The UN’s human rights expert on Belarus today called for international support for human rights defenders in the East European country as crackdowns on peaceful protests spread ahead of the 9 August presidential election.

“The already dire human rights situation has deteriorated even further over the last year,” Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, said in presenting her annual report to the Human Rights Council. The report analyses civil and political rights in Belarus between 1 April 2019 and 31 March 2020, with a focus on economic, social and cultural rights.

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“Regrettably, in 2019-2020 there have been no major improvements in the legal and regulatory protection of human rights in Belarus,” she told the Council. “Since close to nothing was done to address recommendations made in previous reports, the systemic and systematic human rights violations remain, both in law and in practice.”

President Aliaksandr Lukashenka, in power since 1994, is running for the sixth time in an election scheduled for 9 August, and Marin is concerned that the Government uses restrictive laws and arbitrary administrative and judicial measures to penalise dissent. Social and political activists, human rights defenders, journalists, bloggers and other members of civil society have been repeatedly harassed and intimidated, and many have been arrested as they tried to exercise their rights of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

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Without the support of the Government or any national human rights institution, Belarusians find it difficult to exercise their economic, social and cultural rights. For vulnerable groups – such as women, people living with disabilities and people with HIV – the situation is even worse.

Minorities, LGBTQI people and families of detainees are stigmatised, and no anti-discrimination law exists to protect them. The Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the availability and quality of healthcare in places of detention during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially for children serving disproportionately long prison terms for drug-related offences.

She also said Belarusian speakers are discriminated against in higher and secondary education and in the media. “This not only threatens the very survival of the language, it also curtails cultural life in the country”, Marin said.

Belarus remains the only country in Europe that applies and implements the death penalty. “I regret that Belarus has still not adopted a moratorium on executions, and I am concerned about the lack of efforts for fighting torture and ill-treatments”, she added. The government violates its own law against forced labour, in systematically compelling students, employees of state-owned enterprises, army conscripts and detainees to work without pay.

“By giving visibility to violations of fundamental freedoms, my mandate gives members of civil society an opportunity to be heard, Marin said. “I would like to hear what the Government is ready to do to ensure tangible and sustainable progress in the protection and promotion of human rights. In the meantime, I can only recommend that the mandate be renewed.”

Even though Belarus does not recognise her mandate, the Special Rapporteur reiterated her readiness to engage in a constructive dialogue with the Government.

*The expert: Ms Anaïs Marin (France) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. She is a researcher with the University of Warsaw, Poland. A political scientist specialising in international relations and Russian studies, she holds a Ph D from Sciences Po, where she studied international public law and comparative politics with a focus on post-communist transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. She has also taken part in OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions, including in Belarus. She has published extensively on Belarusian domestic and foreign policies.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus

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