Europe

Belarus 'engulfed in fear' as systematic violations, impunity persists: UN expert

After constitutional referendum in February, Belarus tightens restrictions on human rights, says special rapporteur

29.06.2022
Belarus 'engulfed in fear' as systematic violations, impunity persists: UN expert FILE PHOTO ( Marina Serebryakova - Anadolu Agency )

GENEVA 

The human rights situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate dangerously, engulfing the country in a climate of fear and arbitrary rule, a UN expert warned Wednesday. 

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Anais Marin, presented her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council.

She detailed a policy of systematically tightening legislation restricting Belarusian authorities' civil and political rights.

"I am extremely worried that broad and vague definitions of 'terrorist acts' could be interpreted to include acts aimed at the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights," Marin told the 50th session of the council in Geneva, running until July 8.

The independent expert highlighted the country's constitutional referendum on Feb. 27 as one recent trend example.

She said the process lacked transparency and openness, and the vote had been marred by severe violations and could not be considered free and fair.

"The reform initiated through this referendum amounts to strengthening and systematizing the obstacles to the realization of human rights by Belarusian citizens," Marin said.

Concurrently, the Belarus Criminal Code had been amended further to restrict the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association and expression, the expert said.   

'Restrictive legislation'

"I am gravely concerned about the arbitrary application of legislation that is already restrictive," Marin told the council.

Contrary to the Constitutional provision about the application of capital punishment "as an exceptional punishment for particularly serious crimes," the Criminal Code amendments had broadened the scope of the death penalty.

It now includes "planning" or "attempting" to commit terrorist acts, Marin said.

"I am extremely worried that broad and vague definitions of "terrorist acts" could be interpreted to include acts aimed at the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights," she said.

In her report, the special rapporteur documents the legislation, policies and practices that have led to a virtual annihilation of independent non-governmental organizations, media and cultural organizations.

According to the report, the legitimate and critically important work of human rights defenders and lawyers was also being hampered by constant judicial or other forms of harassment by the authorities.

"The shrinking of civic space has seen an unprecedented acceleration as a result of a systematic and deliberate policy to eradicate all actual or perceived challenge to the incumbent government," Marin said.

She called on the international community to extend support and effective human rights protection to Belarusian nationals compelled to leave their country due to repression and intimidation by the state.

"Systemic human rights violations and impunity for those crimes have engulfed Belarus in a climate of arbitrariness and fear," the UN expert said.

The special rapporteur also said the Belarusian government must show the political will to provide human rights-based solutions to the country's most pressing problems.

"While the world's attention is focused on many crisis situations around the world, I am convinced that the human rights situation in Belarus must not be relegated to the background," she said.

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