38/51 Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus - Note by the Secretariat
Human Rights Council Thirty-eighth session
18 June–6 July 2018
Agenda item 4
Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
Note by the Secretariat
The Secretariat has the honour to transmit to the Human Rights Council the report of
the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, prepared pursuant to
Council resolution 35/27. In his concluding report to the Human Rights Council, Miklós
Haraszti, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, describes an
unchanged oppressive environment for the rights and freedoms of citizens. During the six
years since the Human Rights Council established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur,
Belarus has been governed by a purposefully repressive legal framework, aggravated by
regularly recurring, centrally planned violent crackdowns on peaceful demonstrators, non-
governmental organizations (NGOs), political opponents, human rights activists and
independent media workers. Imprisonment of political opponents on trumped-up charges
has been cyclically employed by the authorities. The denial of the right to life has continued
through the regular application of the death penalty. The Government has not addressed the
following entrenched systemic human rights shortcomings analysed in 2011 by the then
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: the absence of rule of law, the
stifling of the expression of any dissenting view, the lack of media pluralism and the case-
by-case authorizations-based regime of enjoyment of the right to the freedoms of
association and peaceful assembly. The practice of depriving citizens of their civil and
political rights continues to have a detrimental effect on the enjoyment of economic, social
and cultural rights. Given that the human rights situation in Belarus continues to be marked
by non-cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations and non-
compliance with their recommendations, the mandate of the Special Rapporteur needs to be
United Nations A/HRC/38/51
1. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus
was established in 2012 by the Human Rights Council in its resolution 20/13, on the basis
of a report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (A/HRC/20/8).
The Council requested the mandate holder to report annually to it and to the General
Assembly. The Council has since renewed the mandate five times, for one year each time,
in resolutions 23/15, 26/25, 29/17, 32/26 and 35/27.
2. The present report is submitted to the Council pursuant to its resolution 35/27,
covers the period 1 April 2017–30 April 2018, is based on information received up to the
latter date, and is the current Special Rapporteur’s last report to the Council, as his tenure
ends on 31 October 2018.
3. The handling of human rights in the reporting period was marked by the routine use
by the authorities of the entrenched oppressive legal and administrative regulations. In a
potentially grave development, at the end of the reporting period, the National Assembly
passed on first reading a bill on amendments to the law on the mass media and other legal
texts, which, if promulgated, would eliminate all remaining freedom of expression online.
The period was also marked by a renewed crackdown by law enforcement agencies on
peaceful demonstrators, members of the political opposition, human rights defenders and
independent journalists in March 2018, on the occasion of Freedom Day, prior to and
during which more than a hundred individuals were arbitrarily arrested and detained.
4. In his previous report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/35/40 and Corr.1), the
Special Rapporteur described the deterioration, in early 2017, of the human rights situation
in Belarus, which, like the March 2018 crackdown, involved the severe repression of
peaceful demonstrations against presidential decree No. 3 of 2015 on the prevention of
social dependency. The decree financially targeted at least 470,000 individuals labelled as
“social parasites” for not registering as employed for a minimum of 183 days per year. The
demonstrations, which were held in Minsk and in numerous other cities throughout the
country, were the largest since those organized in the wake of the December 2010
presidential elections, the violent repression of which prompted the United Nations to put
the situation of human rights in Belarus under the scrutiny of the Special Rapporteur.
5. The Special Rapporteur analysed the cyclical nature of violent crackdowns on
fundamental freedoms in Belarus, as illustrated by the repression of the March events after
a brief period of resorting to fines instead of arbitrary arrests (A/HRC/35/40 and Corr.1).
While daily public life in the country is hindered by an underlying system-wide and
purposefully oppressive set of laws and by the acts by State officials, the authorities
nevertheless regularly scale up repression throughout violent crackdowns in order to
6. In his first report to the Human Rights Council (A/HRC/23/52), the Special
Rapporteur analysed a series of shortcomings that the High Commissioner for Human
Rights had identified a year previously. All of those shortcomings persist after six years of
international scrutiny, and certain human rights issues have actually worsened, especially
the situation of the media, political pluralism and legal provisions.
7. In his report to the thirty-second session of the Human Rights Council
(A/HRC/32/48), the Special Rapporteur conducted an in-depth survey of compliance by
Belarus with the recommendations of the United Nations human rights mechanisms,
including the universal periodic review. The analysis showed the absence of any move
towards the implementation of such recommendations, demonstrating a lack of political
will on the part of the State party’s authorities to improve the human rights record of
8. The adoption, in October 2016, of an inter-agency plan for the period 2016–2019 for
the implementation of recommendations made during the second cycle of the universal
periodic review of Belarus and by the treaty bodies,1 and the heavy marketing around it, do
not even mark the start of the process of recognizing the existence of long-standing human
rights issues, as those are not addressed by the plan as analysed by the Special Rapporteur
9. Representatives of the State party’s authorities attending conferences highlight
results in the socioeconomic field and efforts to implement the Sustainable Development
Goals. The Special Rapporteur deems it necessary to question the authorities about the
absence of similar efforts, or at least the relaxation of the measures currently in force, when
it comes to democratic values and fundamental freedoms as recognized in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights.
