Belarus: Activists denied the right to act

– Under the presidency of Alaksandr Lukashenka, Belarusian government limited political and cultural liberties and established close contacts with the world’s most repressive regimes in order to create a kind of world-wide antidemocratic international, said Vice President of the Belarusian Pen Center, Andrej Dynko, at the Anniversary conference of the Human Rights House Network that opened in Oslo today. (13-OCT-04)

– Under the presidency of Alaksandr Lukashenka, Belarusian government limited political and cultural liberties and established close contacts with the world’s most repressive regimes in order to create a kind of world-wide antidemocratic international, said Vice President of the Belarusian Pen Center, Andrej Dynko, at the Anniversary conference of the Human Rights House Network that opened in Oslo today. (13-OCT-04)

Read the speech below


Andrej_400px.jpgBelarus is a relatively young country and a particular case on the world political map. Under the presidency of Alaksandr Lukashenka, Belarusian government limited political and cultural liberties and established close contacts with the world’s most repressive regimes in order to create a kind of world-wide antidemocratic international.

Such a regime can not tolerate civil society in its own country. The government revived some Soviet practices of treating human-rights activists. At the same time it uses the newest tools of information society to discredit the notion of human rights itself, to make people believe that full respect of human rights leads to instability, decrease in governability and degradation of morality. While, according to the official discourse, restriction of human political and cultural rights is useful for social stability and consolidation.

I cite from the biggest government newspaper Sovetskaja Belorussija editorial: “We should put on the first place in the hierarchy of priorities: discipline, statehood in the broad sense of this word and not the problems of human rights, and “liberty”, that set the teeth on edge, not these little things, allegedly common to all the mankind”.

The authorities treat human rights organizations as a source of uncontrolled, thus dangerous, civic activity.

In September Belarus celebrated the mournful fifth anniversary of disappearance of the prominent opposition politicians, general Yuri Zakharanka and vice-speaker of the Parliament Viktar Hanchar. A special reporter of the Council of Europe Christos Pourgourides stated that leaders of special police units and a number of highest officials of the country were involved in these crimes.

It was highly symbolic that on September 16th, the exact date of the fifth anniversary of the disappearances, the police arrested the human rights defenders Taciana Reviaka (Human Rights Center “Viasna”) and Hary Pahaniajla (Belarus Helsinki Committee) while they were distributing the PACE report on forced disappearances, and calling for an objective investigation of the circumstances of forced kidnapping.

In 2004 the situation in Belarus has been deteriorating. Along with step-by-step undermining of funding opportunities and total delegalisation of human rights groups and networks the number of cases of harassment, threats, and arrests increased.

There are 2 political prisoners in the country: Mikhail Marynich, ex-minister of Foreign Trade, and Valer Levaneuski, small entrepreneurs’ leader.

56 non-governmental organizations were liquidated by the courts during two last years for minor technical discrepancies, while 78 more had to dissolve themselves under pressure.

The regime denies the existence of a recognized opposition. Despite the fact that there are in Belarus legal opposition groups and parties, the authorities do not recognize their right for existence or even to exist or even to have alternative point of view. Any opposition is considered as enemy of the people, not representative of a large part of the society. Yet, the regime striving to project its democratic image couldn’t ban the existing parties, NGOs and independent press immediately. The possibilities of registered structures are limited to a minimum, existing laws and decrees allow closing these organizations at any moment.

Media. 16 independent newspapers were suspended or closed under far-fetched pretexts last year. One example: on October 5, the Ministry of Information suspended from publishing the “Niediela” newspaper after the first issue of the edition appeared in print. It is the eleventh periodical already, suspended from publishing by the Ministry, starting from the beginning of the election campaign. Restrictions on the freedom of expression have not been favorable for the promotion of human rights and civil liberties. Access to most media is therefore increasingly not available to human rights defenders, including independent trade union activists. Raising awareness about human rights and disseminating information about alleged human rights violations in Belarus has become increasingly difficult.
The OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media Miklos Haraszti was planning to make an assessment visit to Belarus in September regarding the media situation. However, Belarusian authorities denied visa to Mr. Haraszti.

