Posts Tagged ‘Belarus’

Sports and Politics: Minsk 2019 apes Baku 2015 and with similar results

June 17, 2019

Belarus news, Alexander Lukashenko, European Games 2019, European Games Minsk, European Games Baku, Belarus human rights, Belarus press freedom, sports and human rights, European Olympic Committee, corruption in sport

Minsk, Belarus, 05/09/2019 © Tricky_Shark / Shutterstock

The second edition of the European Games is set to kick off on June 21 2019 in Minsk, Belarus. Events covering 15 different sports, from archery to sambo, will be contested over nine days. The 10 disciplines recognized as Olympic sports are especially important because they serve as qualifications for Tokyo 2020. Belarus finds itself trying to oversee a successful international sporting event while at the same time dismissing condemnation of its domestic political situation.

International organizations such as the United Nations, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch routinely criticize the human rights conditions in Belarus. Actions such as peaceful protests and membership in opposition organizations are basically criminalized under Belarusian law. Access to websites critical of the government is routinely denied, and press freedom curtailed. To add to this, Belarus remains the last country in Europe to employ the death penalty. These issues once again have risen to the fore when Belarus was selected to host the European Games that are thought to represent a different political culture.

These views are echoed by Human Rights Watch, which strongly pushed the European Olympic Committees (EOC) for assurances that journalists can carry out their work unhindered during the games. For its part, the EOC states that it will appoint special observers to ensure press freedom, but critics contend this is not enough. Key questions remain about the conditions for journalists when the games are over, and whether the EOC will ensure action if serious issues arise. The German Olympic Sports Confederation (DOSB) went so far as to contemplate a boycott of the 2019 European Games. It was a half-hearted idea, as the DOSB viewed the maneuver as a last resort rather than an actionable response to the situation in Belarus. In the end, the requirement for athletes to achieve qualifications for the Tokyo Olympics quashed any sort of political activism.

Further, the Sports and Rights Alliance — a coalition of leading NGOs, sports organizations and trade unions — petitioned for positive advancements for Belorussian human rights prior to the commencement of this year’s games. It alleges that the EOC overlooks duties established in the Olympic Charter to protect human rights and dignity. At the recent Olympism in Action Forum, which focused on the relation of human rights and sport, David Grevemberg, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation, stated that “You’re judged by the company you keep and what you stand for.”..

Azerbaijan hosted the first European Games in Baku in 2015. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2015/06/12/baku-games-starting-today-with-avalanche-of-human-rights-criticism/] It is apparent that the past experience of 2015 had little effect on the EOC, and that the organization will not shift its mandate to accommodate the demands put forward by human rights defenders. Baku 2015 provides a template and numerous lessons for Minsk 2019. In the case that Minsk can put on a well-managed spectacle with memorable moments of sporting excellence, human rights concerns will not overshadow the Belarusian edition of the European Games.

.,… Lukashenko explained that “Visitors should get positive impressions of their stay in Belarus, in Minsk, and should take these impressions back home.” The president often refers to the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics and how the event improved opinions about Russia prior to the ensuing scandals linked to the Kremlin. Lukashenko knows there is a tough task ahead of him in regard to the human rights lobby and criticism of his strongman style of governance. However, the EOC’s president, Janez Kocijančič, firmly stated that any human rights concerns would not overshadow the competition, and that it is not in the dominion of the sports committee to influence domestic politics of host nations. This is a reaffirmation that sport is to be kept separate from politics and goes neatly along with Lukashenko’s retorts to criticism…

It is naive to believe that sport and politics are separate, as much as EOC and Belarusian officials insist on that principle. While the actual sporting activities are guided by apolitical rules, both the atmosphere and the message of large-scale events are inherently political. Hosting duties bring international scrutiny of human rights offences, while the country anticipates a public relations makeover. Both require diplomatic nuance and managed interactions with the regional community. Thus, levels of political involvement are apparent….

International sporting events held in countries with tainted human rights records often become lighting rods in the global community. It is of great importance to highlight these issues and to focus attention on states that regularly infringe upon basic freedoms. However, little perceptible success has been achieved by international NGOs advising boycotts or protective mechanisms by the umbrella organizations responsible for the events — in this case the EOC.

It is a difficult task to shift the development and implementation of a large-scale multidisciplinary event with a lot invested in its success on all sides. Campaigns need to expand their reach beyond those involved in the human rights movement who are already aware of calls to action. Social engagement must overcome the collective excitement over sport.

……

It seems that sport governing bodies struggle with achieving a balance between spectacle and sport. This issue will continue to complicate the relationship between athletics and politics, as liberal democracies balk at the cost of hosting such events, while states with debatable democratic records seek legitimacy from the international community. Sports diplomacy delivers this through soft power.

