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Urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Belarus

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45th session of the Human Rights Council

Statement by Nada Al-Nashif, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

18 September 2020

Madam President,
Your Excellencies,

The Council’s consideration of the recent events in Belarus is timely.

Despite violent crackdowns by the Belarusian security forces, and thousands of arrests, peaceful mass demonstrations have continued to contest the declared result of last month's Presidential elections. They call also for an end to police violence and the resolution of broader human rights issues.

Successive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Belarus have consistently described a deeply oppressive environment for human rights in the country. I commend their work, recalling that it was in reaction to the crisis which followed the Presidential election of December 2010 that the Council first established this mandate.

As OHCHR reported, the December 2010 election was followed by a massive crackdown on political opponents, human rights groups and media. Hundreds of arrests took place, with allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody, and violations of due process. Noting the lack of an independent judiciary and other vital human rights safeguards, the report made 15 recommendations to the Government.

Few were implemented – and almost 10 years after the December 2010 election, we see many of the same patterns recurring. Some are even intensifying.

We are witnessing thousands of arrests. Hundreds of reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence and the reported torture of children. The violent abduction of people in broad daylight by masked individuals – presumably on the basis of their peacefully expressed opinions. Armed police and security personnel are being deployed in a near-systematic pattern of unnecessary or excessive use of force against largely peaceful demonstrators.

Authorities are aggressively pursuing criminal and administrative cases against people perceived as supporting the opposition. They include members of the opposition Coordination Council – all but one of its leaders now in detention or abroad – as well as workers' leaders and other protestors. Those targeted may be placed in administrative detention for up to 25 days, or charged with organizing or participating in “mass disorder” or other crimes which carry heavy prison sentences.

Journalists reporting on the protests have been arbitrarily arrested and detained, ill-treated, stripped of their accreditation or equipment, and subjected to judicial harassment. Since the elections, the authorities have also repeatedly restricted Internet access.

In other words, we are seeing the same underlying systemic deficiencies leading to an intensifying cycle of serious human rights violations. I am particularly alarmed by the hundreds of allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in police custody, with scant evidence of prompt investigation or official disapproval of these reported incidents. Instead, we have received worrying indications that victims and their lawyers are increasingly reluctant to present complaints of torture and other ill-treatment – for fear of retaliation.

Excellencies,

It is vital for the future of Belarus to break these cycles of increasing repression and violence.

This Office is convinced that the most important key to good governance is to listen. It is not the only key – as you also need to act – but attentively listening to and hearing the varied voices of people in the context of genuine dialogue is the only way to ensure that government serves their needs – which is, after all, a government’s duty.

Instability and conflict are destructive and expensive. Repression – which drives grievances underground, to fester – fuels both. When governments limit public freedoms and crack down on independent voices, they deny themselves the benefits of public engagement, and undermine security and development. Civil society is a valuable partner, not a threat; and the free expression of a plurality of opinions should be welcomed – not repressed.

I urge the authorities to fulfil their obligations under international human rights treaties. I encourage them also to engage in transparent, inclusive dialogue in place of violence, and to guarantee that there will be no reprisals whatsoever against those who contribute their ideas and demands.

Violations of the fundamental rights to freedom of expression, information and peaceful assembly should cease, and all those detained for voicing their dissent, or for their participation in protests, strikes and other peaceful actions, should be immediately released.

Harassment, intimidation, pressure, and reported expulsion from Belarus of members of the opposition – including the members of the Coordination Council – should stop.

Human rights measures are the most effective basis for achieving sustainable development and stable, prosperous societies. There is a manifest need for reforms – notably, to advance the rule of law, build accountable institutions and support good governance – following an inclusive consultative process that gives people a role in shaping the future they want.

I also urge the authorities to facilitate independent, transparent, prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations into the allegations of serious violations, with a view to ensuring accountability and access to an effective remedy for victims.

I urge the Council to facilitate genuine dialogue; to further sustainable, peaceful and inclusive solutions for all the people of Belarus; and to prevent these cycles of violence from further escalating. The fundamental rights of all Belarusians should prevail over political interests and geopolitical calculations.

My Office and the human rights mechanisms are ready to assist in assessing the human rights consequences of the current crisis and to provide recommendations and further technical assistance to address them.

Thank you, Madam President.