The State Ideology as obligatory subject was introduced in all secondary schools and universities in order to impose a standard of values and thoughts.

These were the ways to clamp down independent human rights organizations and individual activists.

Almost all associations directly and indirectly engaged in the promotion and defense of human rights in Belarus, have been closed on the basis of controversial regulations, widely considered as restrictive, by the judiciary whose independence has been repeatedly called into question by the international community. None of the organizations that have been closed down or people who have been arbitrarily detained or fined were able to appeal successfully in court.

Persecution of Belarus Helsinki Committee, one of the very few NGOs still acting legally in Belarus, is going on. On September 16, the Ministry of Justice filed a suit for liquidation of Belarus Helsinki Committee to the Supreme Court.

Only the least politicized non-governmental organizations survived. The Belarusian PEN Center, the Partnership for Belarusian Language and the Belarusian Association of Journalists are among them.

“As more and more organizations are closed down, human rights defenders will be targeted on a personal basis, as they are no longer part of recognized, `registered` organizations”, Amnesty International said in its statement.

Delegalization of human rights organizations is a part of the strategy leading to delegalisation of human rights activity as such and of any political pluralism in the country.

The authorities monopolized the education system. On August the last really independent educational establishment European Humanities University was closed down. The steps against the EHU are part of a broader strategy aimed at harassing potential sources of dissent and non-aligned thinking.

The inhuman treating of citizens remains a wide-spread practice. The courts are not independent. What can characterize the situation in the judiciary the best, is the number of justifying verdicts. It is less than 0,2 %.

It is practically impossible to register a new NGO or an independent paper. Unofficially registering bodies officials admit that every registration request should be approved by KGB.

The European Parliament, the OSCE observation mission in Belarus, and the Council of Europe have all voiced concern about worsening rights to freedom of expression in the country.

Opposition activists have been arbitrarily arrested and detained throughout the year. Freedom of speech, association and peaceful demonstration is restricted especially severely.

Belarusian NGOs and human rights centers can not oppose NGOs closings or attacks against the free media directly. Yet, at least, we succeeded in stopping political violence and in helping some independent press to survive – both legal and clandestine. The help to the families of political detainees was also important.

A referendum about the right of Lukashenka to run for the third term in office and the parliamentary election will take place in Belarus on the 17th of October. There are no chances that it will be fair and free. Opposition delegates were not included to the electoral commissions.

It is widely believed that liberal democracy has no real opposing system after the fall of the Soviet system. The Belarusian government tries to prove the opposite. It managed to take into account the information revolution and adapted appropriately the autocratic system. The people are told that the Belarusian model includes “what was good in the USSR and what is good in the West”. The government centralized the power structure in which the ruling group is not responsible before the elected body and cannot be deprived of the power by institutional means. Starting from restricting political rights of citizens, it came consequently to limit social and cultural rights and puts now the objective of total control of the society through the State monopoly for electronic media.

To legitimize the use of repression and power and lack of democracy, such a system searches for internal and external enemies. Usually they are dissidents, allegedly financed by foreign states.

Belarus itself is not a big geopolitical problem for Western powers. But Belarus and its autocratic ruler represent a seductive example to neighboring the Russian Federation which seems to copy much of Belarusian experience.

The challenge of Belarusian human rights defenders is to prove that respect of human rights can take roots not only on the ground of Western civilization, but also in the minds of people brought up with other values.

The Belarusian example says that the government is successful in its attempts at restricting human rights and even discrediting the notion of human rights itself when civil society is weak. My conclusion is that one can improve the state of human rights and situation of human rights defenders only within the large framework of civic education and civil society building, targeting the oppressive regime as a system. The attempts to change separate elements of the authoritarian regime without targeting it on the whole, are doomed to fail.


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