Posts Tagged ‘Belarus’

Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Two Members of Human Rights Group Viasna in Belarus

November 5, 2021
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa.
The head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa. © 2021 Human Rights Centre Viasna

On Wednesday, November 3, the Centraĺny District Court in Homieĺ delivered the verdict in the politically motivated criminal case against two human rights defenders with the Homieĺ branch of Viasna, a leading Belarusian human rights group. The court sentenced the head of Viasna’s Homieĺ office Leanid Sudalenka and Viasna’s volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa to three and two and a half years in prison, respectively.

18 international and Belarusian organizations call on Belarusian authorities to immediately annul the outrageous verdict and drop all charges against Sudalenka and Lasitsa, as well as five other members of Viasna who are currently in jail on politically motivated charges.

“Politically motivated prosecutions of Viasna members and volunteers are part of the ‘purge’ of Belarusian civil society declared by Aliaksandr Lukashenka and his government. Belarusian authorities’ targeting of Viasna in particular is no doubt designed to punish the organization for its outstanding and courageous human rights work over the course of 25 years.”

On October 14, the prosecutor’s office requested three years’ imprisonment for Sudalenka and Lasitsa on charges of “organizing, financing, training, and preparation of actions grossly violating public order and financing such activities.” The charges were backed by absurd “evidence,” such as Sudalenka’s Facebook post offering to buy firewood for the family of someone accused of “mass rioting” in connection with the peaceful protests of 2020.

Sudalenka and Lasitsa have been in pretrial detention for over nine months, having been arrested on January 18 and 21, respectively. Their trial began in early September and was held behind closed doors.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/27/crackdown-on-human-rights-lawyers-in-belarus-continues/

On January 18, authorities also detained Viasna’s volunteer Maryia Tarasenka in connection to Sudalenka and Lasitsa’s case. She was released under her own recognizance three days after the arrest. Tarasenka left Belarus after prosecutor’s office requested two and a half years imprisonment for her in October.

The other five Viasna members currently behind bars on politically motivated criminal charges are Ales Bialiatski, the founder and chairman of Viasna, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Viasna deputy chairman, Uladzimir Labkovich, a lawyer and coordinator of the group’s campaign “Human rights defenders for free elections,” Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers, and Andrei Chapyuk, a volunteer for Viasna in Minsk.

The human rights defenders’ conditions of detention raise serious concerns: reports indicate they have been subjected to degrading and cruel treatment and their correspondence is often blocked. On October 13, Marfa Rabkova’s husband was allowed to see her for the first time in 13 months and reported she had been asking for but was denied medical care.

Around 100 Viasna human rights defenders and volunteers, as well as their family members, have also been interrogated and designated witnesses in criminal cases against their colleagues. At least seven have been designated suspects.

Belarusian law enforcement continues regular interrogations in connection with the criminal cases against Viasna employees, including activists of other civil groups and initiatives.

On September 17, 23 international and Belarusian human rights groups launched a campaign #FreeViasna, demanding the immediate release of the jailed Viasna human rights defenders. We continue calling on the Belarusian authorities to:

  • Fully 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.
  • Fully respect the work of human rights defenders and lawyers and ensure that everyone can complain without fear of retaliation about actions and policies of individual officials and governmental agencies.
  • In line with these obligations, release Tatsiana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Ales Bialatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapyuk immediately, drop all charges against Viasna staff and volunteers, including Maryia Tarasenka, and other human rights defenders, and ensure their right to a remedy for arbitrary detention and malicious prosecution.

Also woth mentioning is that on 4 November 2021 in response to the Belarusian authorities’ failure to respond satisfactorily to the 5 November 2020 Moscow Mechanism report, 35 OSCE states invoked the Vienna (Human Dimension) Mechanism and Belarus’ commitments under that Mechanism.

Signed:

Amnesty International

Article 19

Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House

Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Center for Civil Liberties

Civil Rights Defenders

FIDH, within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Front Line Defenders

Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights

Human Rights Center Viasna

Human Rights House Foundation       

Human Rights Watch

International Partnership for Human Rights                    

Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights                

Norwegian Helsinki Committee

Östgruppen – Swedish Initiative for Democracy and Human Rights               

Right Livelihood                         

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), within the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/11/03/joint-statement-sentencing-two-members-human-rights-group-viasna-belarus#

https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-lawyer-sudalenka-jailed/31544089.html

https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/human-rights-in-belarus-35-osce-states-invoke-vienna-mechanism

Crackdown on Human Rights Lawyers in Belarus continues

October 27, 2021
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus.
Gennady Fedunych (left) and Natalia Matskevich (right) at the trial in Minsk, Belarus. © Human Rights Center Viasna 2018

Anastasiia Zlobina, Assistant Researcher for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch reports that on 25 October 2021, the Minsk Bar Association disbarred prominent Belarusian defense lawyer Natalia Matskevich, the latest in a wide-raging and politically motivated crackdown on lawyers.

