Mr. Mikheil Janelidze, Foreign Minister of Georgia,
We, the undersigned organisations, members of the Human Rights House Tbilisi and the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, write to you to urge the government of Georgia to vote in favour of the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus at the June 2017 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Following a recent serious deterioration in Belarus’ human rights situation, and its continued policy of non-cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, the Human Rights Council should use the renewal of the Belarus mandate to urge Belarus to return to engagement and move toward robust domestic human rights policy. The Special Rapporteur furthermore is the sole international human rights monitoring mechanism able to assess the systemic nature of the human rights violations in Belarus.
Georgia abstained in voting for the mandate in 2016, but we believe recent events provide strong reasons to vote positively for the renewal of the mandate in 2017.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus concluded his 2016 report to the Human Rights Council by indicating that “no substantial changes in the repressive legal framework were discernible, despite repeated recommendations made by numerous United Nations human rights mechanisms on amending domestic laws to bring them into line with international human rights standards”. Since the Human Rights Council adopted its latest resolution renewing the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, there has been no systematic improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus. On the contrary, all of the legal and systemic restrictions on freedom of expression and association remain in place, and the crackdown on peaceful protests in March 2017, the largest protests since the 2010 Presidential election, confirms the absence of political change in the country.
Peaceful protests erupted throughout the country in March 2017 with several thousand citizens taking to the streets in Minsk, Mahiliou, Hrodna, Vitsebsk and other cities, including on the occasion of Freedom Day on 25 March 2017, to oppose Presidential Decree No. 3 that introduced a tax on unemployment. Police used force to repress protesters and detained hundreds solely for peacefully exercising their rights to freedom of assembly and expression. Those detained included opposition members, journalists, and human rights defenders. The majority were later released after several hours of interrogations and intimidation. Of those formally arrested on March 25-26, 177 people were convicted of administrative offences, and over 70 of them sentenced to up to 25 days of administrative arrest, in poor conditions that could constitute degrading treatment. At least 18 journalists and bloggers were among those detained, while printed newspapers were confiscated, and access to the two independent online media websites charter97 and Belarusian Partisan, operating from abroad, was blocked during the demonstration. A number of other opposition and civic activists were arrested prior to protests in order to prevent them from participating in and from observing peaceful protests throughout the country, and released only after the end of the demonstration.1
After an almost 18 months break, executions in Belarus resumed in April 2016.2 Since then the number of executions carried out is on track to be the highest number per year since 2008. Belarus has carried out death sentences despite orders for interim protection measures issued by the UN Human Rights Committee, in violation of its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the rights of people sentenced to death, and their families, continue to be violated at all stages of the proceedings and during detention.
The government of Belarus continues to refuse to cooperate with the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus. However, the work of the Special Rapporteur, in particular the many recommendations he has developed in the course of his mandate, should continue to serve as a roadmap towards genuine reform for the Belarusian authorities. Since its establishment in 2012, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus has repeatedly proven its worth. It has been key not only in providing constant independent monitoring of the situation, but also in highlighting some worrying trends that had not previously received sufficient attention. At a time when the international community witnesses a new crackdown on peaceful protesters, independent media and human rights organisations, it becomes even more important to provide full support to the only independent mechanism monitoring human rights.
We count on Georgia’s support of the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur at the Human Rights Council in June 2017 to ensure that the only international tool to human rights in scrutinise Belarus remains available. This is essential in view of the system of violations still in place in Belarus, which – as happened recently – can lead to the situation rapidly degenerating into an emergency, depending on the authorities’ intentions.
By supporting the renewal of the Rapporteur’s mandate, Georgia and the international community will send a strong signal to the Belarusian authorities and to Belarus’ civil society that it is committed to lasting human rights changes in the country. We look forward to seeing
Belarus move towards a genuine path of human rights reform that would allow human rights defenders, journalists and critics to operate without fear of arrest or harassment.
– Human Rights House Tbilisi (on behalf of the following NGOs):
- Article 42 of the Constitution
- Caucasian Centre for Human Rights and Conflict Studies
- Georgian Centre for Psychosocial and Medical Rehabilitation of Torture Victims
- Human Rights Centre
- Media Institute
- Union Sapari – Women’s rights organization
– The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
– Human Rights House Foundation
Human Rights House Tbilisi,
M. Kantaria 11a, 0160, Tbilisi.
Human Rights House Foundation (HRHF) protects, supports and empowers human rights defenders and their organizations. To accomplish this, HRHF brings organizations together in Human Rights Houses, and unites the Houses in an international network. HRHF advocates with partner organizations to promote and advance the freedoms of assembly, association, and expression, and the right to be a human rights defender – to ensure that individuals and organizations can work freely and openly to protect human rights at home and abroad. Today, more than 100 independent human rights organizations work together in 15 Human Rights Houses. HRHF is based in Oslo, with an office in Geneva and representation in Brussels and Tbilisi. The Houses are located in Eastern & Western Europe, the Caucasus and the Balkans.
The Human Rights House Tbilisi is a union of human rights NGOs working in one space which defends human rights. Through the members, HRHT works towards the following directions: providing legal and psychological service, improvement of legislation, advocacy, human rights education and civil society development.
The Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House was set up in 2006 and is run by the leading Belarusian human rights organizations to address the main challenges faced by human rights activists in Belarus – the right to assembly and freedom of expression and the right to be a human rights defender.
- HRH Tbilisi, Belarusian HRH, HRHF urge Georgia to support renewal of UN Belarus mandate
Human Rights House Tbilisi and the Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, with HRHF, have written to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Georgia, urging support at the June session of the Human Rights Council for the renewal of the UN mandate on Belarus.