See on this tipic also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/02/01/sports-and-human-rights-focus-on-sports-washing-big-names-play-for-big-money/

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.

Belarus Understands the Diplomatic Power of Sport

NGO joint letter to UN Human Rights Council about Belarus

June 16, 2019

Five international human rights organisations (see below), urge the UN Human Rights Council to maintain scrutiny on the human rights situation in Belarus, including by ensuring the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and seeking preventive measures to ensure against an increase in human rights violations ahead of upcoming Parliamentary and Presidential elections in Belarus.

Havel Prize for Creative Dissent 2018: two of three winners announced today

April 12, 2018

On 12 April 2018 the Human Rights Foundation (HRF) announced two of the three recipients of the 2018 Václav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent. This year’s laureates include the underground group Belarus Free Theatre and the South Sudanese hip hop musician and former child soldier Emmanuel Jal. Their efforts will be honored in a ceremony during the 2018 Oslo Freedom Forum on Wednesday, 30 May (to avoid possible travel restrictions imposed on the third laureate, the final award will be announced only in May).
For more on the this and other awards: http://trueheroesfilms.org/thedigest/awards/vaclav-havel-prize-for-creative-dissent

Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) was founded in 2005 in response to the severe censorship and repression of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. BFT has staged powerful social and political documentary theater from secret locations (private homes, cafes, and even the woods), characterized by stripped-down performances and topics, including refugees, climate change, torture, and sexuality. According to co-founder and artistic director Natalia Kaliada,In a country where the state seeks to control every aspect of life, everyone has the potential to rebel in their own way. And a million small acts of rebellion can chip away at even the most entrenched dictatorship.” In April 2017, the company had to postpone a premiere after several members were arrested or injured during large-scale, anti-government protests. BFT is the only theater company in Europe banned by its government on political grounds.

Emmanuel Jal is a South Sudanese hip hop artist and a former child soldier of Sudan’s brutal civil war that took place between 1983 and 2005. With five critically acclaimed albums, an autobiography, and a documentary to his name, Jal is focused on supporting South Sudanese youth with educational scholarships through his “Survivors of War” program. He founded the charity Gua Africa to work with individuals, families, and communities to help them overcome the effects of war and poverty. “Emmanuel uses powerful music as a vehicle to spread a message of freedom and hope for a better future in war-torn South Sudan. He inspires people everywhere to stand up for the freedom of others, and in so doing brings people closer together,” said Havel Prize Committee member Garry Kasparov.

The Havel Prize ceremony will be broadcast live at oslofreedomforum.com on Wednesday, 30 May. If you would like to attend the ceremony in Oslo please email info@hrf.org and follow @HRF and @OsloFF for updates.

For last year’s award see : https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2017/05/07/havel-prize-for-creative-dissent-recognizes-human-rights-defenders-in-bahrain-venezuela-and-zimbabwe/

https://mailchi.mp/40e79b190542/havel-prize-for-creative-dissent-celebrates-efforts-in-belarus-and-south-sudan?e=f80cec329e

Preview of Human Rights Defenders stuff at the upcoming Human Rights Council starting 15 June

June 12, 2015

The UN Human Rights Council will hold its 29th regular session at the United Nations in Geneva from 15 June to 3 July. Courtesy of the International Service for Human Rights, here is my selection of what is directly relevant to Human Rights Defenders: ISHR-logo-colour-high

– During the session, Norway, along with other States, will deliver a statement calling on all States to ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their vital work free from arbitrary detention and other restrictions. Read the rest of this entry »

Human Rights Defenders from York: Katsiaryna Borsuk

January 25, 2015

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

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

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

York Press:
Katsiaryna Borsuk

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

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

UN recognizes that Belarus violated the freedom of association of Ales Bialiatski

November 19, 2014

The UN Human Rights Committee decided on 24 September 2014 that Belarus had violated the freedom of association of Ales Bialiatski, President of Human Rights Centre “Viasna”. This groundbreaking decision is not limited to Belarus but concerns all signatory States that violate the freedom of association. The interpretation could benefit other human rights defenders who are under pressure from political and administrative measures to curtail their right to freedom of association. The text of the press release issued by FIDH (whose Director General represented the victim) on 17 November follows:

Paris-Minsk, 17 November 2014 – In a decision that will go down in history, on 24 September 2014 the UN Human Rights Committee officially recognized that the Republic of Belarus violated the rights of Ales Bialiatski, President of Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and FIDH Vice President. The Committee recognized violations of Article 9 (the right to liberty and security of the person), Article 14 (the right to justice and a fair trial), and Article 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). This decision follows an individual communication from Ales Bialiatski’s spouse Natalia Pinchuk, represented by FIDH Director General Antoine Bernard. It sends a strong signal to regimes that manipulate their legislation to stifle critical voices and violate the freedom of association.