Matskevich is one of four lawyers who represented Viktar Babaryka, former presidential contender arrested on politically motivated charges in June 2020 in the run-up to the August 9 election. In July 2021, Supreme Court sentenced Babaryka to 14 years in prison for “grand bribery” and “laundering of illicit funds.”

On October 20, the Justice Ministry suspended the license of Evgeni Pylchenka, a lawyer who also represented Babaryka, pending the outcome of a disciplinary case against him. Matskevich’s disbarment and Pylchenka’s suspension came soon after they had filed an appeal in Babaryka’s case. Their colleagues said these sanctions were “absurd” and based on “ridiculous” allegations, including “some [supposedly] incorrectly worded questions to witnesses during trial.” 

In July, days after Babaryka’s verdict, authorities stripped his then-lawyer Dmitry Layevsky of his attorney’s license, citing “inappropriate comments about the work of his colleagues.” Prior to his disbarment, Layevsky had faced pressure from the authorities and the Minsk Bar Association.

In October 2020, the Justice Ministry terminated the license of Aliaksandr Pylchenka, another prominent member of Babaryka’s defense team, over supposed “incompetent comments to mass media”

According to Layevsky, Matskevich and Evgeny Pylchenka became “irreplaceable” in Babaryka’s case due to their detailed knowledge of the voluminous case as well as Babaryka’s trust in them.

Since August 2020, Belarusian authorities have been turning up the pressure on lawyers for publicly speaking out about human rights violations and in defense of clients in politically motivated cases. In addition to the obstruction of their work, lawyers have faced personal harassment such as threats, arbitrary detention, raids, revoked licenses, and administrative and criminal charges.

The Belarusian National Bar Association and its regional bars have continuously failed to protect their members.

At least 27 lawyers have already been banned or suspended in reprisal for speaking out against the recent wave of repressions in Belarus. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/10/two-lawyers-from-belarus-share-lawyers-for-lawyers-award-2021/

In November, new restrictive amendments will enter into force, further increasing the Ministry of Justice’s authority over, and eviscerating the independence of, Belarusian lawyers. The arbitrary suspension and disbarment of Belarusian lawyers doesn’t just rob them of their ability to practice their profession, but undermines their clients’ right to legal counsel, and sends a chilling message of intimidation to their colleagues.

On October 26, the Belarusian human rights community issued a joint statement on their recognising another 12 persons as political prisoners, HRC Viasna reported. As of October 26, there are 833 political prisoners in Belarus on this list.

The updated list includes:

  • Syarhei Prus and Dzmitry Bondarau, who were sentenced under Part 3 of Article 130 of the Criminal Code to 5 years in a penal colony for creating and posting online a video calling for illegal actions against riot police officers of the Mahilioŭ regional department of internal affairs;
  • Dzmitry Sonchyk, who was sentenced under Art. 364 and Art. 369 of the Criminal Code to 5 years of imprisonment in a penal colony for insults and threats to police officers in comments in a Telegram channel in 2020 and 2021;
  • Andrey Razuvayeu , who was sentenced under Article 369 and 295 of the Criminal Code to 4 years in a penal colony for insulting a government official and keeping a small amount of hunting gunpowder;
  • Iryna Melkher, Anton Melkher, Halina Dzerbysh, Syarhei Razanovich, Lyubou Razanovich, Pavel Razanovich, who have been in custody on terrorism charges since early December 2020. According to the human rights defenders, they have not participated in any investigative actions, while the investigation is not formally completed, and the state propaganda resources back in 2020 claimed that the guilt and role of all those involved in the case was ‘established and proven’;
  • former investigator Yauhen Yushkevich. The circumstances of the new accusation of terrorism give grounds to believe that his detention may be arbitrary and related to his public activities, human rights activists stress;
  • Yauhen Buynitski, who was detained on charges under Part 3 of Art. 371 of the Criminal Code for organizing illegal border crossing by citizens fleeing arbitrary politically motivated persecution by the Belarusian authorities, which could have serious consequences for them – torture, cruel, inhuman, degrading treatment and illegal imprisonment.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/10/26/belarusian-authorities-retaliate-against-lawyers-defending-human-rights

