GENEVA (19 November 2020) – UN human rights experts* said today they were gravely concerned by increased reports of mass detentions, intimidation and torture, and called on authorities to conduct a prompt, independent and impartial investigation into the excessive use of force and unlawful retaliation at peaceful protests.
"I strongly condemn large scale violations of the rights of peaceful assembly, freedom of opinion and expression, and right to participate in public affairs by the Belarusian Government," Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said. "The rights of peaceful protesters, human rights defenders, members of civil society, and journalists remain unprotected from disproportionately violent and apparently unlawful actions of security forces." The experts added that "arrest or detention as punishment for the legitimate exercise of these fundamental freedoms is arbitrary, and the prohibition of arbitrary detention is absolute."
On 15 November, at least 1,200 peaceful protesters were reportedly detained in Minsk and throughout the country. In the capital, security forces used stun grenades and tear gas against peaceful protesters in what has been dubbed "Ploshad Peremen" (“Square of Change”).
The experts said torture and ill-treatment against participants in peaceful protests have become commonplace since the contested 9 August presidential election. “These violations are coupled with impunity, stemming from the authorities’ unwillingness to conduct proper criminal investigations into allegations of torture, while some lawyers say they have been denied full access to their clients,” the experts said, noting with concern that the authorities were instead quick to open criminal investigations against peaceful protesters and human rights defenders.
Among those detained on 15-16 November, at least 25 were journalists. Twenty-one remain in detention under administrative arrest or awaiting trial. “Journalists and other monitors play a crucial role in promoting accountability, and their detention sends a dangerous signal of impunity,” the experts said. “And in response to their efforts to denounce these well-documented violations, human rights defenders continue to be targeted, intimidated and detained.
"The authorities should conduct a prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigation of the legality of the actions of police officers,” the experts said, adding that "any violation of the absolute and non-derogable prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment should be prosecuted and punished. The prohibition of torture cannot be suspended or limited under any circumstances.”
The Special Rapporteurs called on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that all peaceful protesters, members of civil society, as well as journalists, detained for legitimately exercising their human rights, are promptly released and allowed to challenge the charges brought against them.
"Belarus must ensure the rule of law in its judicial system, and promptly stop repressing its own people", Anaïs Marin said, while reiterating her 13 August and 1 September statements calling upon the authorities to fully comply with fundamental human rights safeguards.
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.