Posts Tagged ‘Belarus’

Call for the Immediate Release of Human Rights Defender Andrei Aliaksandrau in Belarus

July 14, 2021

Thirteen Organisations Call for the Immediate and Unconditional Release of Journalist and Human Rights Defender Andrei Aliaksandrau - Protection

Image credit: Volha Khvoin / BAJ

On 2 July 2021, ARTICLE 19 and 12 other media freedom organisations unreservedly condemn the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of human rights defender and journalist Andrei Aliaksandrau, who is now facing up to 15 years in prison on baseless charges of “treason to the state”. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/07/06/anais-marin-un-expert-on-belarus-full-scale-assault-ongoing-against-civil-society/

Aliaksandrau has long been a defender of freedom of expression in Belarus and beyond, having previously held positions at the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Index on Censorship, and Article 19 among other media and free speech organisations.

Aliaksandrau was detained in January 2021. The Investigative Committee, Belarus’s criminal investigation service, indicted him on public order offences, for which he was facing up to three years in prison. The charges stem from allegations that Aliaksandrau paid the fines of journalists and protesters whom authorities detained during last year’s pro-democracy protests, triggered by the highly disputed August 2020 presidential election. The Belarusian Investigative Committee and other law enforcement agencies wrongly equated this with financing unlawful protests.

On 30 June, Belapan reported that Aliaksandrau has now been charged with “treason to the state” based on the same set of allegations. 

“More than €530,000 worth of fines were imposed on protesters between 9 August and the end of 2020. It is absurd to conflate efforts to help pay those fines with a public order offense, let alone treason,” the organisations said. 

Belarusian authorities created a new mark of tyranny by laying treason charges against Aliaksandrou. While we urge the release of all 529 political prisoners currently detained in Belarus, which include at least 15 journalists, we are at this point in time expressing special concern for Aliaksandrau. To date, he is the only detainee facing the fabricated charge of treason.”

Aliaksandrau has already spent 172 days in prison for his alleged “crime”. We call for his immediate and unconditional release,” the organisations said.

Signed by:

ARTICLE 19

East European Democratic Centre (EEDC) 

European Centre for Press and Media Freedom

European Federation of Journalists (EFJ)

Free Press Unlimited (FPU)

Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF)

Human Rights Watch

IFEX

Index on Censorship

International Media Support (IMS)

PEN America 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF)

South East Europe Media Organisation (SEEMO)

https://www.article19.org/resources/call-for-release-of-andrei-aliaksandrau/

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/07/15/belarus-unprecedented-raids-human-rights-defenders

https://www.fidh.org/en/issues/human-rights-defenders/belarus-coordinated-searches-and-detentions-of-journalists-and-human

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/belarus-following-the-adoption-of-the-un-resolution-valiantsin

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/7/16/belarus-police-raid-homes-of-journalists-in-continuing-crackdown

The 3 human rights lawyers shortlisted for the L4L award

July 12, 2021

Lawyers from Myanmar and Belarus, and a lawyers’ collective from Algeria are shortlisted as finalists for the 2021 Lawyers for Lawyers Award. The 2021 Award will be presented to the laureate during a seminar hosted by Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association in Amsterdam on 18 November 2021. The ceremony will also be live-streamed.

For more on the Lawyers for Lawyers Award and other awards for lawyers see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0 .

The expert jury selected U Khing Maung Zaw from Myanmar, the Collective for the Defence of Hirak Detainees from Algeria and Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak from Belarus as finalists for the Award. The laureate of the Award will be announced later this year.

About the finalists

  • In Myanmar, U Khing Maung Zaw has courageously upheld the rule of law for more than five decades. He is currently representing leaders of the recently deposed Myanmar government and a number of other persons who have been arbitrarily detained on politically motivated criminal charges associated with the military coup in Myanmar beginning 1 February 2021. In this context of repression and danger, U Khin Maung Zaw remains committed to representing his clients.
  • Since February 2019, grassroots peaceful protests (the “Hirak”) have called for genuine democratic reform and rule of law in Algeria. In response, the government launched a campaign of arrests and judicial harassment against all those associated with this movement. The Collective for the Defence of Hirak Detainees, formed in July 2019 after the first wave of arrests, voluntarily and tirelessly defends those arbitrarily prosecuted, especially from marginalised backgrounds who cannot afford legal support.
  • In the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections in Belarus, lawyers working on politically sensitive cases or cases of human rights violations were subjected to pressure, harassment and intimidation in connection to their professional activities. Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak represented human rights defenders and opposition leaders, and are paying a high price for their work. On 9 September 2020, Maksim Znak was taken into custody and is still being detained. On 19 February 2021, Liudmila Kazak was disbarred.

Anaïs Marin – UN Expert on Belarus: “Full-scale assault” ongoing against civil society

July 6, 2021
Protestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo).

Unsplash/Andrew KeymasterProtestors at the March of Peace and Independence in Minsk, Belarus (file photo). 5 July 2021

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday 5 July 2021, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

Belarus has witnessed an unprecedented human rights crisis over the past year, the independent expert appointed to monitor the country said on Monday, calling on authorities to immediately end their policy of repression and fully respect the legitimate aspirations of their people.

In her annual report to the Human Rights CouncilAnaïs Marin said she had received reports of massive police violence used against protesters – since last August’s disputed presidential election brought millions onto the streets to contest the result – cases of enforced disappearance, allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the continuous intimidation and harassment of civil society actors.

Broad spectrum of abuses

“The Belarusian authorities have launched a full-scale assault against civil society, curtailing a broad spectrum of rights and freedoms, targeting people from all walks of life, while systematically persecuting human rights defenders, journalists, media workers and lawyers in particular,” Ms. Marin told the Council.

“The crackdown is such that thousands of Belarusians have been forced or otherwise compelled to leave their homeland and seek safety abroad; yet the downing of a civilian plane in Minsk on 23 May, for the apparent sole purpose of arresting a dissident who was on board, signaled that no opponent to the current Government is safe anywhere”, the expert added.

She noted that the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus started in late spring 2020 and climaxed in the aftermath of the presidential election of 9 August, the results of which were widely contested.

Malpractices were reported during the election campaign, as most opposition candidates were forced out of the race, while the vote count was marred by allegations of fraud.

