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Belarus: Human rights situation deteriorates further

Belarus: Human rights situation deteriorates further – UN expert warns in new report

GENEVA (24 June 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, today warned that the situation of human rights in the country has further deteriorated since last year.

“Systematic violation of human rights, in particular civil and political rights, continues,” the independent expert said during the presentation of his latest report* to the UN Human Rights Council, in which he describes how the general situation in Belarus for the past two decades has been characterized by a systemic denial of human rights to citizens through an intentional combination of restrictive laws and abusive practices.

“The findings of my report show that not only the freedoms of expression, association and assembly were further restricted during the last year,” Mr. Haraszti said. He also pointed out that labour rights continue to be denied, and independent labour unions are suppressed: “The rights to just and favourable work conditions and to the freedom to choose one’s workplace have been further restricted by new legal provisions.”

The Special Rapporteur noted with concern that, ahead of the October presidential elections, Belarus has not addressed the severe limitations in all election-related rights. During past election periods, these restrictions had led to recurring violence and mass retaliation against those who protest the lack of their freedoms.

The independent expert welcomed the release one of the political prisoners, Ales Bialatski, director of Viasna, a major human rights organization in Belarus. He warned however, that the authorities have extended sentences of several remaining political prisoners, using claims of their ‘bad behaviour’ in prison, as in the case of 2010 presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevitch, who recently was charged with violating prison rules and moved to a harsher penitentiary institution.

Mr. Haraszti also urged the Belarusian authorities “not only to release, but, for the sake of free and fair elections, also to fully rehabilitate all political opponents who had been imprisoned.”

The Special Rapporteur cautioned that the restrictive permission-based legal framework regulating the activities of civil society organisations and of public events has remained unchanged. “Restrictions increased in parallel to the arbitrary use of short-term and ‘preventive’ arrests against citizens who seek to exercise their rights nevertheless,” he stated.

In that regard, he recalled the case of Elena Tonkacheva, a human rights defender who was expelled from Belarus following administrative charges for speeding; the case of activist Pavel Vinogradov, who was arrested 15 times in 2014; and the mass arrests of political activists before the World Ice Hockey Championship held in Minsk in May 2014.

Mr. Haraszti also reported that the situation of the media has deteriorated in the last year, with new curtailments especially on freedom of the Internet. “Today in Belarus, almost a dozen authorities are entitled to order the blocking of websites deemed to be ‘harmful for the state’. Internet postings are regularly interpreted as proofs of ‘unauthorized public events’, and are punished accordingly,” he noted.

In his report, the human rights expert also pointed to the continued use of the death penalty. Belarus is the only country in Europe that has the capital punishment; it has executed three inmates in 2014; and this year has already brought new sentences. “I call upon Belarus to introduce an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to its permanent abolition,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Belarusian Government to fully cooperate with the UN human rights mechanisms. He offered his good services to work on improvements with the Government through a fully participatory process with all civil society and the general public.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s report on Belarus (A/HRC/29/43): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session29/Pages/ListReports.aspx

ENDS

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