GENEVA (1 December 2017) - The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined twentieth to twenty-third periodic report of Belarus on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Yuri Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that continuous attention and work were needed both at the national and international levels in order to eliminate deeply rooted forms of racial discrimination. In the era of uncertain geopolitical changes and conflicts based on ethnic, racial, religious, cultural and linguistic grounds, Belarus had managed to avoid conflicts thanks to its tradition of multi-culturalism. Belarus would strive to prevent intolerance based on ethnic, racial or any other grounds.
Helena Radtshenko, Deputy Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Belarus, noted that Belarus was a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country that did not have any religious or inter-ethnic conflicts, which provided conditions for the exercise of civic rights and freedom of consciousness and religion.
Uladzimir Zhauniak, Deputy Director of the National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research, emphasised that the legal norms banning discrimination were developed in different laws and acts governing different areas. The criminal and administrative legislation established criminal responsibility for limiting rights and freedoms on various grounds. However, a general definition of racial discrimination was not enshrined in the national legislation, but in the Convention.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Experts commended the timely submission of the State party’s report and the updated information contained in it, as well as improvements in socio-economic rights, more favourable protection of refugees and migrant workers, and continuing efforts in combatting human trafficking. Nevertheless, they expressed concern about the lack of a definition of racial discrimination in line with article 1 of the Convention, the direct application of the Convention in the judicial system and primacy of international laws, simplified procedures for resolving conflicts related to discrimination, and the establishment of a national human rights institution. Other issues that were raised included discrimination against Roma and the negative effect of the so-called “social parasite tax” on Roma, human rights training for State officials, protection of stateless persons, asylum seekers and migrants, prosecution of hate speech, hate discourse in the media, the use of article 130 of the Criminal Code for political purposes, independence of the judiciary, access to justice, the burden of proof under the Labour Code, education for ethnic minorities, the vague definition of extremism, and the Government’s relationship with civil society.
In her concluding remarks, Yanduan Li, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belarus, thanked the delegation for the information they had provided to the Committee. She welcomed the efforts of the delegation to answer all the questions and was pleased to see that the issues raised by the Committee had already drawn the attention of the delegation. Ms. Li expressed hope that more positive changes would take place in the country.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Ambrazevich noted that the State party fully understood the objectives of the Convention and of the Committee. Serious and painstaking work was needed to provide answers to the Committee’s questions. Mr. Ambrazevich thanked Committee Experts for not showing any prejudices vis-à-vis Belarus and for their professionalism.
Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had taken very seriously the commitment of Belarus to the Convention. The Committee considered each country in its own context, but it had to challenge each country in order to address racial discrimination.
The delegation of Belarus included representatives of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will next meet in public on Friday, 8 December, in the afternoon to publicly close its ninety-fourth session.
The combined twentieth to twenty-third periodic reports of Belarus can be read here: CERD/C/BLR/20-23.
Presentation of the Report
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, welcomed the attention that Belarusian non-governmental organizations paid to the elimination of racial discrimination. He highlighted the importance of the Convention in light of new global xenophobic trends. Continuous attention and work were needed both at the national and international levels in order to eliminate deeply rooted forms of racial discrimination, such as those against people of African descent and against migrants in the current massive population displacement. Belarus had also played an important role in the global plan of action to fight against trafficking in human beings. At the national level, Belarus had adopted in June 2015 a strategy for the identification of victims of trafficking in persons. In July 2017, the Government had adopted a new law to guarantee non-discrimination against foreign citizens and stateless persons, whereas in October 2016 it had ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In the era of uncertain geopolitical changes and conflicts based on ethnic, racial, religious, cultural and linguistic grounds, Belarus had managed to avoid conflicts thanks to its tradition of multi-culturalism. Belarus would strive to prevent intolerance based on ethnic, racial or any other grounds. In that vein, the presidential order of 30 August 2014 had allowed for the integration of some 160,000 Ukrainians who had arrived in Belarus due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine. Legislation on preventing extremism and the dissemination of extremist materials had prevented the spread of extremist ideas, and so far 83 cases had been resolved. As for the coordination of the work on the recommendations of United Nations treaty bodies, Belarus had adopted in 2016 a plan of action on the implementation of those recommendations and it had requested technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Government was currently considering setting up a national human rights institution.
