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UN experts urge Belarus to release children and young people jailed for drug offences amid COVID-19 crisis

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GENEVA (7 May 2020) – The soaring number of COVID-19 cases in Belarus should compel the Government to immediately release children and young people imprisoned for drug-related offences, UN human rights experts* said today.

“The Government of Belarus must take urgent action to protect the health and safety of people in detention, in particular of children and young people convicted to disproportionately long prison terms – up to 12 years – for drug-related offences,” they said.

The experts reiterated that children should be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child's sense of dignity and worth, which takes into account the child's age and the desirability of promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society.

The experts called on the Belarus authorities “to avoid by all means the detention of children, to release those who do not pose a threat to society, and to develop models and responses alternative to detention, which is especially necessary in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“The Government should apply a proposed amnesty law to all people convicted of drug-related offences, notably children and young people,” they advised.

“Even though children seem to have milder symptoms and lower mortality rates than adults, given their precarious health conditions in detention facilities and lack of access to quality healthcare, they are at great risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19,” the experts said.

While Belarus has not applied comprehensive physical distancing measures, the number of cases of COVID-19 exponentially increases every day and already tops 17,000.

ENDS

*The experts: The Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin; the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Chair), Leigh Toomey (Vice-Chair), Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Seong-Phil Hong and Sètondji Roland Adjovi.

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. 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 Nataliia Kuzmina (+41 22 928 96 25 /nkuzmina@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts please contact Xabier Celaya (+ 41 22 928 9855 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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

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