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Belarus: Presidential decree denying consular services puts Belarusians abroad at risk

20 September 2023

GENEVA (20 September 2023) – A presidential decree in Belarus ordering its consulates to stop renewing or extending passports will impact hundreds of thousands of Belarusians abroad, especially those living in exile, UN experts* warned today. The decree also limits other consular services, including the establishment of power of attorney for representation in property transactions in Belarus.

“The decree will specifically impact those who were compelled to flee the country due to mass repression in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election including peaceful protesters. They cannot return safely to Belarus,” the experts said. “In fact, the decree constitutes a misuse of security measures and is part of a deliberate policy to punish Belarusian exiles, including human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition for their perceived political disloyalty,” they said.

“If these exiles returned to Belarus, they would be exposed to high risk of persecution,” the experts said, urging Belarusian authorities to withdraw the decree and conduct consular services as set out in the 1963 Vienna Convention on consular relations.

The measure will impose further restrictions on the human rights of Belarusians who are unable to return to their homeland, including the right to birth registration and granting of nationality for babies born overseas, the experts warned. It discriminates against all Belarusians living abroad, adversely impacting their rights to education, health, marriage, freedom of movement and access to justice in host countries, they added.

"We call on UN Member States to ensure that Belarusian citizens fearing persecution are not deported to Belarus on grounds that their passports have expired or been invalidated as a result of punitive withdrawal of their citizenship,” the experts said.

They urged UN Member States to facilitate, in accordance with international obligations, the acquisition of alternative travel and identity documents guaranteeing Belarusians who cannot return safely to their home country access to essential services and the freedom of movement.

Following the disputed presidential election in August 2020, more than 35,000 people were arrested by the Belarusian authorities in a mass crackdown on largely peaceful protests. Many were tortured while in custody and over 1500 remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges. Based on some estimates, between 200,000 and 1 million Belarusians are living in exile, after being compelled to flee repression, threats and intimidation.

The experts have previously raised concerns  about the  authorities’ policies vis-à-vis Belarusians in exile with the Government of Belarus.

ENDS

*The experts: Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on Belarus, Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression, and Ms. Fionnuala Ní Aoláin, Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism and human rights.

For more information and media requests please contact Yulia Dyukova ([email protected])

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected]).

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts. 

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