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Human Rights Council holds interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus

Human Rights Council
AFTERNOON

14 June 2017

The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with Miklos Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. 

Mr. Haraszti outlined that the harsh nationwide crackdown that was led on peaceful protesters in February-March of this year had revealed the cyclical nature of the oppression of human rights in Belarus.  As a response, more than 1,000 individuals were arbitrarily arrested and held in custody.  Many of them were sentenced to incarceration in administrative courts against all evidence of their peacefulness.  Political opponents and human rights activists were also apprehended without any given reason in a planned, so-called pre-emptive manner.  As of today, a dozen of those arrested were accused of having plotted against the State.  

The Special Rapporteur highlighted some positive developments on the field of human rights in Belarus, the allowance of two members of the opposition to enter Parliament and the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in November 2016.  However, repeated violations of freedom of expression and the resumption of executions in the country were extremely worrisome.

Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, said imposing country-specific mandates was an absolutely ineffective way of work, and it was driven by the European Union countries and the United States.  Belarus’ sovereignty needed to be fully respected.  The human rights situation in Belarus was not cardinally different from most of the countries of the world, and it did not threaten Belarussian citizens or their neighbours.  The first national action plan on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations involved all branches of power, and interested United Nations agencies were invited to provide possible technical assistance to implement the action plan.  Belarus called on the Council to support the actions of the Government and for constructive involvement.  It also called on the Council to stop adopting resolutions on Belarus.   

In the discussion, many delegations expressed concerns about the ongoing violations of the rights to peaceful assembly and to freedom of expression in Belarus.  Many delegations called on the Government of Belarus to take immediate steps to abolish the death penalty or at least to adopt a moratorium as soon as possible.  Many States highlighted the need to break the cycle of repression against peaceful protesters.  Several countries recalled that progress in human rights could only be reached through constructive dialogue and negotiations with States, in full respect of the principles of objectivity and non-selectivity.

Speaking were the delegations of European Union, Russian Federation on behalf of the group of 12 like-minded countries, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Czechia, Estonia , Cuba, United States of America, Norway, Belgium, Kazakhstan, Switzerland, Finland, Poland, Spain, Sudan, Germany, Venezuela, France, Croatia, China, Albania, Syria, Portugal, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Iran, Hungary, Bolivia, Myanmar, Ireland, Lithuania, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, United Kingdom, Tajikistan, Eritrea, Mongolia and Uzbekistan.

The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights House Foundation, International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, United Nations Watch and Amnesty International.

At 4 p.m., the Council will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Eritrea

Documentation
 
The Council has before it the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus (A/HRC/35/40).

The Council has before it a Corrigendum to the Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus (A/HRC/35/40/Corr.1).

Presentation of Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus
 
MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, outlined that in his report, he had to account for the severe nationwide crackdown on peaceful protesters in February-March of this year, which revealed the cyclical nature of the oppression of human rights in Belarus.  Peaceful demonstrations emerged against an ill-devised social measure called the parasitism law, which would have taxed all persons unemployed for at least half a year.  As a response, more than 1,000 individuals were arbitrarily arrested and held in custody.  Many of them were sentenced to incarceration in administrative courts against all evidence of their peacefulness.  Political opponents and human rights activists were apprehended without any given reason in a planned, so-called pre-emptive manner.  As of today, a dozen of those arrested were accused of having plotted against the State.  There were credible allegations of recourse to torture in order to coerce them into confessing to the politically motivated accusations.  This procedure raised the danger of a new round of political detainees after Belarus released its last political prisoners on the eve of the presidential election of 2015. 

The March events displayed a periodically returning element in the authorities’ handling of civic and political human rights.  They demonstrated that in Belarus, short periods of reticence to use harsh laws were followed by heavy violations of basic freedoms.  Even in “peaceful” periods, these laws continued to make any public use of civic rights a crime. 
There were a few positive developments on human rights in Belarus since June last year marked by the allowance for two members of the opposition to enter Parliament and the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in November 2016.  However, the Penal Code still criminalized any public activity not pre-authorized by officials.  Belarus was still to establish a national human rights institution and remained the only country in Europe which did not host a private media with nation-wide coverage.  Another proof of Belarus’ cyclical approach to human rights was the application of the death penalty which made it the last country in Europe to apply capital punishment.

Statement by the Concerned Country

Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, reminded that the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was adopted by a vote of less than one third of the Council’s Member States, which discredited the work of the Council.  The adoption of the mandate by a narrow margin raised concerns about the impartiality of the mandate holder.  Imposing country-specific mandates was an absolutely ineffective way of work, and it was driven by the European Union countries and the United States.  Belarus’ sovereignty needed to be fully respected.  The human rights situation in Belarus was not cardinally different from most of the countries of the world, and it did not threaten Belarussian citizens or their neighbours.  The first national action plan on the implementation of the Universal Periodic Review recommendations involved all branches of power, and interested United Nations agencies were invited to provide possible technical assistance to implement the action plan.  Belarus called on the Council to support the actions of the Government and for constructive involvement.  It also called on the Council to stop adopting resolutions on Belarus.  
 