Internet Censorship 2021: A Global Map of Internet Restrictions

October 19, 2021

On October 12 I referred the report Freedom on the Net [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/10/12/report-freedom-on-the-net-2021/ and on 24 April to the latest RSF report [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/04/24/world-press-freedom-index-2021-is-out/]. Now my attention was drawn to another tool to measure internet censorship:

Nearly 60 percent of the world’s population (4.66 billion people) uses the internet. It’s our source of instant information, entertainment, news, and social interactions.

But where in the world can citizens enjoy equal and open internet access – if anywhere?

In this exploratory study, our researchers have conducted a country-by-country comparison to see which countries impose the harshest internet restrictions and where citizens can enjoy the most online freedom. This includes restrictions or bans for torrenting, pornography, social media, and VPNs, and restrictions or heavy censorship of political media. This year, we have also added the restriction of messaging/VoIP apps.

Although the usual culprits take the top spots, a few seemingly free countries rank surprisingly high. With ongoing restrictions and pending laws, our online freedom is at more risk than ever.

We scored each country on six criteria. Each of these is worth two points aside from messaging/VoIP apps which is worth one (this is due to many countries banning or restricting certain apps but allowing ones run by the government/telecoms providers within the country). The country receives one point if the content—torrents, pornography, news media, social media, VPNs, messaging/VoIP apps—is restricted but accessible, and two points if it is banned entirely. The higher the score, the more censorship. https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/IBnNS/3/

The worst countries for internet censorship

  1. North Korea and China (11/11) – No map of online censorship would be complete without these two at the top of the list. There isn’t anything either of them doesn’t heavily censor thanks to their iron grip over the entire internet. Users are unable to use western social media, watch porn, or use torrents or VPNs*. And all of the political media published in the country is heavily censored and influenced by the government. Both also shut down messaging apps from abroad, forcing residents to use ones that have been made (and are likely controlled) within the country, e.g. WeChat in China. Not only does WeChat have no form of end-to-end encryption, the app also has backdoors that enable third parties to access messages.
  2. Iran (10/11): Iran blocks VPNs (only government-approved ones are permitted, which renders them almost useless) but doesn’t completely ban torrenting. Pornography is also banned and social media is under increasing restrictions. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are all blocked with increasing pressures to block other popular social media sites. Many messaging apps are also banned with authorities pushing domestic apps and services as an alternative. Political media is heavily censored.
  3. Belarus, Qatar, Syria, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the UAE (8/11): Turkmenistan, Belarus, and the UAE all featured in our “worst countries” breakdown in 2020.  But this year they are joined by Qatar, Syria, and Thailand. All of these countries ban pornography, have heavily censored political media, restrict social media (bans have also been seen in Turkmenistan), and restrict the use of VPNs. Thailand saw the biggest increase in censorship, including the introduction of an online porn ban which saw 190 adult websites being taken down. This included Pornhub (which featured as one of the top 20 most visited websites in the country in 2019).

https://comparite.ch/internetcensorshipmap

Belarus’s Kalesnikava Awarded Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize

September 29, 2021

On 27 September 2021 RFE/RL’s Belarus Service reported that jailed Belarusian opposition figure Maryya Kalesnikava has won the Vaclav Havel Human Rights Prize awarded annually by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) to honor “outstanding” civil society action in the defense of human rights amid an ongoing crackdown in Belarus on pro-democracy activists and groups by authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka. See also: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/laureates/beff3c8d-0e20-4e88-9efb-cdfcb4c26f40


Maryya Kalesnikava forms a heart shape to supporters from inside a defendants' cage at her trial in Minsk on September 6.
Maryya Kalesnikava forms a heart shape to supporters from inside a defendants’ cage at her trial in Minsk on September 6.

The prize was presented by PACE President Rik Daems to Maryya’s sister, Tatsyana Khomich, at a special ceremony on September 27, the opening day of the autumn plenary session of the PACE in Strasbourg. For more on this award, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/7A8B4A4A-0521-AA58-2BF0-DD1B71A25C8D

“In standing up against a regime which has chosen force and brutality against peaceful and legitimate protest, Ms. Kalesnikava showed that she is ready to risk her own safety for a cause greater than herself — she has shown true courage,” Daems said.