Unjustified and disproportionate

“Distrust in the legitimacy of the electoral outcome triggered spontaneous and largely peaceful popular protests to which the authorities responded with unjustified, disproportionate and often arbitrary force”, said the Special Rapporteur, who reminded that over 35,000 people have been detained since then for trying to exert their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including women and children arrested for peacefully demonstrating solidarity with victims of police violence.

“Since August 2020 I received innumerable allegations of beatings and ill-treatment, including torture in detention, but also allegations of rapes, enforced disappearances and even killings – all remain to be investigated.”

She said she was also alarmed by the hundreds of cases of criminal prosecution of human rights defenders and lawyers, journalists and medical staff, which have taken place, simply for doing their job.

Abusers protected

“As the legal and judicial systems in Belarus protect the perpetrators of grave human rights violations, continuing impunity means that there is no guarantee of non-reoccurrence,” Ms. Marin said. “Hence the international community should keep on demanding the release and rehabilitation of all those still detained on political grounds, and support initiatives aiming at bringing perpetrators of the most serious crimes to account”.

The UN expert also expressed concerns about the impact the ongoing crackdown has had on the right to education, pointing to discriminatory measures that persist in Belarus against people with disabilities, ethno-linguistic minorities, people living in rural areas and those deprived of liberty.

‘Disastrous consequences’

I call on the Belarusian authorities to put an end to their policy of repression, to immediately and unconditionally release those arbitrarily detained, and to ensure full respect for the human rights and legitimate democratic aspirations of people in Belarus”, the UN expert said, warning that a further aggravation of the human rights crisis and international self-isolation could have disastrous consequences for the whole country.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/28/fidh-launches-website-tracking-systematic-human-rights-violations-in-belarus/

https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/07/1095302

FIDH Launches Website Tracking Systematic Human Rights Violations in Belarus

June 28, 2021

SIARHEI LESKIEC / AFP

On 25 June 2021 the FIDH issued a press release announcing a new website on Belarus. Since May 2020, the administration of Aliaksandr Lukashenka, the de facto president of Belarus, has intensified repression, aiming to crush the country’s democratic movement. A new website launched by the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) tracks, compiles, and presents detailed information on the human rights situation in the country, including on political prisoners, violations against vulnerable groups, and efforts to advance accountability for the regime’s crimes.

FIDH and its member organisation in Belarus, Viasna Human Rights Center, have been closely monitoring and documenting the human rights situation in Belarus over the past year. The website launched today is intended as a comprehensive resource compiling up-to-date data and statistics, and offering analysis and insight into violations, including from our local partners such as Viasna. The website tracks and provides detailed information on political prisoners—particularly human rights activists, lawyers, journalists, and other human rights defenders, describes violations against vulnerable groups currently imprisoned by the regime—and details ongoing efforts to further accountability for the regime’s crimes.

The website has four main sections, updated daily, reflecting the most recent developments in four key areas: monitoring events and reactions, exposing crimes and furthering justice, defending human rights activists, and supporting vulnerable groups.

Monitoring events and reactions

On Monday, the EU approved new sanctions against 78 individuals and eight companies believed to support the crackdowns on the democratic movement and the forced landing of Ryanair flight with Raman Pratasevich on board late last month. The same day, the UK, Canada, and the US joined this initiative and introduced new sanctions. At the European Council yesterday, the EU also approved economic sanctions against parts of Belarus’ potash, oil, and tobacco exports, as well as telecommunication and banking sectors. We are monitoring this situation and will publish updates as soon as further information is available.

Exposing crimes and furthering justice

On 19 June, the law “On Amendments to the Laws on Ensuring the National Security of the Republic of Belarus” came into force. Among other provisions, it grants law enforcement the right to use military and special equipment to suppress riots and stipulates that officers not be liable for harm caused as a result of the use of force and weapons. This is one of a series of recent laws—including one that expands the definition of extremism—that threaten protesters’ lives and liberties, under the guise of ensuring public order and national security, and that violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. FIDH, which is on the Advisory Council of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, regularly issues statements analysing such laws, as well as communications to the UN Special Procedures, in order to further justice in the country.

Defending human rights activists

Many human rights defenders (HRDs) in Belarus face persecution due to their professional activity. To date, at least 21 of them have been charged with supposed crimes in an attempt to thwart their human rights activities. Most recently, on 18 June, lawyer Andrei Machalau, who was a defense attorney in many criminal cases against protests activists and HRDs, including TUT.by journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, was disbarred for alleged violation of professional ethics. Machalau is one of at least 17 lawyers whose licenses have been revoked since May 2020. We endeavour to defend each and every one of them and gather the available information in a dedicated section of our website.

Supporting vulnerable groups

The current regime demonstrates a blatant disregard for human rights of children, women, pensioners, persons with disabilities, and other vulnerable groups. Despite the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of the protest movement, hundreds of representatives of these groups have been detained, and sometimes beaten, for simply displaying the white-red-white flag: the main symbol of the democratic movement. On Monday, the Belarusian Ministry of Interior proposed that the KGB add the white-red-white flag and slogan Zhyve Belarus (Long live Belarus) to the list of banned Nazi symbols. Should this initiative be approved, public use of such symbols could lead to administrative or even criminal liability—potentially devastating news for many minors, women, and other Belarusians who have galvanised the protest movement using these symbols. We will be following the situation and supporting those who may suffer restrictions on freedom of speech due to this and other legislation.

https://www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/mobilising-for-justice-in-belarus-fidh-launches-website-tracking

Viasna staff win People in Need’s Homo Homini Award 2021

May 12, 2021

On 11 May 2021 Czech Radio announced that the annual One World festival of human rights documentary films got underway on Monday evening under the motto Connection Lost. The festival, which has moved entirely online due to Covid-19 restrictions, started by presenting its annual Homo Homini prize for human rights advocacy.

During the virtual opening ceremony on Monday evening, the People in Need foundation presented this year’s Homo Homini prize to four members of the Belarusian human rights organization Viasna, who have been persecuted for tracking detained protestors, documenting human rights violations and helping victims of police violence.