10. Belarus remains excluded from membership of the Council of Europe for retaining
capital punishment in its Criminal Code and for conducting executions. In 2017, two
executions were carried out, and four death sentences were handed down, according to the
11. The absence of a national human rights institution, despite numerous
recommendations to establish one in accordance with the principles relating to the status of
national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights (the Paris Principles),
is solely due to the lack of political will to permit the establishment of a forum where
citizens, civil society organizations, legal specialists and authorities can come together to
build a legal and practical framework compliant with the human rights obligations of the
12. Similarly, the various elections, both presidential and parliamentary, held in the
country for the past 20 years or so have prompted the independent external observers of the
Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to make recommendations
aimed at fundamental improvements. The authorities of Belarus have consistently
completely ignored such recommendations. The only concession made to political
pluralism in the past two decades was to permit two opposition candidates to sit in the
National Assembly in September 2016. The Special Rapporteur recalls that presidential and
parliamentary elections are scheduled to take place in Belarus in 2020. There are, however,
reports that one of those elections could be organized in 2019. The international community
should remain vigilant regarding the upcoming polls, and continue to demand the
implementation of the recommendations of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions
and Human Rights of the OSCE.
13. In the run-up to the twentieth anniversary of the Declaration on the Right and
Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect
Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (Declaration on Human
Rights Defenders), the Special Rapporteur reiterates the findings contained in his 2014
report to the General Assembly (A/69/307), namely that, almost 20 years after its adoption,
the gap between the moral commitment to adopting the Declaration and its real
implementation remains vast in Belarus. Like all the other States Members of the United
Nations, Belarus had committed to implementing the values contained in the Declaration by
complying with General Assembly resolution 53/144 in 2017. While recognizing that
Belarus is not the only country to oppress human rights defenders, and that their situation is
deteriorating (A/HRC/34/52), the Special Rapporteur underlines the fact that the
harassment of defenders is government-driven, systemic and entrenched in the legal
14. Regarding the causes of the reported systemic suppression of human rights,
periodically enhanced by large-scale flare-ups of brutality on the part of law enforcement
officials, the Special Rapporteur refers to his most recent report to the General Assembly
(A/72/493). In the report, he focused on the powers amassed by the executive branch and of
the incumbent President himself, and analysed the impact of the lack of separation of
powers and rigged elections on the human rights situation.
1 See http://mfa.gov.by/upload/doc/plan_all_eng.pdf.
15. The Special Rapporteur is of the view that the international scrutiny exercised by the
Human Rights Council, the only body currently carrying out such work, is an invaluable
tool for deterring attempts by the authorities of Belarus to further tighten their control over
civil and political rights. In particular, the Special Rapporteur believes that the continued
existence of his mandate is key to the survival of a nucleus of civil society organizations
working on human rights issues.
16. In his last year as the mandate holder, the Special Rapporteur had hoped that the
State party’s authorities would reply positively to his request to visit Belarus. However, that
request, like those made in previous years, remained unanswered at the time of finalizing
the present report.
17. The Special Rapporteur is grateful to the authorities of Belarus for having allowed
him to enter the country in July 2017, at the invitation of the OSCE Parliamentary
Assembly. Although not acknowledged by the State party’s authorities as being on a
country visit, the Special Rapporteur was able to meet with a number of civil society actors,
human rights defenders, members of the political opposition and media representatives. He
also attended the sentencing of a human rights defender, experiencing at first hand the
dysfunctional nature of the judicial system (see A/72/493, para. 60).
18. The Special Rapporteur regrets that the authorities of Belarus did not take advantage
of his presence in the country to engage at least on issues of potentially mutual agreement,
thus missing an opportunity to showcase alleged progress regarding the Government’s
human rights record.
19. As in previous years, the Special Rapporteur, owing to his inability to conduct a
proper in situ visit, based his assessment on the Government’s statements and records and
on the numerous reports he had received from civil society actors, human rights defenders,
relatives of political prisoners and disappeared persons, diplomats and United Nations
II. Legal framework and related developments
20. The enforcement of presidential decree No. 3 of 2015 was first announced as being
postponed, and subsequently abandoned all together. However, the principle of stigmatizing
and punishing individuals who refuse to benefit from jobs provided by the State on the
basis of loyalty to the executive has not disappeared. Under the presidential decree, fines
for such individuals would be replaced by denial of access to subsidized hot water, gas and
heating, under Council of Ministers resolution No. 314 of 24 April 2018. Payment for those
facilities would be due from 1 October 2019 onwards.2 That situation would obviously have
an adverse impact on the economic and social rights of large sectors of the population.
