Citing reported abuses, UN rights officials call on Belarus to free political detainees

Amb. Mikhail Khvostov of Belarus addresses the 18th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva

20 September 2011 – United Nations human rights officials today called on Belarus to immediately release all political opponents not involved in violence, voicing concern at a pattern of rights violations involving freedom of speech and assembly and “serious allegations” of torture after last year’s elections.

A report presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva by Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang called on Belarus to speedily accept a mission from her office, noting that previous requests for an on-site visit had remained unanswered.

The report follows repeated expressions of concern by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and other senior UN officials at violence and the detention and treatment of journalists, opposition candidates and their supporters after President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s victory in December’s elections, as well as calls for the release of the detainees.

Noting that the human rights situation deteriorated significantly after the poll, amid opposition protests that it was neither free nor fair and the results were flawed, the report cites the beating with batons and injuring of many protesters, the vast majority of them peaceful, and bystanders, reports of physical and psychological torture by several defendants and the alleged intimidation of defence lawyers.

“The authorities have reportedly tightened their already highly restrictive control of the media since December,” it states, calling on the Government to conduct an objective investigation into the circumstances of the detentions and all reported cases of torture, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

“The authorities have allegedly been conducting a policy of harassment against independent non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders,” it adds, calling for an immediate end to all such acts and forms of political and administrative pressure.

The report, which highlights that Belarus is the only country in Europe that still issues death sentences and carries out executions, notes that because of the absence of a UN human rights presence in the country, significant segments of its information come from secondary sources and some of the allegations remain unverified.

Belarus’ delegate Mikhail Khvostov said his country disagreed with those such as the European Union on what constituted peaceful demonstrations. The EU considered that the storming of buildings was a peaceful activity, while Belarus considered it to be a criminal activity, he added, stressing Belarus continued to be devoted to its international obligations to protect human rights.

A politically motivated approach to countries was not an approach that the Council or the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should follow, he stressed.


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