Despite having committed no crime, they were detained and face up to 12 years in prison. Prague mayor Zdeněk Hřib presented the award to Nathalia Satsunkevich, their colleague from Viasna. Zdeněk Hřib, Nathalia Satsunkevich. See: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/7b5ccf60-bf81-11ea-b6a7-3533a3c74ec1

For the first time in the 25-year history of Homo Homini Award, it was presented to the same organization. People in Need director Šimon Pánek explained the decision to Czech Television: “15 years ago Ales Bialatski, founder of Viasna, received the Homo Homini Award. He saw what was happening at the time and put together a group of people to defend the rights of detainees. In the end, he himself ended up in prison.

“He was presented the award by Václav Havel, who said he hoped Belarus would live to see its 1989, but unfortunately, it hasn’t happened yet.

“For a while it looked as if Belarus has resigned, but the new generation of young people have not accepted the situation and despite the brutality of the regime, they have repeatedly taken to the streets.”

The festival was launched with the screening of the Belarusian documentary film Courage, about an underground theatre group The Belarus Free Theatre, which has been criticising the practices of Lukashenko’s authoritarian regime for the past 14 years. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2018/04/12/havel-prize-for-creative-dissent-2018-two-of-three-winners-announced-today/

The festival, which runs until May 19, will present over a hundred films in 15 thematic categories, the main one focusing on technology and its impact both on the society and individuals. Some of the screenings will also be accompanied by live discussions as part of the One World Live Programme.

https://english.radio.cz/detained-belarussian-activists-win-people-needs-homo-homini-award-8717241

Festivals and Human Rights NGOs Call For Release Of Belarus Festival Director Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska

April 15, 2021
Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska
Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska Watch Docs Film Festival

Tom Grater in Deadline.com of 14 April 2021 reports how an unusual collective of human rights organizations, film festivals and industry have called for the release of Tatsiana (Tanya) Hatsura-Yavorska, the director of the Watch Docs Festival in Belarus, who was arrested on April 5 for her role in organizing an underground photo exhibition celebrating health workers.

The Human Rights Film Network and the International Coalition for Filmmakers at Risk have put out a joint open letter calling on authorities to release Hatsura-Yavorska, who is regarded as a political prisoner, as well as others who have been incarcerated in the country. The letter has been signed by a broad selection of film festivals and organizations including Sundance and Berlin.

“We urge the Belarusian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release our colleague Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska and other human rights defenders, and to end acts of judicial harassment against them,” the letter reads. You can see it in full here.

Following the event that she jointly organized, which was titled Machine Is Breathing, and I Am Not and was dedicated to the country’s medics and their battle during the pandemic, Hatsura-Yavorska was initially fined 700 Belarusian rubles for “protesting against police” and placed in a detention facility. She has not been released and is now facing trial on charges of ‘raising money for protests’, with her court hearing set to take place 16 April according to those close to her. It is thought she could face several years in prison.

Maciej Nowicki, Director of Poland’s Watch Docs Film Festival, told Deadline that “it is still unclear on what grounds” Hatsura-Yavorska is being prosecuted.

“Numerous reports by the UN, other international organizations and NGOs, unfortunately, have documented various types of violations of law and human rights in Belarus, including the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. This is why we are truly concerned about Tanya,” he continued. “Tanya is an amazing and beautiful person, as well as a very strong one. But now she needs our solidarity.”

A collection of Belarusian organizations and associations also released a statement this weekend, which read: “We consider the persecution of Tatsiana Hatsura-Yavorska by the authorities to be politically motivated, aimed at stopping her public and non-violent activities aimed at protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d

Elsewhere, Filmmaker Mark Cousins penned an article for The Guardian expressing his support for Hatsura-Yavorska, detailing how he interacted with the festival exec though his work with the Belfast Film Festival. “Nonfiction cinema is our lingua franca. Those who speak it to governments should be defended,” Cousins wrote.

https://deadline.com/2021/04/call-for-release-imprisoned-belarus-fest-director-tatsiana-hatsura-yavorska-1234734095/

2021 Arthur Svensson Prize to Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions

April 11, 2021
Workers taking part in solidarity rallies. Minsk, 14 August 2020. Photo: АВ / Vot Tak TV / Belsat

Belsat.eu of 9 April 2021 reports that the 2021 Arthur Svensson International Prize for Trade Union Rights has been awarded to the independent trade union movement in Belarus, represented by the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) and its affiliates. for ‘their fearless struggle for democracy and fundamental trade union rights in Europe’s last dictatorship’.

For more on this prize see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/5c06a870-6053-11e9-aa6c-87381bf77969

Belarus is considered one of the worst countries in the world for violating workers’ rights. Human rights organizations have for many years expressed deep concern about the human rights violations in the country; «disappearances», police violence and lack of freedom of expression and association. Despite the Lukashenka regime’s attempts to take control of the independent unions and complicate recruitment, organizing and regular trade union activity, they have never given up and have continued to work for its members,” the awarding committee says.

According to them,the independent trade union movement became central early in the fight against the falsification of the election result and the fight for democracy when the situation in the country significantly deteriorated in the wake of the 2020 presidential election.

svenssonstiftelsen.com

Wrap up 46th session of UN Human Rights Council with key resolutions on Belarus and Myanmar and more

March 29, 2021

UN Photo/Jean-Marc FerréA general view of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council in session. 24 March 2021

The UN’s top rights forum passed resolutions condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms in Belarus and Myanmar on Wednesday, in response to ongoing concerns over the human rights situation in both countries.

The ISHR and another 15 organisations (see below) produced as usual their reflections on the key outcomes of the 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations including pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees, and the human rights situations in Algeria, Cameroon, China, India, Kashmir and the Philippines.

They welcome some important procedural advances such as the possibility for NGOs to make video statements, which should be maintained and expanded after the pandemic for all discussions, including in general debates. …They are concerned by the renewal for another year of the ‘efficiency’ measures piloted in 2020, despite their negative impact on civil society participation in a year also impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge States to reinstate general debates in the June sessions, to preserve their open-ended nature, and maintain the option of video intervention also in general debates.

