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Belarus: Crackdown on human rights defenders deepens – expert

19 March 2021

GENEVA (19 March 2021) – UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor said today she was concerned by an increasing crackdown against human rights defenders in Belarus, citing two cases of suspected reprisals against individuals who have collaborated with the United Nations in promoting and protecting the rights of people with disabilities.

“Raids on offices, arrests of human rights defenders and the hampering of lawyers’ work have become common practice,” said Lawlor. “I’ve even received reports of some being criminalised in reprisal for their cooperation with the UN, and ill-treated in police custody.” Lawlor was referring to Sergey Drozdovskiy and Oleg Grablevskiy, from the Office of the Rights for People with Disabilities, who have collaborated with the UN Human Rights Office.

“They are deprived of their liberty in connection to their human rights work,” said Lawlor. “Drozdovskiy, the director of the organization and a wheelchair user, was forced to endure a painful seven-hour long interrogation, while Grablevsky, a legal advisor, was instructed to remove his clothes during questioning.

“These incidences are both a continuation and deterioration of events since last August’s presidential election,” said Lawlor.

“I am greatly concerned that advocates for the human rights of persons with disabilities are apparently being targeted because of their advocacy.  Such advocacy is the key to change for a group that has been largely left behind. States are in fact obligated to respond positively and consult actively with the community and with advocacy organisation under the UN Convention on the rights of persons with disabilities,” said Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities.

The UN expert said Maria Rabkova, a volunteer coordinator at the Human Rights Centre Viasna which has been documenting respect for freedom of assembly and other human rights, faces additional charges after being arrested last September.

Four employees of the Press Club Belarus, who were involved in documenting the repression of journalists, have also been recently detained for ‘tax evasion’. A fifth member was deported to the Russian Federation.

Most of those detained face economic charges, said Lawlor, adding she had serious concerns about due process.

The UN expert added that many human rights defenders have recently been forced into non-disclosure agreements. “Non-disclosure agreements de facto criminalise the sharing of information on human rights,” she said. “The space for defenders to carry out their work in Belarus is becoming impossibly narrow.”

Lawlor called for the lifting of all restrictions on civil society. “When human rights defenders, media workers and lawyers are silenced, alleged violations of rights go unchallenged and uninvestigated,” she said.

The expert is in contact with the authorities on this matter.

Lawlor's call was endorsed by Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Gerard Quinn, Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.


Ms Mary Lawlor, (Ireland) is the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. She is currently an Adjunct Professor of Business and Human Rights in Trinity College Dublin. She was the founder of Front Line Defenders - the International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders. As Executive Director from 2001-2016, she represented Front Line Defenders and had a key role in its development. Ms. Lawlor was the Director of the Irish Section of Amnesty International from 1988 to 2000, became a Board member in 1975 and was elected Chair from 1983 to 1987.

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 organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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