Human Rights Defenders from York: Katsiaryna Borsuk

January 25, 2015

On 16 February 2015, the York Press carried a feature story by Stephen Lewis about 5 human rights defenders in the temporary shelter programme at York University. The aim of the placements is to give those fighting for human rights around the world a breather, as well as the chance to forge contacts with other human rights workers and organisations around the world.

Katsiaryna Borsuk was born in a village not far from Chernobyl, Belarus, a year after the nuclear accident which made it infamous. The village was radioactively polluted. When she was four, her family were evacuated to the city of Gomel where, as a child, she was taunted for being ‘radioactive’ herself. Many people of her generation have chronic health problems, she says – her own brother has problems with his eyes and his throat.

Interested in environmental protection, she studied natural sciences at university in Gomel. She got caught up in student environmental protests, then became involved with the youth movement. When she graduated, she began working for a banned youth organisation – one that promoted democracy and civil rights. She was several times questioned by the KGB. “They pretended to not be KGB. But they took notes,” she says. “They mostly took you somewhere. Once, they came by car, and interviewed me in the car.”

York Press:
Katsiaryna Borsuk

In 2012, although heterosexual herself, she became involved with Gay Belarus. Homophobia is widespread in Belarus, and there are very few people willing to stand up for LGBT people, she says. They are regularly subjected to homophobic attacks – attacks which are often filmed and posted on social media. Her organisation works with the victims of homophobia, trying to convince families to prosecute cases, talking to police and prosecutors’ offices, arranging free legal representation and even psychological support. But it is not easy. “The police are homophobic. They won’t protect you. Even if people are killed – there have been murders – the police don’t take the case.”

5 human rights defenders in York tell their incredible stories (From York Press).

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