Environmental justice:

They welcome the joint statement calling for the recognition of the right of all to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment that was delivered by the Maldives, on behalf of Costa Rica, Morocco, Slovenia and Switzerland and supported by 55 States. We call on all States to seize this historic opportunity to support the core-group as they continue to work towards UN recognition so that everyone in the world, wherever they live, and without discrimination, has the right to live in a safe, clean and sustainable environment.

We welcome the joint statement that was delivered by Bangladesh, on behalf of 55 States, calling the Council to create a new Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change. We believe this new mandate would be essential to supporting a stronger human rights-based approach to climate change, engaging in country visits, normative work and capacity-building, and further addressing the human rights impacts of climate responses, in order to support the most vulnerable. This mandate should be established without further delay.

Racial Justice: Over 150 States jointly welcomed that the implementation of HRC Resolution 43/1 will center victims and their families. They urge the Council to respond to the High Commissioner’s call to address root causes of racism including the “legacies of enslavement, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans, and its context of colonialism”. The Council must answer to the demands of victims’ families and civil society’s, and establish – at its next session – an independent inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement in the United States and a thematic commission of inquiry to investigate systemic racism in law enforcement globally, especially where it is related to legacies of colonialism and transatlantic slavery.

Right to health: The resolution on ensuring equitable, affordable, timely, and universal access by all countries to vaccines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a welcome move in highlighting the need for States not to have export and other restrictions on access to safe diagnostics, therapeutics, medicines, and vaccines, and essential health technologies, and their components, as well as equipment  and encouraged States to use all flexibilities within TRIPs. However, a revised version of the resolution tabled was further weakened by the deletion of one paragraph on stockpiling of vaccines and the reference to ‘unequal allocation and  distribution among countries”. The specific deletion highlights the collusion between rich States and big pharmaceuticals, their investment in furthering monopolistic intellectual property regimes resulting in grave human rights violations. The reluctance of States, predominantly WEOG States who continue to defend intellectual property regimes and States’ refusal to hold business enterprises accountable to human rights standards is very concerning during this Global crisis.

Attempts to undermine HRC mandate: They regret that once again this Council has adopted a resolution, purportedly advancing ‘mutual beneficial cooperation’ which seeks to undermine and reinterpret both the principle of universality and its mandate. Technical assistance, dialogue and cooperation must be pursued with the goal of promoting and protecting human rights, not as an end in itself or as a means of facilitating inter-State relations. We reiterate our call on all States, and especially Council members, to consider country situations in an independent manner, based on objective human rights criteria supported by credible UN and civil society information. This is an essential part of the Council’s work; reliance on cooperation alone hobbles the Council’s ability to act to support the defenders and communities that look to it for justice.

Country-specific resolutions: They welcome the new mandate for the High Commissioner focused on the human rights situation in Belarus in the context of the 2020 Presidential election. It is now essential for States to support the High Commissioner’s office, ensuring the resources and expertise are made available so that the mandate can be operationalised as quickly as possible. Immediately afterwards, on 24 March, 2021 the Human Rights House Foundation published a call by 64 Belarusian and international human rights organisations, welcoming the resolution passed by the UN Human Rights Council mandating the High Commissioner to create a new robust monitoring and reporting mandate focused on accountability for human rights violations in Belarus that have taken place since 1 May 2020. In so doing, the Council demonstrated its determination to hold Belarusian authorities to account. This mandate needs immediate action. We urge the international community to support this critical next step. The mandate should provide a complementary and expert international mechanism to regional accountability processes already under way. Furthermore, it should assist in the identification of those responsible for the most serious violations for future prosecution. [https://humanrightshouse.org/statements/civil-society-organisations-call-for-the-immediate-operationalisation-of-hrcs-new-mandate-on-belarus/]

They welcome the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Iran, and urge Council to consider further action to hold Iranian authorities accountable, in view of the systematic impunity and lack of transparency surrounding violations of human rights in the country.

They welcome the call for additional resources for the Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, increased reporting by OHCHR as well as the work of the IIMM. Lack of international monitoring on, the imposition of martial law in Myanmar to prosecute civilians, including protesters, before military courts, the dangerous escalation of violence by the Tatmadaw and the widespread human rights violations amounting to crimes against humanity demand more efforts to ensure accountability.

They welcome the renewal and strengthening of the OHCHR’s monitoring and reporting mandate on Nicaragua, in a context of steady human rights deterioration marked by the Government’s refusal to cooperate constructively with the Office, over two years after its expulsion from the country. The adopted resolution lays out steps that Nicaragua should take to resume good faith cooperation and improve the situation ahead of this year’s national elections. It is also vital that this Council and its members continue to closely follow the situation in Nicaragua, and live up to the resolution’s commitments, by considering all available measures should the situation deteriorate by next year.

They welcome the increased monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka. However, in light of the High Commissioner’s report on the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation and Sri Lanka’s incapacity and unwillingness to pursue accountability for crimes under international law, the Council should have urged States to seek other avenues to advance accountability, including through extraterritorial or universal jurisdiction.

While they welcome the extension of the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan (CHRSS), they regret the adoption of a competing resolution under the inadequate agenda item 10. This resolution sends a wrong signal as myriads of local-level conflicts and ongoing SGBV and other violations of fundamental rights continue to threaten the country’s stability. We urge South Sudan to continue cooperating with the CHRSS and to demonstrate concrete progress on key benchmarks and indicators.

They welcome the report by the Commission of Inquiry on Syria on arbitrary imprisonment and detention and reiterate the recommendation to establish an independent mechanism “to locate the missing or their remains”, and call on States to ensure the meaningful participation of victims and adopt a victim-centered approach, including by taking into consideration the Truth and Justice Charter of Syrian associations of survivors and families of disappeared when addressing arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance.

Country-specific State statements: They welcome States’ leadership and statements on human rights situations that merit the HRC’s attention.

They welcome the joint statement on the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and urge all actors, including the Ethiopian Federal Government, to protect civilians and ensure unhindered humanitarian access. Those responsible for crimes under international law, including Ethiopian soldiers, members of armed militias and non-State groups, and Eritrean soldiers involved in Tigray, must be held criminally accountable. The HRC should mandate an independent investigation and reporting by the High Commissioner.

