted.

In his report, the human rights expert also pointed to the continued use of the death penalty. Belarus is the only country in Europe that has the capital punishment; it has executed three inmates in 2014; and this year has already brought new sentences. “I call upon Belarus to introduce an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its permanent abolition,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Belarusian Government to fully cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms. He offered his good services to work on improvements with the Government through a fully participatory process with all civil society and the general public.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report on Belarus (A/HRC/29/43): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Pages/ListReports.aspx

ENDS

Mr. Miklós Haraszti (Hungary) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012. In the 70s, Mr. Haraszti was a founder of Hungary’s human rights and free press movement, and in the 1990s he was a Member of the Hungarian Parliament. From 2004 to 2010, he served as the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media. Since 2010, he has been a Professor at several universities teaching media democratisation. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/SP/CountriesMandates/BY/Pages/SRBelarus.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/ENACARegion/Pages/BYIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests please contact Ms. Alexandra Swetzer (+41 22 917 9401 / aswetzer@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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