HELENA RADTSHENKO, Deputy Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Belarus, noted that Belarus was a multi-confessional and multi-ethnic country that did not have any religious or inter-ethnic conflicts, and that provided conditions for the exercise of civic rights and freedom of consciousness and religion. There were 3,524 religious organizations in the country, and 25 confessions and religious communities. The Government gave significant support to registered religious organizations. They were exempt from land and property tax. Belarus organized inter-faith forums and activities, the most important one being the 2014 fourth European Orthodox-Catholic Forum. Representatives of ethnic minorities, including Roma representatives, were members of the Consultative Inter-ethnic Council. Printed cultural publications of ethnic minorities were financed by the Government. Public peace and understanding was the wealth of the country and Belarus provided a conducive environment for the coexistence of different ethnic groups.
ULADZIMIR ZHAUNIAK, Deputy Director of the National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research, emphasised that the legal norms banning discrimination were developed in different laws and acts governing different areas. The Civil Code stipulated the equality of participants in civic relations and on equal conditions. The criminal and administrative legislation established criminal responsibility for limiting rights and freedoms on various grounds. However, a general definition of racial discrimination was not enshrined in the national legislation, but in the Convention. Belarus did not have a specific package of laws on racial discrimination because the Convention was directly applicable, because there was no contradiction between domestic laws and the Convention, and in order to avoid the duplication of laws. The Government had improved the Labour Code to include various open-ended grounds of discrimination. As for the burden of proof, the Civil Procedural Code governed relevant proceedings. It enshrined the principle of equality of citizens. The parties had equal procedural rights and could go to court and ask that discrimination be remedied. The burden of proof lay with State bodies and with people making claims. Victims of discrimination could demand compensation regardless of the guilt established. Belarus was, thus, committed to its international obligations and to find the best ways to defend its citizens from discrimination.
Questions by Experts
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belarus, commended the timely submission of the State party’s report and the updated information contained in it. Ms. Li stressed the country’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious character, as well as the immense suffering of the Belarusian population during the Second World War. She further reminded of the country’s challenges, such as radioactive pollution due to the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 and the deteriorating socio-economic context following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Despite those challenges, Belarus had achieved many of the Millennium Development Goals before the established deadline, such as the eradication of poverty, the provision of primary education, and equality between women and men. Ms. Li also highlighted the positive legislative changes in Belarus since the submission of its previous report in 2013. She commended improvements in socio-economic rights and more favourable protection of refugees, migrant workers, and continuing efforts in combatting human trafficking.
Ms. Li asked the delegation to provide disaggregated data on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights, including access to healthcare, social services, education and housing. She expressed concern that the lack of a definition of racial discrimination in line with article 1 of the Convention could impede amending the criminal and administrative legislation to criminalize all forms of racial discrimination. Were there domestic legal provisions defining and prohibiting direct and indirect forms of racial discrimination in accordance with article 1 of the Convention? Were there examples of the direct application of the Convention in the judicial system? Had courts found any cases of discrimination in line with the Convention? Could any victims claim remedy based on the Convention?
Could the delegation respond to the reported lack of the definition of “harassment”, “reasonable accommodation” and “victimization”? Was there access to simplified procedures for resolving conflicts that were related to discrimination? What rules regulated the consideration of cases of discrimination in courts? Who took the burden of proof?
Turning to the national human rights institution, Ms. Li inquired about the plan and progress to establish it in line with the Paris Principles?
The Committee had received information that the Roma community was most vulnerable to racial discrimination, particularly in employment. They faced poverty, exclusion and racial profiling by law enforcement officials. Could the delegation provide more specific information about concrete measures to address discrimination against Roma? Would the Government consider formulating a comprehensive strategy to integrate Roma in society?
With respect to civil society organizations, Ms. Li inquired whether they were involved in policy-making. To what extent were they consulted during the preparation of the State party’s report? How were their contributions included?
On human rights training, had the State party taken effective measures to disseminate the provisions of the Convention? Had it implemented educational programmes for Government agents on combatting prejudice and racial discrimination, and on promoting tolerance and understanding?
What was the response of the delegation to reports that Belarus remained a source, transit and destination country for persons subjected to sex trafficking and forced labour?
On migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, Ms. Li inquired about the exact number of persons who had received refugee status in Belarus. Were stateless persons protected from expulsion? Were education, legal aid and healthcare available to migrants and those seeking international and humanitarian protection? What was the capacity of the three temporary accommodation centres for refugees?
GUN KUT, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Follow-up to Concluding Observations, commended the State party for having submitted its interim report on time. The interim report concerned three issues: the implementation of the Anti-Extremism Act and guarantees for non-targeting of human rights defenders, the establishment of a national human rights institution, and efforts to fight trafficking in persons. Mr. Kut inquired about the effects of the amendments to the Trafficking in Persons Act.