For the first time in seven years, States at the HRC have united to condemn the widespread human rights violations by Egypt and its misuse of counter-terrorism measures to imprison human rights defenders, LGBTI persons, journalists, politicians and lawyers and peaceful critics. They welcome the cross-regional joint statement by 32 States and we reiterate our call supported by over 100 NGOs from across the world on the HRC to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the situation.

They welcome the joint statement by 45 States focused on the human rights situation in Russia, including the imprisonment of Alexi Navalny and the large number of arbitrary arrests of protestors across Russia. The statement rightly expresses concern for shrinking civil society space in Russia through recent legislative amendments and Russia using its “tools of State” to attack independent media and civil society.

In the context of mounting international recognition that Israel imposes an apartheid regime over the Palestinian people, they welcome Namibia’s call for the “restoration of the UN Special Committee on Apartheid in order to ensure the implementation of the Apartheid Convention to the Palestinian situation.” See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/01/18/israel-and-apartheid-israeli-human-rights-group-stirs-debate/]

For the future:

The next session will receive a report on pushbacks from the Special Rapporteur on human rights of migrants. The Council must respond to the severity and scale of pushbacks and other human rights violations faced by migrants and refugees in transit and at borders and the ongoing suppression of solidarity, including by answering the High Commissioner’s call for independent monitoring. The Council’s silence feeds impunity, it must build on the momentum of the joint statement of over 90 States reaffirming their commitment to protection of the human rights of all migrants regardless of status.

While the OHCHR expressed deep concern about the deteriorating human rights situation and the ongoing crackdown on civil society in Algeria, and called for the immediate and unconditional release of arbitrarily detained individuals, the Council has remained largely silent. As authorities are increasingly arbitrarily and violently arresting protesters – at least 1,500 since the resumption of the Hirak pro-democracy movement on 13 February, they call on the Council to address the criminalisation of public freedoms, to protect peaceful protesters, activists and the media.

Cameroon is one of the human rights crises the Council has failed to address for too long. They condemn the acts of intimidation and reprisal exercised by the Cameroonian government in response to NGOs raising concerns, including DefendDefenders. This is unacceptable behavior by a Council member. The Council should consider collective action to address the gross human rights violations and abuses occurring in the country.

They echo the calls of many governments for the Council to step up its meaningful action to ensure that concerns raised by civil society, the UN Special Procedures and the OHCHR about the human rights situation in China be properly addressed, including through an independent international investigation. We also regret that a number of States have taken an unprincipled approach of voicing support to actions, such as those by the Chinese government, including in Xinjiang and Hong Kong, through their national and other joint statements.

They call for the Council’s attention on the rapid deterioration of human rights in India. Violent crackdowns on recent farmers’ protests, internet shutdowns in protest areas, sedition and criminal charges against journalists reporting on these protests, and criminalisation of human rights defenders signal an ongoing dangerous trend in restrictions of fundamental freedoms in India. We call on India to ensure fundamental freedoms and allow journalists, HRDs and civil society to continue their legitimate work without intimidation and fear of reprisals. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/10/29/also-un-calls-on-india-to-protect-human-rights-defenders/]

We once again regret the lack of Council’s attention on the human rights crisis in Kashmir. Fundamental freedoms in the Indian-administered Kashmir remains severely curtailed since the revocation of the constitutional autonomy in August 2019. Raids in October and November 2020 on residences and offices of human rights defenders and civil society organisations by India’s anti-terrorism authorities in a clear attempt at intimidation have further exacerbated the ongoing crisis. We call on the OHCHR to continue to monitor and regularly report to the Council on the situation in both Indian and Pakistani administered  Kashmir, and on Indian and Pakistani authorities to give the OHCHR and independent observers unfettered access to the region. [See also; https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/02/09/forgotten-kashmir-something-has-to-be-done/]

Nearly six months since its adoption, the Council Resolution 45/33 on technical assistance to the Philippines has proven utterly insufficient to address the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity. Killings in the war on drugs continue, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists have escalated. The killing of nine unarmed activists on 7 March 2021 clearly demonstrates that no amount of technical assistance will end the killings as long as the President and senior officials continue to incite violence and killings as official State policy. It is imperative that the Council sets up an international accountability mechanism to end the cycle of violence and impunity in the Philippines. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/03/09/philippines-killings-continue-and-de-lima-stays-in-jail/]

Watch the statement: 

*The statement was also endorsed by: Franciscans International; Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR); International Commission of Jurists (ICJ);  International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism (IMADR); Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); African Centre For Democracy And Human Rights Studies; International Federation for Human Rights Leagues (FIDH); MENA Rights Group; International Lesbian and Gay Association; Impact Iran; Ensemble contre la Peine de Mort (ECPM); Siamak Pourzand Foundation; Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS); ARTICLE 19; CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation.

NOTE: The 47th regular session of the Human Rights Council is scheduled from 21 June 2021 to 9 July 2021.

https://www.ishr.ch/news/hrc46-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-human-rights-council

Human Rights

Belarus: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders!

March 22, 2021

On 18 March, 2021 a Joint NGO Statement on Belarus was published: End Reprisals Against Human Rights Defenders:

The Belarusian authorities are conducting a targeted campaign of intimidation against civil society in an effort to silence all critics of the government. Following the disputed presidential election on 9 August 2020, hundreds of thousands of people across the country took to the streets to protest the announced result. Peaceful protests continue and reprisals against protesters continue too, with frightening regularity and increasing severity. Riot police have used unlawful force, detaining thousands of people. Allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in detention are widespread. Over 33,000 people have been arbitrarily arrested for taking part in peaceful demonstrations or voicing their dissent and an increasing number are being prosecuted under trumped up criminal charges and handed prison sentences. [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/b5785052-8efa-42e7-8508-d6de0a8c1b3d]

Human rights defenders have played an invaluable role in documenting these violations, providing legal assistance, and advising people of their rights. The Belarusian authorities are now escalating pressure on human rights defenders by imposing unfounded criminal charges, opening bogus criminal investigations, and conducting raids and searches in retaliation for these defenders’ legitimate human rights work. Some are in pre-trial detention or under house arrest and there are allegations they have been subjected to torture and other ill-treatment. The authorities have compelled lawyers for most of these activists to sign non-disclosure agreements that bar them from sharing any information about the investigation.

Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities

In January 2021, authorities targeted the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities, and its director, Syarhei Drazdouski, and lawyer, Aleh Hrableuski, are now under house arrest and in pretrial detention, respectively. The Office is a well-respected NGO that has been supporting people with disabilities by offering them legal advice and advocating for compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department of the State Control Committee of Belarus visited the office and the homes of Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski simultaneously (allegedly to inspect the scene of the crime). They removed computers, phones, and some documents. They also took statements from both men.

On 21 January, the Financial Investigations Department published a message on its official website launching a process of verification into the activities of the members of the Office for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a part of an investigation into “possible inappropriate acquisition of funds received in the form of charitable contributions and international support in the period from 2020 to the present for the purpose of providing assistance to Belarusian citizens with disabilities”.

Siarhei Drazdouski commented in a Facebook post on 3 February:

“Allegedly we were financially supporting people accused of taking part in protest actions. In fact, we advised several victims [of human rights violations] – both people with disabilities and without – to seek help from lawyers.”

Allegations of Torture and Other Ill-Treatment

On 2 February 2021, Syarhei Drazdouski and Aleh Hrableuski were questioned for seven hours at the Financial Investigations Department. Their lawyers were not allowed to accompany them, and they were subjected to ill-treatment.

According to Syarhei Drazdouski, the interrogators, who did not introduce themselves, openly called him a “criminal, a fraudster, a liar and an accomplice.” While the interrogation was mostly conducted politely, several times other staff members came in and insulted and aggressively swore at him.

Aleh Hrableuski reported that, when he continued to refuse to give them the information they demanded, he was restrained, forcibly stripped naked and made to sit naked on a chair and not raise his eyes. Investigators eventually released him.

On 3 February 2021, both men were taken for questioning again, but this time Hrableuski was remanded in custody and Drazdouski was put under house arrest. Their lawyers were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements, as is increasingly the practice in Belarus, and very little information is available about the charges against them.

Viasna

On 16 February 2021, the Belarusian authorities carried out raids simultaneously throughout the country on the homes of staff and offices of Human Rights Centre Viasna, the Belarusian Association of Journalists and the independent trade union REP. The raids were carried out in Minsk, Homel, Mahilyou, Vitsebsk, and Brest as part of unfounded criminal proceedings under Article 342 of the Criminal Code of Belarus (organization and preparation of actions that grossly violate public order), which the authorities have launched to target civil society activists, journalists, and human rights monitors. According to Belarus’ Investigative Committee, the investigation is aimed at “establishing the circumstances of the financing of protest activities”. (see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/02/24/fake-letter-tries-to-discredit-viasna-in-belarus/]

Dzmitry Salauyou, a human rights defender and member of the Board of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was among those whose homes were searched on 16 February. Special forces and officers from the Department for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Corruption, a police unit also involved in the harassment of protesters, broke down the door to his flat to enter and carry out the search. They confiscated computers and telephones and demanded that his wife tell them the password for her mobile phone. They threatened that if she did not comply, she would go to prison, and their 13-year-old child would be put in state custody. Dzmitry Salauyou was detained and alleges that he was beaten by special forces in the mini-bus on the way to the pretrial detention centre. Subsequent medical reports documented head trauma consistent with being hit on the head, increased intracranial pressure, and suspected damage to cervical vertebrae.

On 18 February, he was sentenced to 12 days’ detention on administrative charges for holding an “illegal picket.” The conviction was based solely on the fact that the building in which Dzmitry Salauyou lives has a concrete frieze depicting Belarus’ historical coat of arms, Pahonia, which has been adopted as one of the symbols of the protest movement. According to the judge, the Pahonia is considered a symbol of protest and could be considered evidence of “staging a one-person picket”. Dzmitry Salauyou told the court that the frieze had been installed when the house was built about eight years ago.

On 1 March, the day following his release, Dzmitry Salauyou was detained at Minsk airport as he was trying to leave the country with his family. The Investigative Committee interrogated him at their offices as a suspect in a criminal case under Article 342(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training or other preparation of individuals to take part in group actions that gravely violate public order’), which carries a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment. He was released but is under travel restrictions. Both Dzmitry Salauyou and his lawyer were forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.

Other Members of Viasna Accused of Criminal Offences

Marfa Rabkova, the youth coordinator of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was arrested on 17 September 2020, and has been in pretrial detention ever since. On 25 September, she was charged under Article 293(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘training and other preparation of people for participation in mass riots’), which carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. On 11 February 2021, she was also charged under Article 130(3) of the Criminal Code, (‘incitement of racial, national, religious or other social hatred or discord committed by a group’), and under Article 285 (2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’) which carries a maximum sentence of 12 years’ imprisonment.

Andrei Chepyuk, a volunteer for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Minsk, was detained on 2 October 2020 and on 9 October he was charged under Article 293(2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (participation in mass disorder). On 28 January 2021, it became known that he is also charged under Article 285(2) of the Criminal Code (‘membership of a criminal organization’). He is being held in pretrial detention centre No.1 in Minsk.

Tatsyana Lasitsa, an activist who volunteers for Human Rights Centre Viasna in Homel, was detained on 21 January. She had assisted with the legal defense of people detained and fined for their participation in protests. She has been charged under Article 342 (1) and (2) of the Criminal Code of Belarus (‘organization or participation in group actions that gravely violate public order’). She is being held in the pretrial detention centre in Homel.

Leanid Sudalenka, the director of the Homel branch of Human Rights Centre Viasna, was detained on his way to the office on 18 January 2021. He has been charged under Article 342 of the Criminal Code (‘organizing and preparing actions that gravely violate public order or active participation in such actions’). Sudalenka had provided legal assistance to dozens of Homel region residents who were detained and charged for their participation in post-election protests. He is being held in pretrial detention in Homel. In 2019 he was awarded two prizes for his human rights work over 20 years, the French prize Freedom Equality and Brotherhood, and a National Belarusian Prize as Human Rights Defender of the Year.