Interactive Dialogue

European Union expressed concern at the deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, and urged the country to join the global moratorium on the death penalty as a first step toward its abolition.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate more on the trend he had identified that repressions were returning on a cyclic nature.  Russian Federation, speaking on behalf of a group of 12 like-minded countries, expressed concern at selective country-specific mandates.  The situation in Belarus did not require monitoring by a country-specific procedure, and the Council was called on to engage with the Government of Belarus in genuine constructive cooperation.  Nicaragua said country-mandates were being used to advance agendas, which removed the Human Rights Council from the noble objective it had been founded for.  Foreign interference in any country was rejected, and Nicaragua called on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to base itself on cooperation with the Government of Belarus. 

Russian Federation said it did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus and believed that cranking up the topic was politicized and had nothing to do with human rights in that country.  The Russian Federation was against the extension of the mandate and rejected the draft resolution proposed by the European Union.  Czechia agreed with the Special Rapporteur that a fundamental change of the oppressive legal system in Belarus was needed, which would allow for Belarusian citizens to participate in public life and political decision-making without restrictions and keep them free from retaliation.  Estonia said the continued lack of cooperation by Belarus was most regrettable, and urged Belarus to release all prisoners detained under certain charges.  Estonia called on the authorities to cooperate fully with all United Nations mechanisms and Special Procedures.

Cuba said it opposed the use of instruments that were not based on the perspective of international cooperation and refused to recognize the report which was based on clear political motives.  The report fell into the trap of questioning key institutions which solely pertained to the Government of Belarus and its people.  United States said that the human rights situation in Belarus remained of deep concern. The United Sates was concerned that governance in Belarus continued to block and punish expressions of dissent.  The spike in harassments of journalists this year was particularly worrisome.  Norway was concerned about the resumption of executions in Belarus.  In 2016, four persons were executed.  Norway also noted that fundamental rights such as freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly were under increased pressure. 

Belgium voiced concern on the deterioration of the right to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.  Belgium deplored the recourse to the death penalty with the execution of four individuals last year and called on the Government to introduce a moratorium on executions as soon as possible.  Kazakhstan noted that no progress could be effectively achieved in the protection and promotion of human rights without a mutually respectful and impartial dialogue.  In this sense, the existing country-specific mandate on Belarus, established in 2012, over the years had clearly proved to be ineffective.   Switzerland voiced concerns at the deterioration of human rights in Belarus.  The rights of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression were particularly threatened.  Switzerland urged Belarus to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty and asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on how to break the repression cycle engaged by the authorities in Belarus.

Finland said that notwithstanding having taken some positive steps, Belarus still needed to make genuine efforts for the realization of all human rights, notably on freedom of association, abolition of the death penalty, and space for civil society.  Poland regretted that the positive changes in Belarus had not been lasting, voicing concern over restrictions on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of the media, and freedom of association and peaceful assembly.  Spain flagged the continuing use of the death penalty in Belarus and asked the Special Rapporteur if he foresaw progress towards a moratorium on capital punishment in the near future.  Spain expressed hope that Belarus would implement relevant international recommendations.  Sudan stressed that politicization and selectivity should be avoided in the protection and promotion of human rights.  It noted with satisfaction Belarus’ cooperation with the international human rights mechanisms. 

Germany remained concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus, notably the arrest of peaceful protestors in March 2017, and the continued use of the death penalty.  Had the recent discussions organized by the Government had any effect on the public debate about the death penalty?  Venezuela said that the biased report of the Special Rapporteur showed how politicized the mandate was.  The international media campaign against Belarus had sought to sully the great progress and cooperation of Belarus with United Nations bodies.

France said the human rights situation in Belarus remained worrisome, especially violations of the rights to freedom of speech and of assembly.  France condemned the increased use of the death penalty, and called on the authorities to implement a moratorium on executions.  Croatia said many deteriorating trends continued in Belarus, and Croatia supported discussion on the issue of capital punishment.  The Special Rapporteur was asked to elaborate on how he saw the future of the inter-agency plan for human rights.  China welcomed the progress made by Belarus and the adoption of its human rights action plan.  Human rights differences should be handled through cooperation, and China opposed any politicization of human rights issues. 

Albania said the increasing number of executions and the application of the death penalty in Belarus were of concern, and reiterated its appeal to Belarus to take immediate measures for the abolition of the death penalty.  Albania agreed with the Special Rapporteur that the inter-agency plan to implement the accepted recommendations from the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Belarus should be amended to be in line with all recommendations.  Syria said the United Nations Charter fostered cooperation for the promotion of human rights for all and the respect for sovereignty.  However, some States insisted on abusing item 4 for political purposes, therefore Syria reiterated its rejection of interference in the domestic affairs of States.  Portugal said the conclusions drawn in the report were deeply worrying, and the return of the policy of repression was a disturbing sign.  Secrecy continued to surround executions, and the authorities had an ambiguous discourse on the subject; Belarus should fully cooperate with the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. 