Experts inquired about hate speech and the lack of explicit prohibition of incitement to hatred. How did the State party ensure that relevant legislation was in line with article 4 of the Convention?
Turning to the direct application of the Convention, Experts expressed concern about the lack of prosecutions of cases of racial discrimination and the lack of reference to specific cases of compensation for victims. What did “extremist acts” mean? What information was available on the number of hate crimes? What information did members of the police and judiciary receive about the motivation of crimes?
There were reports that article 130 of the Criminal Code was being used for political reasons. How many cases had been initiated under that article? How were victims assisted?
Hate discourse in the media could be found, especially negative discourse against the Roma community. How was that form of stereotyping regulated and what kinds of sentences were handed down to culprits?
As for the independence of the judiciary, Experts voiced concern about the severe interference of the President and of the executive branch in the appointment and dismissal of judges. It did not seem that judges had security of tenure; they were appointed for a term of five years, which was renewable. The Constitutional Court was composed of 12 judges, six of them appointed by the President, and six by the Council of the Republic. Ordinary citizens had no right to bring action directly to the Constitutional Court; only State officials could do so. Was that not a serious handicap in access to justice? The delegation was also asked to comment about the independence of lawyers.
Experts also drew attention to the so-called “social parasite tax,” under which a person who worked for less than half a year was required to pay 250 US dollars in compensation for lost taxes. That tax disproportionately affected Roma. Many of them had been fined and even sent to prison. What was the delegation’s response to that?
With respect to the burden of proof under the Labour Code, it was sometimes difficult to prove discrimination in employment. Something needed to be changed in the implementation of the Labour Code. The same was true with respect to aggravating circumstances and motivation for crimes.
Experts regretted the fact that the State party’s report had been drawn up without the contribution of civil society. As for access to justice, the principles of the Convention should appear directly in the Criminal Code and in the national Constitution. Despite the absence of the definition of racial discrimination, could victims invoke the Convention before courts? Did judges and courts know that they could directly invoke the Convention? What were the eligibility criteria for accessing legal aid?
Had the State party looked into the use of the Internet to promote the values of tolerance and non-discrimination? What was the scope of policies for the implementation of education for ethnic minorities? What role did minorities play in decision-making bodies in the country? Was there any statistical information about the percentage of minorities in the prison population? What were the official languages of the country?
Extremism was a very vague notion that could lend itself to political abuse, Experts observed. What was the content of the law on the use of foreign labour?
Experts inquired about the nature of the legal system in Belarus and about the primacy of international laws. There was a contradiction: to what extent was the Belarusian legal system dualist or monist?
The National Peoples’ Assembly was supposed to be an additional control body for the actions of the President. What was its place and role in the separation of powers?
Replies by the Delegation
ULADZIMIR ZHAUNIAK, Deputy Director of the National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research, explained that the law allowed public gatherings of citizens in order to discuss questions important for the country. The structure, competence and independence of courts was regulated by a law on the status of courts of 2014. Citizens could not directly appeal to the Constitutional Court, whereas a lawyer could have his or her licence revoked solely by the Ministry of Justice. The Ministry of Justice had organized thousands of information sessions for citizens in order to familiarize them with their rights. Measures had also been taken to improve freedom of information.
HELENA RADTSHENKO, Deputy Commissioner for Religious and Ethnic Affairs of Belarus,
noted that the Government spared no effort to protect the rights of minorities and preserve their cultural identity. It focused on the principles of tolerance and mutual respect. More than 200 minority associations were active in Belarus, and the State had set up plans to ensure their participation in public life. Minority associations carried out charity work, and provided support to schools, persons with disabilities, and families with low income. Through the State budget, Christmas presents were purchased for orphaned children and children in State care. There were also exhibitions dedicated to minority cultures, and publications of national minorities. There were six registered Roma organizations whose main activities concerned the integration of the Roma in modern society. In order to implement specific features of communities, days of national culture were held in cities and towns.
With respect to the possibility of adoption of a single anti-discrimination law, the Government was planning to conclude that work in 2019. At the moment, the Government was studying the situation governing anti-discrimination at home and abroad. Following meetings with civil society, the Government had come up with a blueprint of a national law on anti-discrimination. It was looking at provisions of national laws that might be insufficient.
On the simplified mechanism for appeals and complaints of discrimination, the Government had adopted a law on appeals by individuals and entities. They did not need to go straight to courts. As for the burden of proof, the equality of parties in proceedings was enshrined in the Civil Procedural Code. If a citizen considered that his or her rights were violated, he or she had the right to complain in court. States bodies and officials had to provide materials to courts that justified their actions. In those cases, the burden of proof lay on State agents.