We call on the Belarusian authorities:

  • To abide by their international human rights obligations as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to respect the rights to freedom of association, peaceful assembly, and expression of all people in Belarus.
  • To fully respect and protect the work of human rights defenders and ensure that everybody has the right to complain about the policies and actions of individual officials and government bodies and to offer and provide professionally qualified legal assistance or other relevant advice and assistance in defending human rights and fundamental freedoms.
  • In line with these obligations, to release Marfa Rabkova, Andrei Chepyuk, Tatsyana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Syarhei Drazdouski, and Aleh Hrableuski immediately and unconditionally as they have been detained for their legitimate human rights work, drop charges against them and ensure their right to a remedy for unfounded criminal prosecution.
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention against Torture and carry out prompt, independent, and impartial investigations into the allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by Syarhei Drazdouski, Aleh Hrableuski, and Dzmitry Salauyou
  • To comply with their international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the rights of all persons deprived of their liberty to reasonable accommodations and the right to effective access to justice on an equal basis with others, including through the provision of procedural accommodations in all legal proceedings, including at investigative and other preliminary stage.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/03/18/joint-statement-belarus-end-reprisals-against-human-rights-defenders

Belarus an ‘absolute catastrophe” says human rights defender Ales Bialiatski

March 9, 2021

Pip Cook in Geneva Solutions of 9 March 2021 published a rich, detailed interview with Belarus human rights defender Ales Bialiatski [see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/6CF69C2A-4101-6782-F0AB-53A307E9F7B2]

Ales Bialiatski laying flowers at a memorial to Aliaksandr Taraikouski, a protester who was killed during a demonstration on August 10, 2020. Credit: HRC Viasna

On February 16, Ales Bialiatski’s home and the offices of his human rights organisation Viasna in Minsk were raided by police. He was targeted along with more than 40 other human rights defenders, journalists and their relative in towns across the country, with reports of officials using excessive force while seizing phones, computers and credit cards.

Bialiatski, one of Belarus’ most prominent human rights defenders, says the authorities were looking for any evidence of organisations or journalists “financing” peaceful protests against the country’s president Alexander Lukashenko. The raids are the latest development in the government’s brutal crackdown on mass protests which have been ongoing in the country since Lukashenko claimed victory in a rigged election last August. [see also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/tag/ales-bialiatski/]

The authorities have recently opened a criminal case against Viasna and Bialiatski himself. A former political prisoner who spent nearly three years jailed in Minsk, he says that, by the time this article is published, he may once again be behind bars.

Millions of people want change, and the answer of the government is repression,” says Bialiatski, speaking to Geneva Solutions from the Right Livelihood Foundation offices in Geneva. He and Viasna received the prestigious award in 2020.

Seven months on from the election, more than 33,000 people have been detained, and there are widespread reports of police brutality, arbitrary arrests, kidnapping, and torture of detainees.

The human rights situation in Belarus is, in Bialiatski’s words, “an absolute catastrophe”. “The situation is quite horrible because it’s not only human rights defenders that suffer,” he explains. “It’s all levels of society. Anybody who can think.”

Over half a year since the first protests broke out in the capital Minsk, he says the authorities are still tightening their grip on personal freedoms and carrying out grave human rights violations, targeting activists, journalists and anyone who opposes the regime. But the people of Belarus are not giving up.

What’s going on in Belarus? The government’s crackdown in Belarus follows mass protests in the country last summer after a fraudulent election in which Lukashenko, known as “Europe’s last dictator”, claimed to have won 80 per cent of the vote. The poll is widely accepted to have been rigged to extend his 25-year rule, prompting the largest demonstrations in the country’s history.

Elections in Belarus have never been considered free and fair by many international observers. Bialiatski has been working to advocate for democratic freedoms in the country since his early twenties, when the country was still under Soviet rule.

He founded Viasna in 1996, five years after Belarus gained independence from the Soviet Union and two years after Lukashenko came to power. The organisation’s initial aim was to help thousands of protesters arrested during mass pro-democracy rallies after Lukashenko brought in sweeping constitutional reforms that consolidated his authoritarian rule.

“[My colleagues and I] thought that this work would finish in a few years because the problem would disappear,” says Bialiatski. “But it’s been 25 years and there’s still work to do. It’s never ended. Unfortunately, the human rights situation never got better.”

Accusations of rigged elections, brutal suppression of civil rights and corruption have been hallmarks of Lukashenko’s half a century in power. However, Bialiatski says last year’s poll acted as a catalyst. It was then that Belarusian society finally “woke up” and demanded change.

Breaking the silence. In the run-up to elections in Belarus in 2020, a number of opposition figures became extremely popular, including former members of Lukashenko’s government and Sergei Tikhanovskya, a well-known blogger who travelled the country interviewing former loyal supporters of the ruler about why they had turned against him.

Although Lukashenko jailed or exiled many of his opponents, he did not see Sviatlana Tsikhanovskaya – who ran in the place of her husband when he was imprisoned – as a significant threat. However, Tsikhanovskaya became hugely popular, gaining the support of fellow opposition figures and attracting large crowds of supporters to her rallies.

Events in 2020 drastically impacted the Lukashenko’s loyal following and damaged his reputation. The country’s already dire economic situation was exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis, which the ruler has fervently denied, refusing to bring in restrictions and joking that the virus could be fought with vodka and work in the country’s potato fields. “Lukashenko was laughing into the world’s face and denying the existence of the virus, while people all around were dying,” says Bialiatski.

Tsikhanovskaya was widely expected to win the vote in a landslide. Although independent polling is illegal in Belarus, making it difficult to measure her lead in the run up to the election, some independent exit polls conducted outside polling stations in foreign embassies on election day showed her to have received 79.69 per cent of the vote while Lukashenko received just 6.25 per cent.

When the government announced it had won 80 per cent of the vote, claiming that Tsikhanovskaya had received less than 10 per cent, Belarusians realised the election had been rigged. “It was an open lie in the face of the people,” says Bialiatski. “Of course there were rallies – nobody believed the result.”

“The very first mass protests on the street were a result of despair and disappointment and disagreement with this injustice that had happened in the country,” he adds.

Thousands of people took to the streets across the country to peacefully protest the result, but they were met with a brutal crackdown from authorities. In Minsk, which saw the worst of the violence, police and the army deployed water cannons, stun grenades and rounds of rubber bullets against protesters. Police vans were reportedly driven into crowds and hundreds were injured, with journalists and independent observers apparently targeted.

