4 December 2020
Human Rights Council Hears Oral Update by the High Commissioner on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus
The Human Rights Council this morning heard an oral update by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and in its aftermath.
Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she regretted to report that since the Council's urgent debate on Belarus in September, there has been no improvement in the human rights situation in the country. On the contrary, recent weeks had seen continued deterioration, particularly with respect to the right of assembly. It was reported that since 9 August, 27,000 people had been arrested. It was urgent that the Government of Belarus put an end to ongoing human rights violations.
Yuri Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking as the concerned country, said the situation of human rights in Belarus did not require special attention by the Council. A month ago, Belarus had successfully completed its third Universal Periodic Review cycle and had been congratulated for it by several members of the Council. The unique purpose of the current proceedings was pressuring a sovereign State. This violated the United Nations Charter, including the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and undermined the United Nations.
During the interactive dialogue, the following dignitaries took the floor: Jeppe Kofod, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Denmark; Dmytro Kuleba, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine; Zbigniew Rau, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland; Urmas Reinsalu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia; Bogdan Aurescu, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Romania, Ivan Korčok, Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of Slovakia; and Linas Linkevičius, Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs of Lithuania.
Also speaking were the European Union, the United Kingdom on behalf of a group of countries, Germany, Canada, Iran, Cuba, Austria, Syria, Luxembourg, Russian Federation, Switzerland, China, Sweden, Netherlands, Czech Republic, Ireland, Slovenia, Myanmar, Croatia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Nicaragua, Latvia, New Zealand, Norway, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Egypt, Malta, Kazakhstan, Turkey, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Belgium, Finland, Italy, Lebanon, Japan, Bulgaria, Australia, Indonesia, Tajikistan and Cambodia.
Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: Human Rights House Foundation, Human Rights Watch, World Organisation Against Torture, Article 19 - International Centre Against Censorship, CIVICUS - World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Amnesty International, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, and International PEN.
The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here.
The proposed dates for the forty-sixth regular session of the Council are from 22 February to 19 March 2021.
Oral Update by the High Commissioner for Human Rights
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she regretted to report that since the Council's urgent debate on Belarus in September, there has been no improvement in the human rights situation in the country. On the contrary, recent weeks had seen continued deterioration, particularly with respect to the right of assembly. It was reported that since 9 August 27,000 people had been arrested. The penalties imposed on protestors appeared to be growing more severe. Overall, in the context of the elections, an estimated 900 people had reportedly been treated as suspects in criminal cases. Besides protesters, they included opposition presidential candidates, supporters of the opposition, journalists, bloggers, lawyers, and human rights defenders. Many remained in detention. The use of force violations by the security forces was deeply concerning. Monitoring and analysis of demonstrations by the Office of the High Commissioner since 9 August indicated that, although participants were overwhelmingly peaceful, they had been systematically - and in most cases, violently - dispersed, including through the use of tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets and stun grenades, and unnecessary or disproportionate use of force. The High Commissioner noted with concern that at least four persons had lost their lives in the context of the protests. Moreover, masked men, without insignia or identification, had frequently taken part in the dispersal of protests, alongside riot police. Unmarked vehicles were reportedly often used to transport people who had been seized or arrested. This heightened a climate of fear and atmosphere of lawlessness and impunity.
Ms. Bachelet said she was alarmed by the numerous allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in custody, with up to 2,000 complaints reportedly lodged by the end of October. Lawyers associated with the opposition, or acting as counsel in cases involving human rights violations, were also under pressure. Ms. Bachelet deplored the continuing harassment and arrests of many human rights defenders and journalists. It was urgent that the Government of Belarus put an end to ongoing human rights violations. In particular, Ms. Bachelet called on the Government: to immediately release all those unlawfully or arbitrarily detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and participation; to respect the right of peaceful assembly, and cease the violent dispersal of peaceful assemblies and judicial retaliation against organizers and participants; to create an enabling environment for all individuals, human rights defenders, journalists and lawyers to participate in public affairs and carry out their activities safely and freely; to ensure that prompt, thorough, independent, transparent and impartial investigations were conducted into all allegations of torture and other human rights violations, including the deaths of at least four persons in the context of the protests; to hold perpetrators to account; and to provide justice, truth and reparations to victims and their families.