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea said it opposed politicization, selectivity and double standards in the field of human rights and rejected any attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of States. Thus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea did not see any value in the adoption a politically motivated resolution that foresaw the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus.  Iran said that the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue.  In this regard, the human rights achievements in Belarus such as its participation in dialogues with the treaty bodies should properly be considered and appreciated.  Hungary highly valued the fact that Belarus had accepted two recommendations related to the judiciary during the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, namely to ensure that the judiciary was free from interference.  Hungary expressed concerns on the continued use of capital punishment.  Bolivia welcomed the adoption of numerous economic, social and development plans by Belarus that would strengthen the protection of human rights.  Bolivia stressed that the best way to make progress in the field of human rights was through cooperation with States.  

Myanmar acknowledged the positive steps taken by Belarus to promote human rights, as well as its constructive cooperation with the United Nations human rights mechanisms.  It noted that country-specific mandates in the Council could be counterproductive.  Ireland deeply regretted that Belarus continued to deny the Special Rapporteur access to the country, and was very concerned about the serious deterioration of the human rights situation in that country.  It called on all States to support the mandate of the Special Rapporteur.  Lithuania concurred with the concern over the arrests of human rights defenders and peaceful demonstrators in February and March 2017.  Lithuania supported reform of the electoral legal framework in Belarus and the introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty. 

Azerbaijan underlined that the selective adoption of country-specific resolutions was counterproductive and that it undermined the principles of cooperation and genuine dialogue.  The mandate on Belarus was redundant.  Turkmenistan noted that the situation in Belarus did not require urgent attention or monitoring by the Council because Belarus cooperated with the United Nations human rights bodies and it demonstrated a will to comply with its human rights obligations.  Lao People’s Democratic Republic stated that discussion of country-specific human rights situations without the consent of the concerned country would not create a conducive environment for constructive engagement and genuine dialogue.  It commended Belarus’ efforts to engage with international human rights mechanisms.

United Kingdom reiterated its call on the Belarusian authorities to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur, and to respect and uphold the rights to freedom of expression and of assembly.  Belarus was the only country in Europe still imposing the death penalty; the Special Rapporteur was asked how he had engaged with actors still present in Belarus.  Tajikistan expressed support for Belarus with regard to its position on the Special Rapporteur.  Belarus had taken important steps in improving the human rights situation, and the adoption of the first plan of action served as a significant step towards human rights protection in the country.  Eritrea said international cooperation in the area of the promotion and protection of human rights could only be advanced by ensuring non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights issues and the elimination of politicization, selectivity and double standards. 

Mongolia said that as a country which had de jure abolished the death penalty, Mongolia considered capital punishment to be an inhuman practice, and encouraged Belarus to continue its national dialogue on the abolishment of the death penalty and consider acceding to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Uzbekistan said there were aspects which were not reflected in the report, such as achievements, including measures taken to attain the Sustainable Development Goals.  The fairest instrument to assess the human rights situation in any country was the Universal Periodic Review.

Human Rights Watch said the Government of Belarus had unleashed a nation-wide crackdown on peaceful demonstrators with excessive force in March 2017.  The police had arbitrarily detained a number of persons, including journalists and activists.  Such acts called for the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.  Human Rights House Foundation noted that the situation in Belarus had significantly deteriorated.  The authorities had arrested about 700 people and pre-emptive attacks had been carried out against journalists to prevent them from carrying out their work.  International Federation for Human Rights Leagues voiced extreme concern over the lack of systematic improvement of human rights in Belarus.  All of the legal restrictions on freedom of expression and association remained in place, and the crackdown on peaceful protests in March 2017 confirmed the absence of political change.  United Nations Watch voiced alarm over the human rights situation in Belarus, noting that an independent media remained restricted.  Nearly 100 journalists had been detained during the March 2017 protests.  Future investigations of human rights abuses in Belarus would be increasingly difficult.  Amnesty International deplored the sharp rise in death sentences and executions in Belarus, as well as the continued violation of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, association and expression.  In such a context, it was imperative to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. 
 
Concluding Remarks

MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said the first batch of questions had been about the cyclic, recurring character of oppression of human rights in the country.  There were three main areas where the recurring character of oppressive human rights governance could be detected.  They included the taking of political prisoners in the country.  The international community was now witnessing what was happening with the so-called “White Legion” case.  All of them should be very quickly released.  The death penalty was another domain.  Conferences on how other countries administered the death penalty would not lead to results; what would work was to use the President’s absolute power.  The underlying reason for the cyclic character of repression was the unchanging body of law which had been designed to abolish all independent activity in society.  Mr. Haraszti underscored that he was not proposing a change of government.  Another branch of questions had surrounded the national action plan, which confined itself to a selection of the accepted Universal Periodic Review recommendations.  It should provide for a plan on how to improve the basic rights of citizens.  The United Kingdom had raised a delicate question about inter-agency cooperation within the United Nations, and he said he would welcome more cooperation from the United Nations Development Programme in the country as well as coordination of the United Nations presence in Belarus.  Civil society could have a better standing if a standing invitation was given to the unacknowledged groups.  He reiterated his readiness for cooperation and dialogue, and stated that the inter-agency plan could be improved by inviting civil society and political parties.  The way forward for Belarus was inclusiveness and invitation and embracing the grievances of civil society and of the larger political community of the country.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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