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UN human rights experts: Belarus must stop torturing protesters and prevent enforced disappearances

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GENEVA (1 September 2020) – UN human rights experts* today called on Belarus to stop torturing detainees and bring to justice police officers who reportedly have been humiliating and beating protesters in their custody with impunity.

They also urged the authorities to fully comply with fundamental safeguards – immediate registration, judicial oversight of detention and notification of family members as soon as an individual is deprived of liberty – with a view to preventing enforced disappearances.

“The prohibition against torture is absolute under international human rights law,” they said. “It cannot be justified for any reason.”

“Similarly, no circumstances whatsoever, whether internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to practice, tolerate or justify enforced disappearances. Authorities in Belarus must immediately put an end to all human rights violations and combat impunity.”

The experts received reports of 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of people deprived of their liberty after the disputed presidential election on 09 August that led to mass protests and arrests. “We are extremely alarmed at the hundreds of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody,” they said.

Most people reported missing have been accounted for, but it is alarming that the whereabouts and the state of health of at least 6 individuals are reportedly unknown to their relatives. “We also remain concerned that cases of enforced disappearances may proliferate should heavy-handed response to peaceful protests continue,” they said.

“Freedom from torture is one of those human rights considered so important that they cannot be limited or suspended under any circumstances,” they said. “Any violation of the non-derogable prohibition of torture and ill-treatment must be prosecuted and punished.”

The experts also received reports of violence against women and children, including sexual abuse and rape with rubber batons, and said: “The State must do everything in its power to prevent, investigate and punish any form of abuse, including violence against women, whether those acts are perpetrated by the State or by other actors.” 

Among some 6,700 people detained in recent weeks while exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly are journalists and passers-by who were arbitrarily arrested and hastily sentenced. On Saturday, the government withdrew accreditation of 17 journalists working for foreign media outlets.

“There can be no justice without the State’s unequivocal commitment to accountability and redress for violations of human rights,” said the experts. “We are also concerned that indiscriminate arrests continued over the weekend at a peaceful women’s march in the capital, Minsk, on Saturday and at peaceful protests in many cities on Sunday.”

The experts called on the Belarussian authorities to “ensure that all persons who participated in peaceful assemblies are promptly released.

“No person should be criminally charged for their peaceful participation in a demonstration,” they said. They reminded authorities that that a failure to acknowledge deprivation of liberty by state agents and a refusal to acknowledge detention constitute an enforced disappearance, even if it is of a short duration.

In addition to full and impartial investigations, Belarus “must hold perpetrators to account and ensure compensation for the victims and their families.”

The experts will continue to closely monitor the situation and seek to engage with the authorities.

ENDS

*The experts: Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mrs. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances: Mr. Luciano Hazan (Chair-Rapporteur), Mr. Tae-Ung Baik (Vice Chair), Mr. Bernard Duhaime, Ms. Houria Es-Slami, and Mr. Henrikas Mickevičius; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and association, Working Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups 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

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