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Belarus: Lack of reforms and contempt for fundamental freedoms raise concerns ahead of elections, says UN expert

NEW YORK (17 October 2019) – The overall environment in Belarus remains hostile to dissident opinions and unduly restricts civil and political rights, says UN expert Anaïs Marin.

"I regret the absence of real reform of the country's electoral legislation despite numerous previous recommendations," said Marin, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, presenting her first report to the General Assembly.

"The legal and institutional frameworks in the run-up to the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections remain conducive to practices that undermine the integrity of electoral processes and therefore the right of citizens to participate in public affairs," she said.

Marin stressed that respect for fundamental freedoms was essential in electoral processes and noted that civil and political rights continuously suffered from an unfavourable legal framework in Belarus.

She welcomed some legislative improvements, like decriminalising participation in the activities of non-registered organisations, but said such developments were emblematic of the Government's piecemeal approach. It was willing to accept some changes in legislation but unwilling to make any real change at policy level.

The UN expert also highlighted the additional restrictions imposed on freedom of speech on the Internet and the dissuasive financial costs incurred by rally organisers under the amended law on mass events.

She also pointed to the numerous problems journalists and bloggers faced in their daily work, and condemned the fines and arrests imposed on individuals with opposing views. "Critical thinking and dissent are essential aspects of freedom of opinion and expression," she said.

"Electoral campaigns are times when fundamental freedoms should be given extra protection. However, many much-needed changes have yet to be introduced."

Marin stressed her willingness to engage constructively with the authorities in efforts to promote and protect human rights, despite the fact that she had not yet been granted access to the country.

ENDS

Ms Anaïs Marin (France) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. She is a researcher with the University of Warsaw, Poland. A political scientist specialising in international relations and Russian studies, she holds a Ph D from Sciences Po, where she studied international public law and comparative politics with a focus on post-communist transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. As a Belarus expert, she cooperated with several European think tanks and contributed analytical reports and policy recommendations for various governments as well as structures, such as the European Parliament and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. She has also taken part in OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions, including in Belarus. She has published extensively on Belarusian domestic and foreign policies.

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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus

For more information and media requests please contact Layla Clément (+41 22 917 9054 / lclement@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact
Ms Julia Gronnevet (+1 917 367 2627 / julia.gronnevet@un.org), or Mr. Jeremy Laurence (+41 22 917 9383 / jlaurence@ohchr.org)

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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