Human Rights Violations and Renewed Mandate for Belarus Examination
On May 1, 2020, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights created a mandate relating to examining the human rights situation in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. In light of the election's aftermath, the mandate was renewed for another year on April 7, 2022. Chaired by the European Union, consultations included representatives from member states and civil society and focused mainly on violations related to arbitrary detentions, judicial and extra-judicial killings, and the treatment of human rights defenders in Belarus.
The High Commissioner's resolution report expresses grave concern about numerous credible allegations of human rights violations, including acts of torture, enforced disappearance, abduction, arbitrary expulsion, arbitrary detention of minors, sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary deprivation of life, and attacks against members of the political opposition, human rights defenders, civil society representatives, journalists, and media workers. Additionally, the council noted the denial of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of opinion and expression, both online and offline, including through attacks on the media by blocking independent media websites and shutting down the Internet.
Delegates stressed the need to urge Belarusian authorities to cease using excessive force against peaceful demonstrators, including torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, and to stop carrying out arbitrary arrests and detentions on political grounds. They also called on Belarus to enter a dialogue with the political opposition and civil society to guarantee respect for human rights law, including civil and political rights. In a more specific instance, the civil society organisation Human Rights House Foundation made a deliberate call to include the recent detention of Nobel peace prize-winning dissident Ales Bialiatski in the resolution, as it is widely believed his detention was in part a form of retaliation to his participation at previous Human Rights Council sessions.
Consultations took a tense turn when the representative from the United States of America ('USA') suggested an amendment to the resolution taking a harsher stance regarding the death penalty law in Belarus. The representative from the Russian Federation quickly followed up with a quick remark stating, "I find it strange that you are condemning the death penalty when it is still legal in your country." This interaction perhaps best summarizes the dynamic of the entire consultation, in which the only country expressing opposition to the resolution was the Russian Federation due to their cultural ties and political interest in Belarus.
The High Commissioner ('HC') will present his final report to the Human Rights Council later this month, in which member states can expect a call for Belarusian authorities to enable independent, transparent, and impartial investigations into all human rights violations allegedly committed in the context of the election, and to guarantee that victims have access to justice and redress and that perpetrators are held fully accountable.