After Viasna was deprived of its state registration in 2003, its founders applied for registration at the Ministry of Justice three times between 2007 and 2009. However, the state refused registration every time. As a result, Viasna was unable to open a bank account in its name and receive funding for its activities. According to the Committee, Belarus violated the organization’s right to freedom of association when it denied Viasna registration, basing its decision solely on the argument that the documents submitted by Viasna needed minor adjustments to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Justice which could have been corrected should the Ministry had given it an opportunity to do so. The refusal to register Viasna rendered its activities illegal within Belarus and prevented its members from accessing their rights. Sentencing Ales Bialiatski to a lengthy prison term for actions associated with the receipt and expenditure of funds aimed at carrying out the legitimate activities of his organization was a direct consequence of the violation of freedom of association. The Belarusian courts rejected evidence that these funds were intended and used for these purposes and did not consider the case in a way that would aim to safeguard the freedom of association. Consequently, imposing criminal liability on Ales Bialiatski violated this freedom.

“This decision by the Human Rights Committee, based on international law, recognizes the legitimacy of Viasna’s activities and fully rehabilitates Ales Bialiatski”, rejoiced Valentin Stefanovic, Vice President of Viasna.

The Committee also found that Ales Bialiatski’s detention during the initial investigation was arbitrary, since the decision to arrest him was made by the procurator/prosecutor and not the court and was based solely on the gravity of charges and not on any evidence that this measure was needed or advisable.

The Committee found that over the course of criminal proceedings, Ales Bialiatski’s presumption of innocence was violated, as seen in treatment of the case by state media and statements by the president of Belarus. They presumed Ales Bialiatski’s guilt before the court’s verdict took effect. Also, he was wrongfully kept in a cage during the trial and brought into the courtroom in handcuffs.

The Committee’s decision states that Bialiatski is entitled to legal remedies: reconsideration of Viasna’s application for state registration, clearing of his criminal record, adequate compensation, including reimbursement of fines paid in accordance with judicial decisions. Furthermore, the Committee found that the State should review its laws on associations and bring them into accord with Article 22 of the ICCPR.

“The Committee has communicated the decision to the State, which is now obliged to provide Ales Bialiatski with legal remedies”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “This decision is crucial for Viasna, other Belarusian human rights organizations and the respect for liberty of association all over the world, as numerous regimes try to stifle critical voices”.

The decision reached by the Committee on this case sets a precedent. It clearly demonstrates that the actions of a state aimed at obstructing the activities of human rights organizations – from refusing to register an association to prosecuting its members for exercising their right to associate—are in violation of international law. No manipulation of internal legislation by individual states can hide these violations from the international community.

Our organizations consider this decision a source of expert legal arguments in the face of ever increasing pressure on human rights defenders and their organizations.

for earlier posts see https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ales-bialiatski/

UN recognizes that Belarus violated the rights of Ales ….

Non-cooperation from some States with the UN Human Rights Council is persistent

June 23, 2014

In a recent piece published on LinkedIn on 3 June 2014, I argued that there is not enough attention given to enforcement [https://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140603192912-22083774–crime-should-not-pay-in-the-area-of-international-human-rights]. This conviction was fortified by reading the ISHR Monitor of 20 June in which Heather Collister sums up recent cases of persistent non-cooperation by States with the Council’s special procedures and other mechanisms.

The Human Rights Council heard updates from the Special Rapporteurs on Belarus, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Eritrea, along with the latest update from the Commission of Inquiry into the situation in Syria. In all cases the countries in question have refused access to the mechanism created by the Council to monitor and report on the human rights situation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Good NEWS: Ales Bialiatski – Belarus’ best-known human rights defender – freed from prison

June 22, 2014

On 21 June 2014 it was reported by AP and others that prominent Belarusian human rights defender  Ales Bialiatski was finally released from prison that day. The 51-year-old leader of the NGO Vyasna, was released 20 months ahead of schedule. Supporters greeted Bialiatski at a train station in the capital, Minsk, after he traveled from prison.”The international support and the support back home, this is what brought about my release,” Bialiatski told reporters, “I will continue to do what Ive been doing.”   [6 people remain in prison for political activism, including former presidential candidate Nikolai Statkevich]

via Belarus human rights leader freed from prison after 3 years in possible gesture to West | Star Tribune.