Accepting the prize on her sister’s behalf, Khomich said: “This award is a sign of solidarity of the entire democratic world with the people of Belarus. It is also a sign to us, Belarusians, that the international community supports us, and that we are on the right track.”

Kalesnikava and another opposition figure, Maksim Znak, were sentenced to prison terms of 11 and 10 years respectively on September 6, after being found guilty on charges with conspiracy to seize power, calls for action to damage national security, and calls for actions damaging national security by trying to create an extremist group. Both pleaded not guilty, rejecting the charges.

Kalesnikava, 39, was a coordinator of the election campaign of an excluded presidential aspirant, former Belgazprombank head Viktar Babaryka. After Babaryka was arrested weeks before the August 2020 presidential election, Kalesnikava joined forces with another presidential candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, whom the majority of Belarusians have called the winner in the election.

After joining Tsikhanouskaya’s support group, Kalesnikava became a member of the opposition Coordination Council and turned into a prominent leader of protests demanding the resignation of Lukashenka, who was officially announced the winner of the election demonstrators say was rigged and which the West has refused to acknowledge.

Kalesnikava was snatched from the streets of Minsk in September 2020 by masked men along with two staffers. The three were driven early the next day to the border, where authorities told them to cross into Ukraine.

Security officers reportedly failed to deport Kalesnikava because she ripped her passport into small pieces after they arrived in the no man’s land between Belarus and Ukraine. Her two associates entered Ukraine, but with no valid passport, Kalesnikava remained in the country and was subsequently detained.

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/09/07/nominees-for-vaclav-havel-human-rights-prize-2021-announced/

In the meantime the Belarusian Justice Ministry has filed a lawsuit to dissolve the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, one of the country’s oldest independent human rights groups, Human Rights Watch said today. On September 30, 2021, the Belarus Supreme Court is scheduled to hold a hearing on the lawsuit. The move is part of wider effort by Belarusian authorities to silence all independent or critical voices in the country.

In a September 22 letter, five international human rights organizations, including Human Rights Watch, urged the Justice Ministry to withdraw its lawsuit, calling it “inappropriate [and] inconsistent with the Belarusian government’s obligations to respect and protect the legitimate work of human rights defenders.” They also said the lawsuit “violates a number of fundamental rights, including those of freedom of expression and association and due process.”

https://www.rferl.org/a/belarus-kalesnikava-havel-prize/31480306.html

https://www.euronews.com/2021/09/28/us-europe-rights-belarus

https://www.hrw.org/news/2021/09/29/belarus-authorities-target-top-human-rights-group

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Two lawyers from Belarus share Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

September 10, 2021

Belarusian lawyers Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak will receive the Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021. The Award will be presented at a ceremony co-hosted by Lawyers for Lawyers and the Amsterdam Bar Association in the Rode Hoed in Amsterdam on 18 November 2021. For more on this award and its laureates, see: https://www.trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/B40861B3-0BE3-4CAF-A417-BC4F976E9CB0

By awarding Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak the Lawyers for Lawyers Award, the jury wants to highlight the important work of both lawyers who bravely represented Belarusian human rights defenders and opposition leaders and are paying a high price for their work. With this Award, the jury also wants to raise awareness of other Belarusian lawyers who have been subjected to pressure, harassment and intimidation in connection to their professional activities especially in the aftermath of the 2020 presidential elections”.

Maksim Znak and Liudmila Kazak laureates Lawyers for Lawyers Award 2021

Maksim Znak                                                                                     

Maksim Znak represented Viktor Babaryko, a potential candidate in the presidential elections who was not allowed to formally register. He also provided legal assistance to Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, a former candidate for the presidency who is now in exile, and Maria Kolesnikova, Coordination Council co-leader. On 9 September 2020, Mr. Znak was arrested for allegedly having committed the offence of “calls to actions seeking to undermine national security” in violation of Article 361(3) of the Criminal Code of Belarus. In February 2021, additional charges were added, including “conspiracy to seize state power” and “organising extremism”. On 6 September 2021, Mr. Znak was sentenced to 10 years in prison during a closed-door-trial. His sentencing is another indication of the challenging working environment in which Belarusian lawyers must operate.

