A senior United Nations expert on human rights in Belarus warned today that several generations have grown up in the country “with no experience of what the words ‘pluralism,’ ‘labour rights,’ ‘free enterprise,’ ‘free artistic creation’ or ‘free media’ mean in reality.”
As such, Miklós Haraszti told the Geneva-based UN human Rights Council that the current level of international scrutiny of compliance with international human rights obligations must remain steady.
While welcoming the absence of law enforcement violence during the presidential election of October 2015, as well as the release of political prisoners, he stressed that since then, these “openings” have not led to any systemic change in the “permission-based” regime of public life that has been the main cause of the practically complete paralysis of civic freedoms in the country.
He also said that any public activity remains subject to prior authorization through an arbitrary registration process and media associations, or gatherings are not only forbidden but criminalized if not preliminarily authorized by the government.
In his report, the Special Rapporteur also highlighted the continuing use of capital punishment in Belarus, the only State in Europe where it is still applied. He said that despite the President having the authority to put an end to this denial of right to life, no death penalties have been commuted to prison sentences, due to lack of political will.
In view of the upcoming parliamentary elections of September 2016, Mr. Haraszti expressed worries that only two out of 30 of the recommendations made by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) after the presidential election of October 2015 would be taken on board.
The expert also drew attention to the lack of economic and labour rights. He noted that a recently adopted decree on “parasitism” introduces punishments for the unemployed, in fact servicing forced labour obliged by the government.
The report also assesses Belarus’s level of compliance with recommendations of the UN human rights mechanisms. It noted no significant co-operation since the mandate of the Special Rapporteur was established by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.
“I reiterate my call towards the authorities to engage with the mandate, even in an incremental way,” Mr. Haraszti said. “I am ready to assist the Government towards a dialogue with the rights defenders inside the country who do their work under often forbidding difficulties.”
Independent experts or special rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.