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UN Special Rapporteur lists catalogue of rights breaches in Belarus

GENEVA (28 October 2016) – Hopes of an improving human rights picture in Belarus have been dashed, according to a new report from the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in the country, Miklós Haraszti.

He listed a catalogue of issues including government control of recent elections, a vote count which was “neither honest nor transparent,” the lack of a free press, the suppression of people’s freedom to meet, and the jailing of a political blogger.

“Unfortunately I have to report an unchanged legal and administrative system of the restriction of human rights, which by its mere existence cannot be conducive to meaningful elections,” Mr. Haraszti told the UN General Assembly as he presented his annual report*. “In a nutshell, nothing has changed in Belarus on the human rights front.”

Elections for the presidency last October and parliament in September had been carefully scrutinized by the human rights community for signs of progress, he said, but hope had been refuted by reality.

“The release of political prisoners on the eve of the presidential election, and the absence of violence during it, had raised hopes of an improvement in the general human rights situation, and that the conduct of the parliamentary elections would contribute to such a change,” he said.

“However, the nominal modifications made at the margins of the electoral process did not affect the fully government-controlled character of the elections,” the expert noted. “During the parliamentary elections, there was no equal access to the media for the candidates, the turnout was not verifiable, and the vote count was neither transparent nor honest.”

The Special Rapporteur said the election of two “token” opposition members of parliament had only underlined the “guided nature” of the process.

“Belarus is far from breaking away from the standard of the last two decades during which it has been the only nation in Europe with no modicum of pluralism in its parliament,” he said.

Mr Haraszti said fundamental freedoms of expression and of the media also continued to be violated.  Belarus was the only European country with no privately-owned nationwide media, and the state media were used as a platform for candidates supported by the Government.

He highlighted the case of Eduard Palchys, a political blogger held from May to October 2016 “on made-up grounds, but in reality because of the political views expressed in his blog”.  His incarceration ended a short period during which there were no political prisoners in Belarus.

People’s freedoms of association and assembly continued to be violated, he reported.  Any gathering, political party or association needed State approval, and anyone taking part in unauthorized activities was held to be breaking the law.

Mr Haraszti also highlighted the ongoing use of the death sentence. “Belarus handed down a death sentence the day after the lifting of most of the European Union sanctions against the country,” he noted.

Other concerns highlighted by the Special Rapporteur included the fact that the Central Election Commission has had the same chairperson for 20 years, and that the composition of all electoral bodies is decided either by the president or by local state authorities. 

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report: http://www.un.org/Docs/journal/asp/ws.asp?m=A/71/394

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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