Liudmila Kazak

Liudmila Kazak is a human rights lawyer who has defended political prisoners, human rights defenders, and journalists, including the opposition leader Maria Kolesnikova. On 24 September 2020, she was detained. The next day, the court held Kazak administratively liable for disobeying police officers based on testimony given by anonymous masked witnesses who appeared via Skype and claimed to be the arresting officers. She was sentenced to a fine under article 23.4 of the Belarusian Administrative Code and released on 26 September 2020. On 11 February 2021, she was notified of a pending disciplinary proceeding against her before the Qualification Commission for legal practice in the Republic of Belarus. On 19 February 2021, the Qualification Commission disbarred Ms. Kazak. Ms. Kazak appealed the decision, but, on 15 April 2021, a district court upheld Ms. Kazak’s disbarment. On 17 June 2021, an appellate court upheld the district court decision.

For 2019 award, see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/05/21/lawyers-for-lawyers-award-to-turkish-human-rights-defender-selcuk-kozagacli-on-23-may/

Results of 47th session of the Human Rights Council

August 7, 2021

The ISHR and 17 other organisations (see below for their names) share reflections on the key outcomes of the 47th session of the UN Human Rights Council, as well as the missed opportunities to address key issues and situations. See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2021/06/22/key-issues-affecting-hrds-in-47th-session-of-un-human-rights-council-june-2021/

CIVIL SOCIETY PARTICIPATION

We deplore the systemic underfunding of the UN human rights system and the drive for so-called efficiency, including the cancellation of general debates in June, which are a vital part of the agenda by which NGOs can address the Council without restrictions. We call for the reinstatement of general debates at all sessions, with the option of civil society participation through video statements.  We welcome the focus of the civil society space resolution on the critical role played by civil society in the COVID-19 response, and the existential threats to civil society engendered or exacerbated by the pandemic. For the resolution to fulfil its goal, States must now take action to address these threats; while we welcome the broad support indicated by a consensus text, this cannot come at the cost of initiatives that will protect and support civil society.

HUMAN RIGHTS ONLINE

We welcome a resolution on the promotion, protection and enjoyment of human rights on the Internet and its thematic focus on bridging digital divides, an issue which has become ever-important during the COVID-19 pandemic. We urge all States to implement the resolution by taking concrete measures to enhance Internet accessibility and affordability and by ceasing Internet shutdowns and other disruptions, such as website blocking and filtering and network throttling. In future iterations of the text, we encourage the core group to go further in mentioning concrete examples that could be explored by States in adopting alternative models for expanding accessibility, such as the sharing of infrastructure and community networks.  We welcome the resolution on new and emerging digital technologies and human rights, which aims to promote a greater role for human rights in technical standard-setting processes for new and emerging digital technologies, and in the policies of States and businesses. While aspects of the resolution risk perpetuating “technology solutionism”, we welcome that it places a stronger focus on the human rights impacts of new and emerging digital technologies since the previous version of the resolution, such as introducing new language reiterating the importance of respecting and promoting human rights in the conception, design, use, development, further deployment and impact assessments of such technologies.

GENDER EQUALITY AND NON-DISCRIMINATION

We are concerned by the increasing number of amendments and attempts to weaken the texts. We are particularly concerned by the continued resistance of many States to previously adopted texts and States’ willful misinterpretation of key concepts related in resolutions on human rights in the context of HIV and AIDS, accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls: preventing and responding to all forms of violence against women and girls with disabilities and preventable maternal mortality and morbidity and human rights on maternal morbidities. We deplore the instrumentalising of women’s rights and sexual and reproductive health and rights. We encourage States to center the rights of people most affected and adopt strong texts on these resolutions. We welcome the resolution on menstrual hygiene management, human rights and gender equality as the first step in addressing deep-rooted stigma and discrimination. We urge all States to address the root causes for the discrimination and stigma on menstruation and its impact.

RACIAL JUSTICE AND EQUALITY

The High Commissioner’s report highlighted the long-overdue need to confront legacies of slavery, the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans and colonialism and to seek reparatory justice. We welcome the historic consensus decision, led by the Africa Group, to adopt a resolution mandating an independent international expert mechanism to address systemic racism and promote racial justice and equality for Africans and people of African descent. The adoption of this resolution is testament to the resilience, bravery and commitment of victims, their families, their representatives and anti-racism defenders globally. We deplore efforts by some Western States, particularly former colonial powers, to weaken the text and urge them to now cooperate fully with the mechanism to dismantle systemic racism, ensure accountability and reparations for past and present gross human rights violations against Black people, end impunity for racialized State violence and address the root causes, especially the legacies of enslavement, colonialism, and the transatlantic trade in enslaved Africans.