As for the application of norms of international law, Belarus recognized the supremacy of international law. The application of international law was governed by domestic laws. International law had to be applied directly.
Belarus could be compared to the most developed countries in the world in terms of literacy rate, and the coverage of elementary and secondary education. As for the education of national minorities, they could choose their language of communication and instruction. The State guaranteed to all citizens equal economic, social and cultural freedoms. In line with the Code of Education, special groups and classes could be created in pre-school and school facilities for education in minority languages, such as Polish, Lithuanian and Hebrew. The Ministry of Education had adopted special educational programmes to that end. Every citizen had a right to receive free of charge education in State schools, and all children under the age of 18 legally living in Belarus were included in the school register.
With respect to education of Roma children, they studied under the general principles that existed in Belarus. If for some reason, Roma children did not obtain the general mandatory education, they still had the opportunity to receive education outside schools. The Ministry of Education had not received any complaints related to any prejudicial approach of educators towards Roma children. Foreign minors temporary residing in Belarus who were seeking asylum, international protection status, or were stateless, had the right to receive education just like everyone else in Belarus. Questions of non-discrimination were taught to children at school from the age of five until 11.
On trafficking in persons, the delegation noted that Belarus was one of the leaders in fighting human trafficking. It was largely a country of origin and transit, but lately it had also become a country of destination. The maximum sentence for trafficking was imprisonment of up to 15 years with confiscation of property. In 2005 a training course had been set up for the police force to combat trafficking in persons. With the support of international experts, a study centre had been opened to combat modern forms of slavery and pornography on the Internet.
As for refugees and migrants, the delegation said that as of 1 July 2017 there were 5,915 stateless persons in Belarus. Stateless persons had certain rights, just like foreign nationals. They could be expelled from the country on the grounds of security concerns and threats to the public. Five stateless persons had been deported. The law provided for the opportunity to contest the expulsion decision. There were three centres for refugees in Belarus with the capacity of 68 individuals. In case of need, those capacities could be extended. The guarantee of non-refoulement was guaranteed under law. Foreign nationals with a refugee status could not be expelled to foreign countries where they faced the risk of torture.
The Anti-Extremism Law and the Anti-Terrorism Law had been created as the necessary legal framework to combat extremism and terrorism, but specific crimes were covered by the Criminal Code. The procedure of banning a terrorist organization was based on a decision of the Supreme Court. Belarus had not registered any court decisions after those laws had entered into force. Combatting the spread of extremist literature was performed by a specialist commission operating on the basis of a decree of the Council of Ministers. It reviewed in great detail publications and literature to identify any cases of extremism. The operation of the commission had no impact on freedom of the media.
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, clarified that no one could be forced to state their ethnic identity in a census. Thus, the statistics on discrimination and on the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights were not collected. All ethnic groups were encompassed by a broad concept “citizen of Belarus.”
As for article 4 of the Labour Code, the approach of lawmakers was to have a non-exhaustive list of circumstances of discrimination. On the creation of a national human rights institution, the Government had been studying that issue for many years, and the country had a very precise system of State bodies for the general oversight of the implementation of the law. The Citizens’ Appeal Law stipulated that any State body had to respond to citizens complaining. Nevertheless, the dialogue about the creation of a national human rights institution was ongoing, Mr. Ambrazevich explained.
As for the stereotypes against Roma, Mr. Ambrazevich said that since the last census the number of Roma in Belarus had doubled to 14,000 due to crises in neighbouring countries. Civil society organizations had not been involved in the preparation of the State party. The Government did not always have the necessary resources to exchange views with non-governmental organizations.
Mr. Ambrazevich explained that the methods for establishing motives behind hate crimes were set out in the law. No one re-characterized hate crimes. As for the decree on the so-called “social parasite tax”, it had been suspended. In response to Experts’ comments about the supposed disproportionately negative effect on Roma communities of the “social parasite tax”, Mr. Ambrazevich noted that it applied to all citizens.
There was no statistical data on the ethnic composition of the prison population. With respect to access to legal aid, the State provided an interpreter and an attorney to those who did not speak the State languages. The practice of regular and monthly consultation sessions with lawyers was something usual.
There were two State languages in Belarus – Belarusian and Russian – and they had equal status. The majority of the population used Russian in everyday situations, Mr. Ambrazevich said.
Questions by Experts
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belarus, underlined the way in which legislation was implemented and she asked the delegation to provide specific examples of the implementation of the law.
