The referendum is the latest step in a deep political crisis which started with the crackdown ahead of the August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, an election which has been widely condemned as neither free nor fair. The proposed draft of the new Constitution includes provisions on limitations of the presidential terms to maximum two consecutive terms, introduces the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly as a decision-making body, provides for immunity for presidents after the end of their term, and defines the family as a union of a man and a woman.
While the international community awaits the predictable outcome of the referendum, it is important to maintain focus on the deep human rights crisis perpetrated by the Belarusian authorities. Since August 2020, human rights violations committed by the Belarusian authorities against human rights defenders, including journalists and lawyers, political opposition, and the general public are nearly incomprehensible due to their sheer size and scope. In particular, HRHF points to the following violations since August 2020:
- Massive police violence against protesters, cases of enforced disappearance, credible reports of torture and ill-treatment, according to the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus.
- More than 35,000 people deprived of liberty as a result of their involvement in peaceful protests following the presidential election, with innumerable allegations of beatings and ill-treatment, including torture while in detention, rape, and killings.
- Arrest and detention of over 1,000 people, whom Viasna Human Rights Center has named as political prisoners. These include Viasna’s human rights defenders Tatsiana Lasitsa, Leanid Sudalenka, Ales Bialatski, Valiantsin Stefanovic, Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova and Andrei Chapiuk.
- Sustained and violent attack on Belarusian civil society which has resulted in the liquidation of every human rights organisation in the country.
At the upcoming 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council, member states will consider renewing the mandate of the OHCHR examination of the human rights situation in Belarus. At a minimum, the international community should renew this mandate, as well as the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Belarus, and ensure both are fully funded and operational in order to document past, on-going, and expected future human rights violations by Belarusian authorities. At the same time, we call on the international community to take all necessary steps to protect and promote Belarusian human rights defenders and their families both inside of Belarus and abroad.