MIGRANTS RIGHTS

Whilst we welcome the return of a resolution on human rights of migrants, we deplore the continued failure of the Council to respond meaningfully to the severity and global scale of human rights violations at international borders including connected to pushbacks. International borders are not and must not be treated as places outside of international human rights law. Migrants are not and must not be treated as people outside of international human rights law. Expressions of deep concern in interactive dialogues must be translated into action on independent monitoring and accountability.

ARMS TRANSFERS AND HUMAN RIGHTS

We welcome the resolution on the impact of arms transfers on human rights and its focus on children and youth. However, we note with concern the resistance of the Council to meaningfully focus on legal arms transfers beyond those diverted, unregulated or illicitly transferred. The Council should be concerned with all negative human rights impacts of arms transfers, without focusing only on those stemming from diversion and unregulated or illicit trade.

CLIMATE CHANGE

We are disappointed that the resolution on human rights and climate change fails to establish a new Special Rapporteur. However, we welcome the increasing cross regional support for a new mandate. It is a matter of urgent priority for the Council to establish it this year.

COUNTRY SPECIFIC SITUATIONS

ALGERIA

While special procedures, the OHCHR and multiple States have recognized the intensifying Algerian authorities’ crackdown on freedom of association and expression, the Council failed to act to protect Algerians striving to advance human rights and democracy.

BELARUS

We welcome the renewal of the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Given the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, the mandate complements the OHCHR Examination in ensuring continuous monitoring of the situation, and the mandate remains an accessible and safe channel for Belarusian civil society to deliver diverse and up-to-date information from within the country.

CHINA

The Council has once again failed to respond meaningfully to grave human rights violations committed by Chinese authorities. We reiterate our call on the High Commissioner and member States to take decisive action toward accountability.

COLOMBIA

We are disappointed that few States made mention of the use of excessive force against protestors in a context of serious human rights violations, including systemic racism, and urge greater resolve in support of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in the country and globally

ETHIOPIA

The resolution on Ethiopia’s Tigray region, albeit modest in its scope and language, ensures much-needed international scrutiny and public discussions on one of Africa’s worst human rights crises. We urge the Ethiopian government to engage ahead of HRC48.

ERITREA

We welcome the extension of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Eritrea, as scrutiny for violations committed at home and in Tigray is vital.

NICARAGUA

We warmly welcome the joint statement delivered by Canada on behalf of 59 States, on harassment and detention of journalists, human rights defenders, and presidential pre-candidates, urging Nicaragua to engage with the international community and take meaningful steps for free and fair elections. States should closely monitor the implementation of resolution 46/2, and send a strong collective message to Nicaragua at the 48th session of the Council, as the Council should ‘urgently consider all measures within its power’ to strengthen human rights protection in the country.

PALESTINE

We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s report that “Israeli settlements are the engine of this forever occupation, and amount to a war crime,” emphasizing that settler colonialism infringes on “the right of the indigenous population […] to be free from racial and ethnic discrimination and apartheid.” We also reiterate his recommendation to the High Commissioner “to regularly update the database of businesses involved in settlements, in accordance with Human Rights Council resolution 31/36.”

THE PHILIPPINES

While acknowledging the signing of the Joint Human Rights Programme with the UN OHCHR, the Government of the Philippines fails to address the long-standing issues on law enforcement and accountability institutions, including in the context of war on drugs. We continue to urge the Council to launch the long-overdue independent and transparent investigation on the on-going human rights violations.

SYRIA

We welcome mounting recognition for the need to establish a mechanism to reveal the fate and whereabouts of the missing in Syria, including by UN member states during the interactive dialogue on Syria, and the adoption of the resolution on Syria addressing the issue of the missing and emphasizing the centrality of victim participation, building on the momentum created by the Syrian Charter for Truth and Justice.

VENEZUELA

In the context of the recent arbitrary detention of 3 defenders from NGO Fundaredes, we welcome the denunciation by several States of persistent restrictions on civil society and again for visits of Special Rapporteurs to be accepted and accelerated.

*American Civil Liberties Union, Association for Progressive Communications, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales (CELS), Center for Reproductive Rights, Child Rights Connect, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Conectas Direitos Humanos, Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, FIDH, Franciscans International, Human Rights House Foundation, International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute, International Commission of Jurists, International Lesbian and Gay Association, International Service for Human Rights, US Human Rights Network

https://ishr.ch/latest-updates/hrc47-civil-society-presents-key-takeaways-from-human-rights-council/

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