The continued pattern of police brutality and impunity in Belarus must end, UN rights experts said on Thursday, expressing alarm over excessive use of force against protesters and repression of journalists in the country.
Last week, 176 people were detained during peaceful protests commemorating Freedom Day on 25 March, an unofficial holiday, they reported, and seven journalists were among more than 240 people apprehended days later.
Mass protests and demonstrations have continued since last August’s disputed presidential election returned Alexander Lukashenko to power. Last week, the Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning abuses of fundamental freedoms and multiple rights violations.
Silencing all dissent
The experts said in a statement that they were alarmed at the high number of alleged arbitrary arrests and detentions “which demonstrate a continued pattern of police brutality against demonstrators”. They were also concerned that security forces have not been held accountable for excessive use of force surrounding last August’s vote.
“We are deeply concerned that, instead of bringing perpetrators to justice, the authorities are arbitrarily seeking to silence all forms of dissent, through unjustified violence, intimidation and growingly by bringing criminal charges against those who exercise their fundamental rights, or defend victims of human rights violations,” they said in a statement.
A worrying trend
The UN experts also pointed to what they described as a worrying trend, as many journalists and human rights defenders were reportedly harassed and detained while covering rallies last year.
They emphasized that prohibition of torture and other cruel or inhuman treatment “is not confined to acts carried out against persons deprived of their liberty, but also covers excessive police violence, such as during arrest and the policing of assemblies”.
Meanwhile, reports indicate the Investigative Committee of Belarus, a State oversight body, has considered use of violence by law enforcement as justified and proportionate, and no officers have been charged in connection with allegations of torture and ill-treatment committed last year.
Accountability an obligation
“Ensuring institutional and personal accountability for human rights violations is an obligation for states under international law”, said the experts. “Failure to do so not only perpetuates the prevailing culture of impunity but may even amount to criminal complicity in serious crimes.”
The 10 experts include the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, as well as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
They were appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva, and are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization.