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Human Rights Council holds urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Belarus

Human Rights Council

18 September 2020

The Human Rights Council this morning held an urgent debate on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, read out the statement of Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, also spoke, as did Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, opposition candidate in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, and Ekaterina Novikava, a civic activist.

Belarus spoke as a concerned country.

On Monday, 14 September, the Council decided by a vote of 25 in favour, 2 against and 20 abstentions to approve the request made by Germany, on behalf of the States members of the European Union that were members of the Human Rights Council, to hold an urgent debate on the “situation of human rights in Belarus”. 

In the discussion on the situation of human rights in Belarus, the following dignitaries spoke via video message : Jeppe Kofod, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Denmark ; Ivan Korčok, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia ; Zbigniew Rau, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland ; Stephanus Blok, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands ; Georg Georgiev, Deputy Foreign Minister of Bulgaria ; Dmytro Kuleba, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Ukraine ; Wendy Morton, Minister for European Neighbourhood and the Americas of the United Kingdom ; Urmas Reinsalu, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Estonia ; Edgars Rinkēvičs, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Latvia ; Jean Asselborn, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Luxembourg ; Linas Linkevičius, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania ; Bogdan Aurescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania ; and Simon Coveney TD, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland.

Also speaking during the urgent debate were Germany on behalf of the European Union, Canada on behalf of a group of countries, Australia, Austria, Venezuela, Marshall Islands, Spain, Germany, Mexico, Uruguay, Czech Republic, Brazil, Peru, Indonesia, Japan, Italy, Philippines, UN Women, Finland, Slovenia, Liechtenstein, Canada, Russian Federation, United Nations Children's Fund, Belgium, Cuba, Nicaragua, China, Belarus, Sweden (video message), Switzerland, Albania, Egypt, Iran, Turkey, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Iceland, Norway, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Republic of Moldova, Myanmar (video message), Portugal, New Zealand, Tajikistan, Greece, Cambodia, Croatia, Iraq, Syrian Arab Republic, Azerbaijan, Ecuador, Malta, Holy See, Burundi and Kazakhstan.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor : International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, International Commission of Jurists, Human Rights Watch, Human Rights House Foundation, United Nations Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, Amnesty International, and CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

Points of order were made by Russian Federation, Venezuela, China, Germany, Netherlands and Denmark.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-fifth regular session can be found here.

At 3 p.m., the Council will meet in Room XX to take action on a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in Belarus.

Urgent Debate on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

Opening Statements

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, reading out the statement of MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that despite violent crackdowns by the Belarusian security forces and thousands of arrests, peaceful mass demonstrations had continued to contest the declared result of last month's Presidential elections.  Successive Special Rapporteurs on the situation of human rights in Belarus had consistently described a deeply oppressive environment for human rights in the country.  The same underlying systemic deficiencies were leading to an intensifying cycle of serious human rights violations.  Expressing alarm due to 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, she said instability and conflict were destructive and expensive.  Repression, which drove grievances underground to fester, fuelled both.  The High Commissioner urged the authorities to fulfil their obligations under international human rights treaties.  She further urged the authorities to facilitate independent, transparent, prompt, effective, thorough and impartial investigations into the allegations of serious human rights violations, with a view to ensuring accountability and access to an effective remedy for victims.  The fundamental rights of all Belarusians should prevail over political interests and geopolitical calculations.

ANAÏS MARIN, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, also speaking on behalf of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said that although the human rights situation in Belarus had been marred by multiple systemic deficiencies for decades, the current crisis revealed the magnitude of the problem.  Since the last electoral cycle nothing had changed in law and in practice that could have raised hope that this year’s vote would meet the internationally recognised criteria for free, fair and transparent elections.  The available reports indicated that the process had been grossly manipulated.  Referring to allegations of rape, electrocution, and other forms of physical and psychological torture, she stressed that it was the responsibility of the Belarusian State to prevent, investigate and punish these crimes, which were all the more serious because they were committed in a premeditated and organised manner.  She called on the authorities to shed full light on these tragic events and to guarantee the right of victims of torture to obtain redress.

SVIATLANA TSIKHANOUSKAYA, opposition candidate in the 2020 Belarusian presidential election, said peaceful protesters were being illegally detained, beaten, and raped.  Some of the protesters had been found dead.  The scope and the brutality of the extensive force used by the regime was in clear violation of all international norms and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations and Belarus, as its founding member.  The adoption of the Declaration meant that Belarus had taken an obligation towards the international community to observe and respect human dignity and basic human rights.  This also meant that the international community had a right to react in the strongest terms when this obligation was not being met.  It was very important to recognize that standing up for democratic principles and human rights was not interfering in internal affairs.  It was a universal question of human dignity

EKATERINA NOVIKAVA, civic activist, describing violations she had witnessed and experienced, said that at present, the authorities of the Republic of Belarus were using all their power resources to drag out the investigation into the facts of torture.  Using all available methods, they were trying to convince the public that the victims were asocial personalities who had caused themselves injuries.  Those who did not agree to reconcile receive criminal punishment.  Under these circumstances, she did not feel safe for a second.  The life of ordinary citizens had lost value for the authorities.  The authorities had legalized the banditry of the security forces, depriving people of the opportunity to defend themselves by legal means.  She asked everyone who could help to investigate all the facts related to the use of violence so that all the perpetrators were brought to justice.

Statement by Concerned Country

Belarus, speaking as a concerned country, said it disagreed with the format of the discussion.  It was not acceptable to use this body to intervene in the internal affairs of countries, nor was it acceptable to disseminate in the mass media unproven information as the Special Procedures had done.  The mass media and social networks had presented a lopsided picture of reality put forward by the losers of the elections.  A minority had not agreed with the results of the elections, which had led to protests that had caused conflicts.   Given the character of the threat faced by Belarus, the States that had initiated today’s debate would have done the same thing in the same situation.  Belarus denied the unfounded accusation of sexual violations against protesters.  Political detentions had not taken place ; some people had been taken in detention in line with the legal code.  Belarus had everything it needed to peacefully resolve the current situation. 

Discussion

Speakers said the continued scrutiny of the Council was key to prevent further escalation on the ground in Belarus.  The Belarusian presidential election held in August was neither free nor fair, several speakers emphasized.  Some speakers welcomed the start of an independent Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe fact-finding mission, under the Moscow Mechanism.  They called on Belarus’ authorities to launch an inclusive dialogue with civil society.  Actions to limit access to the Internet, including social media and other digital communication platforms, further eroded civic space.  Some speakers opposed the holding of this debate, noting that in past weeks President Alexander Lukashenko had committed to enacting political change through, inter alia, a referendum on a new constitution.  They said the debate amounted to efforts to pressure Belarus and further destabilize it.  Other speakers expressed concerns about violence against women in public and political life.  They said the Government had resumed mass detentions of peaceful protesters, and over 770 people had been rounded up this past Sunday alone.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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