This is the seventh statement on Belarus that the UK has made in the Permanent Council since the beginning of May.
On recent occasions we have made clear our concern about the situation in Belarus and called on the authorities in Minsk to engage in a genuine and inclusive national dialogue and end the violence against the Belarusian people. We have supported the offer by the Chair in Office to promote a national dialogue and expressed our hope that the Belarusian authorities would view this offer as a constructive step. Unfortunately, there remains no indication the Belarusian authorities are willing to change course.
Alexander Lukashenko’s snap inauguration on 23 September was not the action of a leader who believes he has the support of his people. The UK does not accept the results of this fraudulent Presidential election, which was neither free nor fair. As a result, Lukashenko lacks legitimacy.
Our concerns compelled us to work closely with 16 other participating States to invoke the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism to independently investigate the situation in Belarus. We are disappointed the Belarusian authorities have chosen not to participate in the implementation of this mission. Nevertheless, we await receiving the report of the mission in due course, and to discussing its findings of fact.
While we wait for this mission to conclude its work, it is important that we maintain focus on what is happening right now in Belarus and bring specific concerns to the Permanent Council. Amongst the many credible reports of human rights violations, we remain particularly concerned about the continuing arbitrary detention of peaceful protestors, many of them prominent campaigners.
The election on 9 August fell far below international standards. As we have said, they were neither free nor fair. The Belarusian people know this and have been peacefully demonstrating for their democratic rights to be recognised ever since. Opposition leaders established a Coordination Council to call for meaningful and constructive dialogue with the authorities.
In response, the Belarusian authorities have abducted, imprisoned and expelled all but one of the Coordination Council’s board members. The prominent campaigner Maria Kolesnikava, has been imprisoned and charged with destabilising the state. She faces five years imprisonment and her right of appeal has twice been denied. Volha Kovalkova was expelled from Belarus and sent to Poland. Pavel Latushka left Belarus under pressure from the Belarusian authorities.
We are also aware of the following detentions which cause concern:
- Liliya Vlasava, lawyer and member of the Board of the Coordination Council, who was detained on 31 August and charged with tax evasion
- Maksim Znak, lawyer and member of the board of the Coordination Council, who was detained on 9 September, and charged with article 361 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, crimes against the state
- Marfa Rabkova, human rights defender, who was detained on 17 September for allegedly preparing activists to participate in riots
Despite the actions of the Belarusian authorities, we continue to witness mass peaceful demonstrations across Belarus, with protestors calling for the end of violence, for accountability, new elections and a national dialogue. Regrettably, the authorities continue to detain those protestors, often in large numbers. Credible reports indicate that more than 340 protestors were detained or arrested on 27 September following countrywide anti-government protests.
Unfortunately, since our 3 September joint statement with Canada on Freedom of Media Concerns, we have continued to be worried about the treatment of journalists and media actors, including their detention by the Belarusian authorities, even when clearly identified as media representatives. We are deeply concerned by the Belarusian Ministry of Information’s decision to remove the status of the independent media portal Tut.by (“toot.bye”). We continue to urge the Belarusian authorities to cease their attacks on independent media and respect the rights of the Belarusian people to freedom of expression.
There are also credible reports that those held in detention centres have been the subject of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment. We would again remind the Belarusian authorities that the prohibition against such treatment is absolute.
The actions of the Belarusian authorities compelled the UK on 29 September, in coordination with Canada, to impose sanctions under the UK’s Global Human Rights sanctions regime on Alexander Lukashenko, his son and six other senior Belarusian officials responsible for serious human rights violations.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Copenhagen Document and the Paris Charter for a New Europe in which we jointly committed to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms. Unfortunately, we are not alone today in reminding the Belarusian authorities of those OSCE commitments which we, and they, have freely signed up to.