for earlier posts on Ales Bialiatski: https://thoolen.wordpress.com/tag/ales-bialiatski/

10 Films Every Human Rights Defender Should Watch in HR Watch

May 31, 2014

I announced the HRW film festival in an earlier post [https://thoolen.wordpress.com/2014/05/13/human-rights-watch-film-festival-celebrates-25th-anniversary-with-5-films-on-human-rights-defenders/] but now that the Huffington post of 31 May 2014 has listed the 10 films it says every human rights defender should see, I gladly share their pick:

1. Sepideh — Reaching for the Stars (Denmark/Iran/Germany/Norway/Sweden) The story of a teenage girl named Sepideh, living in a rural village outside of Tehran, who dreams of becoming a famous astronomer. The documentary tackles gender roles in Iran while showcasing one young woman’s ambition and strength in the face of her family’s discouragement, university pitfalls and societal expectations. Directed by Berit Madsen. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTzbIc6oiqs?wmode=opaque]

2. Dangerous Acts Starring the Unstable Elements of Belarus (US/UK/Belarus) Made up of smuggled footage and uncensored interviews, this documentary gives audiences a glimpse into Belarus’ dissident movement as it takes the shape of stage performances and public activism. Directed by Madeleine Sackler. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGALySJ3O24?wmode=opaque]

3. Lady Valor: The Kristin Beck Story (US) A veteran shares her story moving from one identity, a former U.S. Navy Seal named Chris Beck, to another, a transgender woman named Kristen Beck. Directed by Sandrine Orabona. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r21OdLSTfQY?wmode=opaque]

4. A Quiet Inquisition (US) Here you’ll meet OBGYN Dr. Carla Cerrato, who must navigate the perilous territory of Nicaragua’s anti-abortion policies, which prohibit abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, or when a woman’s life is at stake. Directed by Alessandra Zeka and Holen Sabrina Kahn.

5. Scheherazade’s Diary (Lebanon) This “tragicomic documentary” follows women inmates in Lebanon as they stage a theater/drama therapy project titled “Scheherazade in Baabda,” revealing personal stories of domestic violence, failed relationships and traumas associated with motherhood. Directed by Zeina Daccache. [youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VnZGmd6EMg?wmode=opaque]

6. Siddharth (Canada/India) One father’s desperate journey to locate his son, a 12-year-old boy who was sent to work in another province to support his family, but did not return and is feared to have been kidnapped or trafficked. Directed by Richie Mehta.

7. The Supreme Price (US) The film covers the evolution of the Pro-Democracy Movement in Nigeria and efforts to increase the participation of women in leadership roles. Directed by Joanna Lipper.

8. Private Violence (US) Questioning the accepted discourse on domestic violence, the documentary introduces audiences to two women survivors who advocate for justice while exploring “the fact that the most dangerous place for a woman is her home.” Directed by Cynthia Hill.

9. The Beekeeper (Switzerland) This is the touching story of Ibrahim Gezer, a Kurdish beekeeper from southeast Turkey who, robbed of his family, possessions and 500 bee colonies, moves to Switzerland to make a new life. Directed by Mano Khalil.

10. Abounaddara Collective Shorts from Syria (Syria) The Abounaddara Collective is a group of filmmakers who came together in 2010 to help provide an alternative image of Syrian society, one not seen in mainstream media. This portion of the festival will showcase 90 minutes of their short films.

 

The Human Rights Watch Film Festival will run from June 12 to June 22, 2014. See a complete schedule of screenings here.

10 Films Every Human Rights Advocate Should Watch.

Major conference on human rights in Belarus on 27 May in Geneva

May 22, 2014

On Tuesday 27 May 2014, will take place a Conference on the human rights situation in Belarus, from 14h00 –17h00 in the International Conference Centre in Geneva (room 3)

Speakers include:

  • Florian Irminger, Human Rights House Foundation
  • Tatsiana Reviaka, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and Belarusian Human Rights House
  • Aleh Hulak, Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  • Anna Gerasimova, Belarusian Human Rights House
  • Volodymyr Yavorskyy, Working group on the development of the Guidelines on Definition of Political Prisoner
  • Andrzej  Poczobut, journalist
  • Nicolas Agostini, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  • Andrei Paluda, Human Rights Centre “Viasna”
  • Pavel Levinau, Belarusian Helsinki Committee
  • Natallia Pinchuk, wife of Belarus political prisoner Ales Bialaitski
  • Marina Adamovich, wife of Belarus political prisoner Mikola Statkevich

For more  information contact: anna.innocenti[at]humanrightshouse.org

The meeting is cosponsored by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, FIDH, Civicus, Belarusian Human Rights House and the Human Rights House Foundation.