The human rights situation in Belarus continues to deteriorate dangerously, engulfing the country in a climate of fear and arbitrary rule, a UN expert warned today.
Presenting her annual report to the Human Rights Council, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, detailed a policy of systematically tightening legislation that restricts civil and political rights by Belarusian authorities.
The independent expert highlighted the country’s constitutional referendum of 27 February 2022 as one recent example of the trend. She said the process lacked transparency and openness, and the vote had been marred by serious violations and could not be considered free and fair.
“The reform initiated through this referendum amounts to strengthening and systematising the obstacles to the realisation of human rights by Belarusian citizens,” Marin said. Concurrently, the Criminal Code had been amended to further restrict the freedoms of peaceful assembly, association, and expression, the expert said. “I am gravely concerned about arbitrary application of legislation that is already restrictive.”
Contrary to the Constitutional provision about the application of capital punishment “as an exceptional punishment for particularly serious crimes”, the Criminal Code amendments had broadened the scope of the death penalty to include “planning” or “attempting” to commit terrorist acts, Marin said.
“I am extremely worried that broad and vague definitions of “terrorist acts” could be interpreted to include acts aimed at the legitimate exercise of fundamental rights,” she said.
In her report, the Special Rapporteur documents the legislation, policies and practices that have led to a virtual annihilation of independent non-governmental organisations, media, and cultural organisations. According to the report, the legitimate and critically important work of human rights defenders and lawyers was also being hampered by constant judicial or other forms of harassment by the authorities.
“The shrinking of civic space has seen an unprecedented acceleration as a result of a systematic and deliberate policy to eradicate all actual or perceived challenge to the incumbent government,” the Special Rapporteur said.
She called on the international community to extend support and effective human rights protection to Belarusian nationals compelled to leave their country due to repression and intimidation by the State.
“Systemic human rights violations and impunity for those crimes have engulfed Belarus in a climate of arbitrariness and fear,” the UN expert said.
She urged Belarusian authorities to immediately halt systematic human rights violations and called for prompt and independent investigations to provide justice and remedies to victims and hold perpetrators of abuses accountable.
The Special Rapporteur said the Belarusian government must show political will to provide human rights-based solutions to the country’s most pressing problems.
“While the world’s attention is focused on many crisis situations around the world, I am convinced that the human rights situation in Belarus must not be relegated to the background,” she said.