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Human rights paralysis continues in Belarus – UN expert calls for further international scrutiny

 

GENEVA (21 June 2016) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Miklós Haraszti today cautioned about “the lack of significant change in the entrenched oppressive laws and practices in Belarus,” and urged the international community not to lose sight of the human rights situation in the country, especially in view of the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

“Several generations have grown up in Belarus with no experience of what the words ‘pluralism’, ‘labour rights’, ‘free enterprise’, ‘free artistic creation’ or ‘free media’  mean in reality,” Mr. Haraszti said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council. “Hence, the current level of international scrutiny of compliance with international human rights obligations has to remain.”

The human rights expert welcomed the absence of law enforcement violence during the presidential election of October 2015, as well as the release of political prisoners. “However,” he stressed, “since then, these ‘openings’ have not led to any systemic change in the ‘permission-based’ regime of public life that has been the main cause of the practically complete paralysis of civic freedoms in Belarus.”

“The essence of that 20-years-old regime is that any public activity remains subject to prior authorization through an arbitrary registration process,” Mr. Haraszti noted. “Media, associations, or gatherings are not only forbidden but criminalized if not preliminarily authorized by the government.”

“Regardless of the actual level of law enforcement violence, the systematic punishment of citizens’ efforts to use their rights has relentlessly continued since the last Presidential election,” he stated.

The Special Rapporteur recalled that, in Belarus, laws are made by presidential decrees, Parliament has had no opposition for the last 20 years, and the judicial apparatus is governed by the President who singlehandedly appoints and removes all judges and prosecutors.

In his report, the expert also highlights the continuing use of capital punishment in Belarus – the only State of Europe where it is still applied. “The President has the power to put an end to this denial of right to life, but has not even moved to commute death penalties to prison sentences, due to lack of political will,” Mr. Haraszti said.

In view of the upcoming parliamentary elections of September 2016, he expressed worries that only two out of 30 of the recommendations made by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after the presidential election of October 2015 would be taken on board.

The expert also drew attention to the lack of economic and labour rights. The 2016 report of the International Trade Union Confederation put Belarus in the top ten countries in the world where all labour and union rights are systematically denied, protests repressed, and forced labour is instituted by the government. “The recently adopted decree on ‘parasitism’ introduces punishments for the unemployed, in fact servicing forced labour obliged by the government,” he noted.

The Special Rapporteur, whose report also assesses Belarus’s level of compliance with recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms, sees no significant co-operation since his mandate was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.

“I reiterate my call towards the authorities to engage with the mandate, even in an incremental way,” Mr. Haraszti said. “I am ready to assist the Government towards a dialogue with the rights defenders inside the country who do their work under often forbidding difficulties.”

(*) Read the Special Rapporteur’s report (A/HRC/32/48): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session32/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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 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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