As reports circulated of extreme violence against protesters, including systematic torture of detainees by police and security forces, thousands more Belarusians rallied. Over 200,000 people took part in the largest protest in the country’s history, and there were hopes that the pressure may finally topple Lukashenko.

However, the result was an even more brutal crackdown, in which thousands were injured and arrested. “Unfortunately, the peaceful protests didn’t lead to a change of government as was hoped and expected,” says Bialiatski. “Instead, daily repressions started against different people at different layers of society, at different organisations and activists.”

Crackdown on human rights and freedom of speech. According to Viasna, over 2,300 criminal cases have been opened against human rights defenders and activists since the protests erupted in August 2020. In February alone, during the latest spate of arrests, a further 511 people were detained, 102 people received sentences and 49 people imprisoned.

There is currently a criminal case open against Viasna and Bialiatski himself for inciting “public disorder” through allegedly financing ongoing protests by paying the huge fines imposed on protesters. He says the latest raids in which police seized phones, laptops and credit cards were an attempt to collect evidence. “This is considered as financial proof against the regime,” he explains. “They are not allowing us to exercise our human rights protection work, which is our right.

“We are working all the time on the edge of the knife because [we] don’t know when this criminal case will take force and [we] will be sentenced for it,” he says.

It’s not just activists who are being targeted. According to Viasna, there are currently 258 political prisoners in the country, including journalists and bloggers. On 17 February, two journalists, Katsiaryna Andreyeva and Darya Chultsova, both of the Polish-funded Belsat TV channel, were convicted of violating public order and sentenced to two years in prison for covering the protests.

“They are looking for ‘criminals’ among those who help political prisoners and write about the struggle of Belarusians for freedom,” wrote Tsikhanovskaya on Twitter in response to the latest raids. Tsikhanovskaya was forced to flee to Lithuania following last year’s elections.

“But in search of criminals, they should look into the offices of the riot police, the GUBOPiK (interior ministry directorate) and all those responsible for the repression.”

A number of Bialiatski’s colleagues are incarcerated in the country’s jails, imprisoned for as little as sending food parcels to jailed protesters. A former political prisoner himself who spent nearly three years behind bars from 2011-2014, Bialitksi knows all too well how terrible the conditions in Belarus’ prisons can be. With widespread reports of detainees being tortured and subjected to brutal treatment, he says he’s deeply concerned for their welfare.

“How people are treated in Belarusian jails is not a humane way to treat people,” he says. “I really hope that my colleagues and my friends can survive it and I really hope that one day they will be released.”

Pressure from the international community. Last summer’s crackdown prompted western countries to impose sanctions on Minsk, but Lukashenko has refused to resign, bolstered by diplomatic and financial support from long-standing ally Russia. Tikhanovskaya, who remains in Lithuania after the country rejected the Belarusian authority’s request for her extradition, is leading a campaign to encourage external pressure on Belarus in the hope that tougher measures against the regime may succeed in toppling Lukashenko.

Her efforts could be paying off. In December, the EU imposed a third round of economic sanctions against key individuals and companies in Belarus, while in February the Biden administration expanded the list of senior officials in the country who are no longer welcome in the United States.

Tikhanovskaya has also created a Coordination Council, effectively a government in waiting, which is headed by Bialiatski. The council is drafting a new constitution and keeps in contact with key figures in Belarus to ensure that the exiled opposition does not become detached from those who are keeping up the pressure on Lukashenko from within.

The situation in Belarus is also being closely watched by the United Nations. Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet recently presented her report on the aftermath of August’s elections to the 46th session of the Human Rights Council at the end of February. Bachelet warned of a “human rights crisis” in the country and called for an immediate end to the policy of systematic intimidation used by the Belarusian authorities against peaceful protesters and for the release of political prisoners.

Viasna has supported a number of other rights organisations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch in calling on the Human Rights Council to establish a new mechanism on Belarus. Bialiatski explains that the situation in the country must be kept high up on the international agenda if there is any hope of bringing down Lukashenko’s regime.

“It is very important to continue to exercise international pressure on Belarus, pointing out that human rights have to be preserved in the country,” he says. “This help of international society is required today – not tomorrow, today. Because tomorrow it might be too late.”

Hope for the future. Bialiatski says it is impossible to predict what the coming weeks, and even days, will bring to the people of Belarus. He says the latest crackdown has had a “very, very intimating result. People are scared. ”

“One thing is for sure,” he continues. “The administrative and criminal charges, and punishments and sentences against the activists and human rights defenders will get harsher. This I can guarantee. The current power is continuing to tighten the screws.

“I ask myself often how long the people can continue to bear this pressure, and if they will continue to bear it much longer.”

There are hopes that the spring could bring another wave of protests in Belarus. Speaking during a trip to Finland last week, exiled opposition leader Tikhanovskaya said she expected mass protest against Lukashenko to start up again soon after a lull in public demonstrations due to the authorities brutal suppression.

Bialiatski shares some of her cautious optimism. “The crisis has not gone, we are not beyond it,” he says. “The disagreement, disapproval and unhappiness of the people is so strong that I think there will be another breakout soon.”

He says that it is only a matter of time before Lukashenko loses his grip on Belarus – be it a result of peaceful protests, international pressure or the deteriorating economic situation in the country, although most likely a combination of all three. “This is the first time we have clearly seen that the current regime is in the minority and this gives us a significant certainty that the regime, the current power, cannot stay much longer,” he says.

After spending most of his life tirelessly working to uphold human rights in the face of relentless persecution at the hands of the Belarusian authorities, Bialiatski has managed to retain faith that his country will one day become a free democracy. What gives him hope that this could finally be the turning point in Belarus’s history? The country’s young people, he says, who have led the movement against Lukashenko.

“These young people in Belarus who strive for a change have totally different values ​​to Lukashenko and his entourage,” he says. “And it’s difficult to change the minds of young people. They are born with it. They will keep on fighting. ”

https://genevasolutions.news/peace-humanitarian/belarus-human-rights-defender-says-crackdown-on-freedom-an-absolute-catastrophe