The UN Representative told TUT.BY what progress with human rights in Belarus to expect

The adoption of the National Action Plan on Human Rights; the study on the experience of other countries  in relation to an Ombudsman; in–depth dialogue on the death penalty; the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the three–million project on improving the professionalism of local officials. All these steps are expected to be taken by the Belarusian authorities in the near future to improve the human rights situation in the country, the UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha told TUT.BY in an interview.

 

UNOFFICIAL TRANSLATION

TUT.BY APRIL 26, 2016

The adoption of the National Action Plan on Human Rights; the study on the experience of other countries  in relation to an Ombudsman; in–depth dialogue on the death penalty; the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the three–million project on improving the professionalism of local officials. All these steps are expected to be taken by the Belarusian authorities in the near future to improve the human rights situation in the country, the UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha told TUT.BY in an interview.

International workshop on “Universal Periodic Review follow–up: towards a coordinated approach” held jointly by the United Nations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus with support from the Office of the Embassy of Switzerland. Sanaka Samarasinha, UN Resident Coordinator; Vadim Pisarevich, Deputy Head of global policies and humanitarian cooperation division of the MFA, Pascal Aebischer, Head of the Embassy Subdivision of the Swiss Confederation in Minsk, and Victor Munteanu, UN Resident Coordinator Advisor.

 

Minsk intends to adopt the Action Plan on Human Rights

The head of the EU delegation Andrea Wiktorin and the UN Resident Coordinator met Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus Elena Kupchina last week to discuss cooperation in the field of human rights. We asked what was discussed.

“We are working on and promoting the development of a national human rights action plan. We hope it will be based on the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council made during the Universal Periodic Review. As far as we understand, there is a serious discussion on the document among the state institutions of Belarus right now."

Sanaka Samarasinha says that he is “optimistic” regarding the possible participation of civil society in this process.

“The government would not have gone this far in this dialogue, if they did not plan to adopt the action plan. I hope the dialogue between the authorities, civil society and international organizations on the draft document will be held during this month. This dialogue may be held in the form of a presentation of the draft document to legitimate representatives of civil society."

The UN diplomat added that he would personally lobby for the broadest possible inclusion of civil society in this process.

However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as well as the other organizers of the dialogue will have a right of veto. At a recent conference on the death penalty in Minsk, the Foreign Ministry blocked the participation of the human rights center Viasna because the center was not registered. We asked Sanaka to comment on whether the same situation could happen again.

“Viasna, like everyone else, may come to me anytime. However, I cannot force the government to meet those they don’t want meet. The government’s position was clearly voiced at the conference by Deputy Foreign Minister Valentin Rybakov. We must build an atmosphere of mutual trust, and it does not happen in one day.”

 

Belarus will learn what the post of Ombudsman could bring

In its recent meeting, the Belarus — European Union Coordination Group in Brussels discussed the future priorities of the dialogue. The only one that relates to human rights issues refers to the “creation of a national human rights institution."

Usually it is a body or a person (Ombudsman), which receives complaints from citizens about violations of their rights and has sufficient authority to help in resolving these problems.'

“We were among the first to propose the idea” – Samarasinha says. – “The project is in the process of registration. A comprehensive study is expected to take place on where and how such institutions operate and what outcomes have been achieved as a result of their work. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and UNDP will lead this work, and the Centre of Foreign Policy and Security Research (Analytical Centre under the Faculty of International Relations–. Note TUT.BY) will implement the initiative. It will involve Belarusian and international experts. I hope the real work will begin in 2–3 months.

The completion of the project is expected by the end of the year, and then the UN and the European Union will have concrete materials to negotiate with the Government in Minsk.

“I think Brussels wants to see the establishment of a national human rights institution, and the Belarusian authorities have presented our forthcoming project as a mechanism to consider this issue."

Minsk Metropolitan employee shows accessibility of the Minsk Metro lines to persons in wheelchairs.Vladimir Potapenko, Chairman of the Belarusian Society of the Disabled Persons, explores the facilities.

 

Outcomes of the Conference on the Death Penalty

“I think everyone who was at this conference in March saw that the data from around the world indicate that the use of the death penalty is a challenging issue."

The organizers, including the Belarusian authorities, agreed to expand the dialogue on this issue after the conference.

“Based on this, I wrote a letter to the heads of both chambers of the Belarusian parliament. I proposed to hold a meeting on the death penalty between us, I mean the UN country team and the members of the parliamentary working group on the death penalty, in order to determine how to move forward. I want our discussion to be based on the findings and experiences of those countries that have the death penalty and those who abolished it."

However, Sanaka Samarasinha said, he is unaware whether the Belarusian authorities are ready to introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.

“I do not know, whether it is a sign or not, but I am glad that there have not been any executions in Belarus for more than a year. In my native Sri Lanka, the moratorium is not on paper as well, but people have not been executed for more than 40 years.

Nikolai Samaseika, Chair of the Belarusian Parliament working group on the death penalty, speaks at the International Conference: "Death penalty: transcending the divide” conducted jointly by the United Nations and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus supported by the British Embassy in Minsk.

 

Capacity building of local officials will begin in Hrodna and Mahilioŭ

Recently UNDP, the President Administration and the Academy of Public Administration under the aegis of the President have launched a project on capacity building of civil servants at the local level with funding from the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA). The budget of the project “Strengthening Inclusive Local Governance” is almost $3 million for 3 years. TUT.BY already wrote about this project when its coordinator, Aide to the President of Belarus, Kirill Rudy presented it. Sanaka Samarasinha and Deputy Minister of Economy Alexander Zaborovsky  are the other co–chairs of the Coordination Council. Some ministers and governors have joined the Council as well.

Three million U.S. dollars for three years. Europe will pay for “modernization” of Belarusian officials

“We want to make civil servants in Belarus more sensitive to the needs of the population, more professional, more accountable to the public, and to make their work more transparent," — says Sanaka Samarasinha.

Mahilioŭ and Hrodna regions will be pilot regions. The results would be evaluated, inter alia, based on the feedback of the public and opinion polls.

“Then we hope to extend the project across the country and ultimately end up with the adoption of a law on greater accountability of civil servants to citizens."

UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha joins UNFPA campaign to end violence against women.

  

Parliament will soon ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Sanaka Samarasinha expects that the current Parliament will ratify the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Alexander Lukashenko signed in September 2015.

“I was told that this would happen before the end of the work of this Parliament. It will guarantee new rights to more than half a million people."

The UN also assists the development of legislation on domestic violence.

“I think that this issue will move to the agenda of the next Parliament,” he says.

Another area of work concerns citizens' access to justice. Mr Samarasinha has met with the representatives of the Presidential Administration, the Supreme and Constitutional Courts, the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor General in recent months.

“We would like to launch a program on bringing, to the international level, the standards in the field of rule of law and access to justice. This applies to the work of law enforcement agencies and prisons, as well as the full–fledged use of certain laws, such as the law on mediation. People should know that they have certain rights and have access to legal services."

Read full interview in Russian here.

 

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