Speakers said the facts spoke for themselves and the human toll of the current situation was unbearable. Pledging solidarity with the people of Belarus, and stressing that impunity bred violence, they called on the Government of Belarus to put an end to the campaign of repression. Violations should not go unpunished. Noting that systemic violations were a threat to the stability in the region, some speakers called on the Russian Federation to refrain from interfering in the internal affairs of Belarus. The Government must stop prosecuting human rights defenders. The elections had been neither free nor fair; they had been rigged. Reports of torture and ill-treatment in police custody were alarming. Cancelling the results of the presidential elections and organizing new ones in line with international standards would be part of the solution. The international community should remain fully engaged in addressing the situation in Belarus. Credible reports estimated that 30,000 had been arrested and there were 500 cases of torture. Stressing the fundamental role played by female human rights defenders, speakers asked the High Commissioner to comment on their situation. Journalists in Belarus were facing unprecedented levels of harassment. Belarus should release all detained journalists, drop all charges against them, and implement the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Moscow Mechanism Report recommendations pursuant to media freedoMs. Speakers underscored the gender and sexual violence component of the ongoing repression.
Some speakers urged the respect of sovereignty and acknowledged the efforts of Belarus to find a solution, adding that the Council should not be used to legitimize coup d’états. Initiatives based on double standards and political motives violated the principles of the United Nations Charter, speakers said. The European Union was seeking to manipulate the Human Rights Council to interfere in the internal affairs of Belarus. European States were hyping up the violations in Belarus while turning a blind eye to other violations in Baltic States, Ukraine, France and the United States. Stating that the Council had acted with selectivity, some speakers extended solidarity to Belarus and other countries threatened with aggression on their sovereignty.
Speakers encouraged the High Commissioner to keep a close eye on the situation and called on the Belarussian authorities to carry out the reforms that had been announced. Not a single criminal case had been opened against those who were responsible for cases of torture and ill-treatment, speakers regretted. What steps should the authorities take for a genuine dialogue with the Belarussian people? Several speakers reiterated their call for the Government to implement recommendations outlined in the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe Moscow Mechanism Report. Others expressed confidence that the situation would be resolved through Belarus’ own internal political processes and dialogue. They noted that half of the members of the Council had not voted in favour of the resolution on the situation in Belarus, which showed the division of the Council on this issue. Other speakers said that impunity was a State policy in Belarus. The widespread use of torture may amount to a crime against humanity. While thousands of Belarussian citizens were taking part in peaceful protests, the Government was carrying out brutal repression, causing people to flee the country. The Council should use all available means to respond to this situation, including the creation of a special investigative mechanism.
Statement by the Concerned Country
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, speaking as the concerned country, said the situation of human rights in Belarus did not require special attention by the Council. A month ago, Belarus had successfully completed its third Universal Periodic Review cycle and had been congratulated for it by several members of the Council. The unique purpose of the current proceedings was pressuring a sovereign State. This violated the United Nations Charter, including the principle of non-interference in internal affairs, and undermined the United Nations. There were no famines, no war in Belarus, nor any threats to its neighbours. While political issues had spilled onto the streets, it was the first time this had happened in 10 years, whereas anti-Semitism and hate crimes had been persisting in Poland and Germany. The Government of Belarus had taken steps to foster dialogue, which the protesters had rejected. In 2021, a consultative assembly would discuss proposals stemming from this dialogue, including some on the Constitution. It was unfortunate that some elements of the United Nations system had contributed to distorting the perception of the situation in Belarus. Full-fledged wars had received less attention than that dedicated to Belarus by some United Nations entities. Poland, Lithuania and Ukraine had directly lined their pockets as a result of what had happened in Belarus. They wanted to resolve their own problems at the expense of their neighbours. The pressure exerted by the European Union and the sanctions it had imposed on Belarus clearly violated international law.
MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said women human rights defenders had played a crucial role in Belarus at a time when the work of human rights defenders was most needed. Belarus should apply, in that regard, United Nations General Assembly resolution 68/181. There was a whole spectrum of recommendations, including those put forward by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, which should be implemented to ensure accountability. For instance, Belarus had yet to create an independent national human rights institution. The international community could play a role in the implementation of such recommendations. It should also insist on the release of people detained for participating in peaceful protests. The international community should also insist that Belarussian authorities respect freedom of assembly, expression and association. There could be no democracy without the respect of human rights. The High Commissioner said her Office hoped to gain access to Belarus on the ground, which would also allow it to better engage directly with the Government to hear its perspective.
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