Français (As delivered)
4 September 2020
Mr Chairperson, Excellences, ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me to express myself in French. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to make an initial assessment, in terms of human rights, of the post-electoral crisis in Belarus.
The situation has never been as catastrophic as it has been in the past month. It is all the more worrying as it continues to deteriorate. These developments, which are unprecedented in Belarus, require the renewed attention of the international community, as there is a great risk that a spiral of violence could threaten regional peace and security.
I would like to highlight five issues that I consider to be the most serious.
Firstly, the electoral process has shown how Belarus limits the right of its citizens to participate in public life. As I stated in my report to the General Assembly published a year ago, nothing has changed, in law and in practice, that could have given any hope that Belarus would meet the internationally recognised criteria for free, fair and transparent elections.
The available reports indicate that the process has been completely manipulated. The political field had previously been "cleaned up" to prevent three of the most popular candidates from competing: two were arrested before the start of the campaign on politically motivated charges. A third, who allegedly did not collect enough valid signatures to run, was forced into exile.
Gross fraud at the vote count stage - highlighted by local observers and some honest election commissions - illustrates the lack of popular legitimacy of the incumbent President. Therefore, his willingness to remain in power after the end of his current term of office appears to be the main cause of the crisis currently destabilising the country.
The second, and this is my second point, is that the President and his supporters stubbornly refuse to engage in dialogue, which would be the only way to reconcile the people with their authorities, given the serious violations of the freedom of peaceful assembly that we all saw on election night.
The announcement of Mr Lukashenka's victory with 80% of the votes has indeed provoked a vast popular, spontaneous and peaceful movement: Belarusians took to the streets in massive numbers to express their rejection of the official results, which did not seem credible to them. Once again, their voice was "stolen" from them. As in 2010, they were violently prevented from exercising their right to peaceful assembly.
The response of law enforcement agencies was violent and disproportionate. In 3 days, more than 6,000 people were arrested across the country while taking part in the peaceful marches, adding to some 1,500 already arrested since the crackdown accelerated in April. Most of them are now free, but I call on the authorities to release all those who remain arbitrarily detained.
As the Human Rights Committee has just recalled in its General Comment on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the right to demonstrate peacefully is a pillar of democratic society, and it can be exercised both in public and online. By cutting off Internet access for 3 days, the government attempted to prevent voters from informing and coordinating with each other via social networks. Such a blockade on Internet communications is disproportionate and incompatible with the right to freedom of speech. However, spontaneous demonstrations have continued daily for 4 weeks and have spread to all sectors of society, from workers to students.
Unable to find the leaders of this new type of popular uprising, police used excessive and unjustified force to indiscriminately arrest demonstrators, journalists, passers-by, women and even children. Some were captured in the street by men in plain clothes and without badges. Most were savagely beaten. This brings me to my third point: during this wave of indiscriminate and brutal repression, no less than 450 cases of torture, committed by state agents, have been reported to us.
Concordant testimonies show the systematic nature of the violence inflicted by the riot police and the guards of the prisons in which thousands of innocent people were parked from 9 August onwards. All were reportedly beaten, many of them mutilated, or disabled. At least 5 persons are reported to have died from their injuries. Packed into cells designed for 4 people, with limited access to water, detainees were subjected to humiliating and degrading treatment. I have been informed of cases of rape perpetrated with rubber batons, electrocution, and other forms of physical and psychological torture. Broadcasted throughout the world, these images shocked the international community. It is the responsibility of the Belarusian State to do everything possible to prevent, investigate and punish these crimes, which are all the more serious because they were committed in a premeditated and organised manner.
As for the people who have suffered these abuses, they are in such a state of post-traumatic shock that they require urgent humanitarian aid. I call on the authorities to shed full light on these tragic events and to guarantee the right of victims of torture to obtain redress. I recommend the establishment of an independent international mechanism to investigate these crimes and encourage the authorities to cooperate with it, as with UN Special Procedures, and with my mandate in particular.
Fourthly, although the rule of law has not been respected in Belarus for 25 years, it is lawlessness that seems to have prevailed in the country for the past four weeks. There can be no justice if it is subordinate to the executive, expeditious, opaque, and only works in one direction, I would even say in reverse: while they have just been released from detention, abused demonstrators are now being prosecuted for, and I quote, "disturbing public order"! This is the case of a 16-year-old child, beaten so violently that he fell into a coma on 12 August: just out of hospital, he has just been detained again, without having been able to file a complaint for the violence he suffered. No complaints of torture have yet been examined, and the perpetrators seem confident that they will not be prosecuted.
Journalists and bloggers, prime targets of repression, are now prosecuted for allegedly organising or coordinating unauthorised demonstrations. In a country that muzzles freedom of opinion and expression, that systematically harasses independent media, that has thrown dozens of bloggers into prison, incriminates journalists and continues to restrict internet access to prevent Belarusians and the world from knowing what goes on behind closed doors in the country, is the height of cynicism.
This brings me to my fifth and final point. In addition to the senseless war being waged by the government against its own people, there is an internationalisation of the conflict in the information sphere. The foreign supporters of the faltering power are conveying misleading information aimed at discrediting and destabilising this popular movement in order to artificially expand the chances of the outgoing President to stay in power.
In view of the seriousness of the facts reported, it is essential to recall that human rights violations are not an internal affair: they are of interest to the international community, all the more so when there is such a flagrant risk of escalating violence. When a government announces its readiness to use the army against its own citizens in peacetime, when it baselessly accuses its neighbours of interference and aggression, and when it is prepared to sacrifice the sovereignty of the country and the independence of its institutions in order to stay in place at all costs, it is international peace and security that are threatened.
That is why I call on all parties to this conflict to reason, and to exercise restraint. The only possible way out of this unprecedented crisis is dialogue, which must be open, honest, and include civil society in particular. I welcome the offers of good offices and multilateral mediation that could accompany this political transition, which now seems inevitable, because it is already under way - Belarusian society, which I have been studying for more than ten years, has changed considerably, and in recent months it has discovered a capacity for civil resilience that is a source of inspiration for all those in the world who aspire to respect for their fundamental rights. Let us show that we are worthy of their trust, and protect the rights and freedoms of those who seek this democratic change.
Thank you for your attention.
*The expert: Mrs. Anaïs Marin,Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups 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.
UN Human Rights, Country Page – Belarus