Ms. Li inquired about the State party intentions to accede to the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.
Experts expressed doubts about Belarusian procedures to ban extremist organizations, noting that they did not use the language of the Convention. States parties were supposed to take measures to combat organizations espousing racist propaganda and hate speech.
Experts reiterated their questions about compensation provided to victims of racial discrimination and about cases when courts invoked the Convention. The 31 cases of hate crimes cited by the delegation dated back to 2015. Experts asked for updated information.
Article 30 of the Criminal Code seemed to be used for political purposes. Could the delegation comment on that? Was there a regulatory mechanism for the media and how did it function? How was hate speech punished politically?
In the absence of a law that specifically dealt with racial discrimination, Experts suggested that the State party’s anti-discrimination law contain the whole of article 1 of the Convention.
Were there deadlines and timeframes in place to ensure that the administrative authority made a decision on complaints of discrimination? Did the reversal of the burden of proof only apply to civil proceedings?
Experts commended the fact that the State party had included anti-discrimination in the school curriculum. How did the State party ensure the consistent teaching of history?
Experts asked the State party to reconsider the value of establishing a national human rights institution. As for Belarus’ relations with civil society, had the interaction with civil society during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review been useful?
Did the State party plan to participate in the International Decade of People of African Descent? What was its position regarding the ratification of the Convention No. 189 of the International Labour Organization on domestic workers?
What was the scope of anti-extremism and anti-terrorism provisions? Was there a possibility to identify an overlap of racism and terrorism?
The Roma community needed to have education and training in their language. But was that sufficient for them to find employment? Were Roma with university education able to access jobs in the public sector? Was the Roma population integrated in society? Was there racial profiling of Roma?
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked whether the Roma received the same amount and level of education as other citizens. Did they receive the same education opportunities? Could the delegation provide information about diversity in the State administration?
Replies by the Delegation
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government did not have statistics on the number of references to international instruments. The actual practice of the judiciary followed a different path. As for the prohibition and disbanding of extremist organizations, the law contained a definition of extremism. Spreading of racial, ethnic, religious or any other form of social hatred fell under the definition of extremism. The Ministry of Information monitored what was published or printed by the mass media on the basis of the findings of the Expert Commission for Content in Mass Media.
Mr. Ambrazevich explained that there were no statistics on compensation to victims. On the monitoring of the teaching of history, there were school manuals that followed the same educational programme. Turning to cooperation with civil society, Mr. Ambrazevich suggested that the question should be reversed: were non-governmental organizations happy with their cooperation with the Government?
The legal system of Belarus was not very quick in dealing with citizens’ complaints due to limited resources, Mr. Ambrazevich noted.
The delegation explained that citizens’ complaints had to be considered within 15 days and no more than 30 days. If citizens were not satisfied with the response, they had the right to refer to courts. In addition to the judicial process, there was an administrative process.
The Anti-Extremism Law and the Anti-Terrorism Law presented a comprehensive system to cover all of the challenges in the implementation of article 4 of the Convention. At the moment, one person had been convicted directly under those laws.
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that Belarus participated in the International Decade of People of African Descent. As for the International Labour Organization Convention No. 189 on domestic workers, the Government was monitoring the situation. With respect to access of minorities with higher education to Government jobs, the State administration never asked about ethnic identity of applicants. Applicants were assessed based on their merits.
Mr. Ambrazevich noted that there was no racial tension in Belarus. There were stereotypes and prejudices against Roma. The Government was proud of its tolerance and of the absence of any ethnic or religious conflict in the country.
There was no education in the Roma language. There should be a dense population requiring education in the Roma language, Mr. Ambrazevich said.
The Government was studying whether to ratify the 1954 Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, Mr. Ambrazevich added.
YANDUAN LI, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur for Belarus, thanked the delegation for the information they had provided to the Committee. She welcomed the efforts of the delegation to answer all the questions and was pleased to see that the issues raised by the Committee had already drawn the attention of the delegation. Ms. Li expressed hope that more positive changes would take place in the country.
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, noted that the State party fully understood the objectives of the Convention and of the Committee. Serious and painstaking work was needed to provide answers to the Committee’s questions. Citizens could make their proposals and submissions on how to better implement the Convention, which was not an easy task considering that the staff of the State administration had been reduced. Mr. Ambrazevich thanked Committee Experts for not showing any prejudices vis-à-vis Belarus and for their professionalism.
ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, said that the Committee had taken very seriously the commitment of Belarus to the Convention. The Committee considered each country in its own context, but it had to challenge each country in order to address racial discrimination.
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