Resolution of the 4th Belarusian Human Rights Forum
On situation of human rights in Belarus
We, the participants of the IV Belarusian Human Rights Forum, representatives of the national human rights community of Belarus, working both inside the country and forcedly abroad, point out to the following:
Since the previous Belarusian Human Rights Forum that was held in October 2013, the country has made the certain positive steps towards respect of human rights. However, the overall situation has not appreciably changed.
No measures have been taken to achieve systemic and quality improvements in the human rights situation:
- Belarus continues to use the death penalty;
- the national legislation and law enforcement practice restrict the basic civil and political rights;
- the national mechanisms for the protection of human rights are ineffective,
- a national human rights institution has not been established,
- the state fails to establish effective interaction with civil society entities;
- the country demonstrates selectivity when it comes to the implementation of the international human rights obligations.
The release of all the political prisoners in August 2015 was a positive move on the part of the Belarusian authorities. Since that time, until March 2017, the Belarusian authorities refrained from severe reprisals against the political opponents, civil society activists and journalists.
The deterioration of the economic situation and the wide application of Presidential Decree #3 “On Prevention of Social Parasitism”, which contradicts the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, resulted in the growth of protest activity in Belarus in the spring of 2017. In response to this, the authorities returned to the wide use of repressive practices:
- arbitrary detentions and arrests of peaceful protesters and human rights defenders;
- interfering with journalists' work;
- politically motivated criminal prosecution;
- searches and seizures of equipment;
- expelling students from universities for political reasons.
During the spring of 2017, more than a thousand people in the country were subjected to repression, and over 100 of them were arrested. Serious pressure was put on human rights defenders and journalists who were carrying out their professional duties. The authorities still resort to repressive measures. The human rights community is particularly concerned about the interference with the activities of the Bar on the part of the state: the lawyers working on politically motivated cases face repression and pressure.
Mikhail Zhamchuzhny and Dzmitry Palienka recognized as political prisoners by the Belarusian human rights community, remain in prison. The human rights defender Elena Tonkacheva is forced to stay outside Belarus due to the decision of the Belarusian authorities on her exile. Criminal proceedings were instigated against the leaders of the REP trade union, Henadz Fiadynich and Ihar Komlik, on charges of tax evasion and against 16 citizens of the Republic of Belarus on charges of organizing an illegal armed group.
The lack of information about the measures taken by the authorities to implement the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations on reforming of electoral legislation also raises concerns.
The Belarusian human rights community has supported the approval of the Inter-Ministerial Plan of implementation of the recommendations adopted by Belarus as part of the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review, as well as those formulated for Belarus by the human rights treaty bodies, despite the fact that the plan lacks measures to improve the situation of the certain human rights, for example, the freedom of association and freedom of speech. However, to date, there is neither publicly accessible information there about any comprehensive practical measures taken to implement the Plan, nor public reports on its implementation. Besides, the adoption of the Plan has not yet resulted in the creation of permanent platforms for the interaction of the government agencies with the Belarusian human rights community, although the latter has repeatedly urged the Government to do this.
We also positively evaluate the ratification by the Republic of Belarus of the UN Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the adoption of the National Plans for gender equality, the rights of people with disabilities and the improvement of the situation of children.
In this regard, we call on the Belarusian authorities:
- to take effective measures in order to ensure the proper protection of human rights and the fulfilment of the international human rights obligations voluntarily undertaken by Belarus;
- to exclude criminal prosecution for political reasons;
- to dismiss all the politically motivated charges and to release all the political prisoners;
- to stop the persecution of citizens for the implementation of their rights and freedoms, guaranteed by the national Constitution and international human rights obligations.
In particular, we urge the Belarusian authorities to take the following steps:
- To stop and prevent the pressure on journalists and human rights defenders who fulfil their professional duties, and in particular to remove the ban on the entry of the human rights defender Elena Tonkacheva; to register the Viasna Human Rights Centre and other civil society organizations applying for registration, to remove Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code;
- To bring the legislation and practice, regulating the rights for freedom of speech, assembly, expression and association, in conformity with the international standards, with the involvement of international experts and representatives of the Belarusian civil society;
- To stop prosecution of the defendants in the"illegal armed group" case and leaders of the independent REP trade union;
- To introduce a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as the first step towards the complete abolition;
- To stop the interference of the state with the work of the Bar and to ensure the independence of the Bar both at the level of legislation and in practice;
- To stop the practice of forced labour; to eliminate the system of labour therapy detox clinics (LTP), as well as the institution of the obligated; instead, to focus the efforts on other and non-repressive measures for social reintegration of persons suffering with alcohol addiction;
- To take comprehensive measures to humanize the criminal legislation and its enforcement;
- To adopt comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation and to prevent discrimination;
- At the political and practical levels, to continue measures and actions aimed at the implementation of the UN Covenant on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;
- To continue efforts to protect the rights of a child; to prohibit taking children away from their families without a court decision;
- To ensure true equality of both state languages in state institutions, including via publishing legislative acts not only in Russian but also in Belarusian;
- To develop a dialogue with the human rights community; in particular, to arrange more meetings to exchange views and formulate proposals and recommendations, as well as consultations of the government bodies with human rights defenders, including representatives of unregistered human rights organizations, with the assistance of the UN and European Union missions; to continue involving human rights defenders in dialogue processes, in particular, within the EU-Belarus and US-Belarus dialogues. The establishment of the Public Advisory Council on the implementation of the Inter-Ministerial Plan would be an important step, as well as the further implementation of the recommendations formulated as part of the UPR and by the UN treaty bodies;
- To specify the actions under the Inter-Ministerial Plan through the adoption and publication of the relevant current plans by the relevant government agencies, as well as the relevant progress reports;
- To ensure the invitation of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the other UN thematic Special Rapporteurs; to cooperate fully with the UN treaty mechanisms; to fulfil human rights obligations, voluntarily entered into by the state, including the implementation at the national level of the views of the UN Human Rights Committee and the other human rights treaty bodies;
- To take measures to implement the OSCE/ODIHR recommendations as regards reforming the electoral legislation;
- To create a national human rights institution in compliance with Paris principles.
At the same time, we appeal to the international community and international institutions, suggesting the following recommendations:
- To keep on focusing on the issue of the observance of human rights by Belarus when building the international relations between Belarus and other countries, interstate communities and international institutions.
- International institutions should develop and adhere to action plans including a set of qualitative indicators to measure developments in the situation of human rights in Belarus;
- To continue involving representatives of the Belarusian human rights organizations as an important participant in the EU-Belarus and US-Belarus dialogue on human rights and to include them in these processes as the equal partners;
- To assist in the creation and development of platforms for the interaction between the state bodies and the human rights community of Belarus, with a view to the effective fulfilment of the human rights obligations.
- The OHCHR should step up activities at the national level.
We suggest that representatives of the human rights community should:
- In their activities, be guided by the Principles of Human Rights Work in Belarus, based on non-discrimination and the universality of human rights;
- Exercise public control and monitoring of the compliance with the international human rights obligations entered into by Belarus, provide active assistance in the implementation of these obligations and promote the universal human rights values in the Belarusian society;
- Participate in the preparation of alternative reports prepared as part of the UN Universal Periodic Review on Human Rights and for the UN treaty bodies;
- Take joint actions for the protection of human rights, hold human rights campaigns and events involving a wide range of human rights organizations;
- Promote a human rights based approach in the activities of the civil society organizations, state institutions and commercial organizations.
Adopted unanimously by the participants of the 4th Belarusian Human Rightd Defenders Forum on 21 October 2017