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Belarus: “No changes in dismal human rights situation since presidential election” – UN expert warns

GENEVA (9 February 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, today warned that opposition leaders, human rights activists, journalists, and many other citizens have been subjected to harassment, administrative procedures and fines since the October presidential election.

“During the last four months, no changes have been initiated in Belarus to alter the oppressive laws and practices, while numerous cases of new violations of basic rights have emerged,” Mr. Miklós Haraszti said in a Public Statement* released today.

In his statement, the human rights experts reminded that the October presidential election, just as all votes since the 1990s, “fell short of democratic standards, and the incumbent was reappointed following an unverifiable turnout and nontransparent ballot count.”

“Nevertheless”, Mr. Haraszti said, “along with intergovernmental and domestic human rights organizations, I commended that political prisoners had been released on the eve of the election. It seemed a good start that, unlike during the 2010 election, the authorities refrained from violence against political opponents, and they did not arrest the rival candidates.”

“Unfortunately, the dismal state of human rights has remained unchanged in the country,” the UN Special Rapporteur stressed.

“The authorities have not ceased the systematic harassment of those who attempted to practice their individual, civil, political, and other rights, despite the partial suspension of EU and US sanctions, decided in anticipation of further advancement of human rights,” he said. “Neither have they shown any willingness to reform the entrenched, highly oppressive legal system.”

The independent expert noted that the Government has not restored the civil political rights of the released political prisoners, and pointed out that “the politically construed criminal cases against the 2010 presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich and journalist Aliaksandr Alesin continue, just as the imprisonment of cultural activist Mikhail Zhamchuzhny.”

“The ban on entry into the country has been upheld against Belarusian human rights activist Alena Tankachova, and no safe re-entry has been granted for those forced to leave the country due to political persecution,” Mr. Haraszti said, adding that registration of human rights organizations ‘For Fair Elections’, Viasna, and others “has been repeatedly rejected on flimsy administrative reasons.”

“Ceasing all these arbitrary persecutions would only take political will in this highly centralized system”, he said. “However, the necessary changes need go much further than a lenient approach to existing oppressive regulations. The Government of Belarus should engage in a broad reform to bring legislation in compliance with its international human rights obligations.”

The Special Rapporteur highlighted that Belarus has for twenty years been the only country in Europe where there is no opposition in parliament. Nevertheless, he said, “the forthcoming parliamentary elections in 2016 will also be an opportunity for the authorities to attest of their commitment to reform.”

“I stand ready to cooperate with the authorities to ensure that free and fair parliamentary elections lead to the formation of a strong, pluralistic legislative body. Such steps would speak for the willingness of the authorities to improve the human rights situation in the country, and to work toward abiding by international standards,” Mr. Haraszti concluded.

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s full Public Statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=17026&LangID=E

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

Check the Special Rapporteur’s latest report on Belarus (A/HRC/29/43): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Pages/ListReports.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 Mr. Alexandre Girard (+41 22 917 9180 / agirard@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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