During the day on 12 December several presentations and discussions took place with the participation of representatives of state bodies, ministries and departments, diplomatic corps, experts and representatives of civil society, united under the title “National Human Rights Action Plan: Current Implementation and Prospects”.
The panel discussion “The role of civil society in the implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan” for first time was attended by representatives of civil and human rights organizations as well as experts who have been invited to the event in a personal capacity.
The participants of the consultations and discussions, representing civil society, shared their views on yesterday’s event and expressed their opinions on the implementation of the National plan.
The chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Aleh Hulak has mixed impression left by the event: “The impression is quite ambiguous and complex. It is good that such event happened, that this Plan is still on the agenda. The meeting with the civil society participation made it possible to expand the circle of participants in consultations, and that was important. It was also interesting to hear from representatives of the state bodies, how they see the Plan, and what is made in this direction. On the other hand, certain dissatisfaction was left: Why is it not possible to make the planned things faster and in bigger amount? The time flies, a year passed, some steps are being taken, there is some progress, but it’s all being done very slowly.”
The Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists Andrei Bastunets notes, that both the state and the third sector can speak the same language and look for certain points of interaction, and not only in those areas where it has been going for a long time, such as in medicine, but also involving human rights organizations: “It is understandable and completely natural that the views of government officials and representatives of the civil society are different. Here is one bright example: the representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that it would be great if we achieve something out of a hundred items for the National human rights plan. And Jury Chavusay replied to that: “Belarus will be judged not by how many items we reached, but by how much the situation in one or another field of public life improved”. And this is seen as a serious discrepancy. Experts from the civil society paid attention to the fact that the Plan is formulated very vague, there are no criteria for determining which areas and items are implemented, there are no indicators for the evaluation. For those hundred directions it had to be specified, what needs to be done to achieve the goal, because it is not always indicated in the Plan. But state officials said that there is no need to develop detailed plans and that publicity, which was discussed, is also too controversial. In my opinion, these differences are quite natural and I feel that the expert consultation was quite good. There is only one question left: for what extend the discussed during the event things will be implemented in reality”.
The lawyer of the Assembly of non-governmental organizations Jury Chavusau, who had been invited as an expert in an individual capacity, notes that this is not the first meeting, organized by the UN Development Program in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which concerns governmental plans, reports and work in the field of human rights.
“This is good, this at this time not only representatives of registered civil society organizations were invited, but also experts in their individual capacity, and persons from the structures, which are not recognised as registered by the state. I was also invited in my individual capacity as an expert, though in fact I am a lawyer of the Assembly of non-governmental organizations. It was sort of compromise between the two organising structures”
Yuri Chausov stresses that the criterion for evaluating the success or unsuccess of the Human Rights Plan must be a change in the human rights situation: “Even if the change will be minor, even if regarding small issues, but the human rights situation has to be improved. And it has to be not just implementation of measures, enshrined in the plan. For me, as a professional who works in the field of freedom of association, it is fundamentally important to improve situation in this particular area. I do not hide my disappointment that, despite the fact that during the presentation of the Universal Periodic Review in 2015, and during the other reports that Belarus provides to international structures, a lot of recommendations on freedom of association were mentioned. Those are questions of registration of NGOs, the issues of criminal responsibility for activity without registration, the financial conditions for the receiving of funding for NGO activities within and outside the country. Unfortunately, the issues relating to the freedom of association are not reflected in the plan, which was approved a year ago. By the way, freedom of speech is also very little reflected. For the most extend, there are aspects where the state can use its regulatory function, without a conflict between state and individual. Therefore, I must admit that at this stage, since the adoption by Belarus of the recommendations in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review in 2015, no progress on important issues was achieved. The state can talk about the creation of the negotiating platforms and the organization of such conferences. But unfortunately, the state can not speak about essential changes in human rights situation at this stage”.
The lawyer of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” Valiantsin Stefanovich, who also took part in the consultations, said that the representatives of the state authorities still have not developed a clear vision of the mechanism of interaction with civil society as part of the Interagency plan.
“I have personally developed quite contradictory impressions of yesterday’s event. On the one hand, it is impossible not to note the fact that this time the consultations took place in the wider circle of the invited participants. There were not only the representatives of registered NGOs, but also representatives of unregistered organizations, acting as “experts in their personal capacity.”I was also invited as such “individual experts” and it was the first participation of a representative of the HRC “Viasna” in such consultations. On the other hand, some things did upset me. It was visible, that the representatives of public authorities still have not developed a clear vision of the mechanism of interaction with civil society as part of the Interagency plan, though it has been already a year since its adoption. There was an obvious lack of communication between the government and civil society. Until now plans of action for the implementation of specific recommendations of the Plan for the state bodies, which are designated as responsible for the implementation of specific recommendations, can not be found in the public access. There are no public reports on their work to implement the plan. And from what was announced it is obvious, that only a little was done, let’s face it. At the same time, it was interesting and useful to hear about the experience of interaction between NGOs and public authorities in some areas, such as on gender, on the rights of persons with disabilities, AIDS problems. It turns out that the country has already accumulated experience of successful cooperation between NGOs and government agencies to address specific and important issues, which are also part of the human rights agenda.
Stefanovich recalls that the human rights community has repeatedly announced its readiness for dialogue and interaction with government agencies to address specific problems in the field of human rights. This was reflected in the final Resolution of the IV Belarusian human rights forum.
“It depends a lot on the authorities, weather the implementation of the Human Rights Plan will lead to creation of real dialogue platforms of human rights organizations with state bodies. it is important for us, that the implementation of this plan would lead to real changes in specific areas of human rights”, said the human rights defender.
The First National Human Rights Plan was adopted in October 2016 and is aimed at implementing recommendations accepted by Belarus in the framework of the Universal Periodic Review. The document is a kind of road map and determines the main directions of action for the implementation of the State’s obligations to protect human rights.