21. Media law amendments prepared by the presidential administration had been rubber-
stamped on first reading in the National Assembly at the time of writing of the present
report.3 Those changes would bring about the serious, systemic deterioration of the already
grave situation of freedom of expression online (see section IV (A) below).
III. Engagement with the international human rights system
22. During its ninety-fourth session, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial
Discrimination considered the combined twentieth to twenty-third periodic reports of
Belarus (CERD/C/BLR/20-23), on 30 November and 1 December 2017. The Special
Rapporteur welcomes the engagement of Belarus with the Committee.
2 See www.svaboda.org/a/29193768.html (in Belarusian).
3 See https://rsf.org/en/news/belarus-media-law-could-get-even-more-repressive.
23. The Special Rapporteur also welcomes the submission by Belarus of its fifth
periodic report under article 40 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
(CCPR/C/BLR/5), and recalls that the report had been pending for 16 years. In October
2018, the Human Rights Committee would thus have the opportunity to review the level of
compliance of Belarus with the provisions of the Covenant 21 years after having previously
done so, on 30 October 1997.
24. The Committee against Torture was scheduled to review the compliance of Belarus
at its sixty-third session in May 2018, on the basis of the fifth periodic report
(CAT/C/BLR/5) submitted by Belarus in response to the list of issues adopted by the
Committee in 2013 (CAT/C/BLR/QPR/5). The review would provide an opportunity to
assess the prevalence of torture and ill-treatment in Belarus, particularly in prison facilities,
and, more broadly, acts committed by law enforcement officials.
25. The Special Rapporteur devoted large sections of his most recent report to the
Human Rights Council to the assessment and analysis of the inter-agency plan for the
period 2016–2019 for the implementation of recommendations made during the second
cycle of the universal periodic review and by the treaty bodies, approved by the Council of
Ministers on 24 October 2016.
26. On the occasion of the twenty-sixth session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly,
held on 5 July 2017 in Minsk, the inter-agency plan was presented by the President of
Belarus himself as being the most important element of systemic efforts to ensure citizen’s
rights and freedoms as a whole.4
27. The plan, a list of activities mostly devoted to initiating institutional thinking about
long-standing economic and social issues, falls far short of constituting a comprehensive
national human rights action plan, as it ignores numerous fundamental recommendations
made by various human rights mechanisms regarding civil and political rights. The
Ministry for Foreign Affairs, which proclaims the indivisibility of human rights on its
website,5 has been unable to translate that principle into reality. According to information
available at the time of drafting of the present report, there was no implementation report
available on the 100 or so points contained in the plan.
IV. Human rights concerns
A. Freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of the media
28. At the time of drafting of the present report, the Government was processing
amendments to the law on the mass media, the Tax Code, the Administrative Offences
Code and the Code of Execution Procedure for Administrative Offences, dealing with the
regulation of the media, including web-based outlets. The amendments were passed by the
National Assembly on first reading on 19 April 2018. If finally approved, the amendments
would further curtail the freedoms of expression and information of all citizens, increasing
the hurdles and intimidation faced by Belarusian independent journalists and online content
29. The draft amendments would provide for additional administrative fines of up to
€500 and €5,000 respectively for individuals or entities that produce or disseminate
information while not registered as journalists or media outlets. Under other amendments to
the law on the mass media, web-based outlets would be subjected to the existing State-run,
permission-based registration procedure for print media. Any online publication, including
social media, could therefore be banned if it were not run by registered journalists, and the
author or publisher would be held liable under the above-mentioned amendments. The
4 See http://mfa.gov.by/en/organizations/human_rights/.
6 See https://baj.by/en/content/baj-sent-its-comments-amendments-law-mass-media-parliament.
publishing entity might be closed down without a court order, and the decision would not
30. The bill on amendments to the mass media law would also oblige online media
outlet owners to introduce pre-moderation for all online discussion platforms. Especially
egregious is the planned mandatory identification of persons posting materials or comments
on such platforms. The amendments would extend the authorities’ control over online
discussions by allowing them to require, without any court order, platform owners to
provide them with any data related to postings within five working days.
31. Unregistered media outlets and journalists already face difficulties in working,
owing to article 22.9 (2) of the Administrative Offences Code, which provides for the
administrative liability of anyone working for foreign media without accreditation. The
Special Rapporteur has been calling for that provision to be repealed since the beginning of
his tenure. The above-mentioned draft amendments would actually increase harassment
against independent journalists through the introduction of vague concepts of production
and dissemination, and through the granting, to police officers, of the power to prepare
reports based thereon.
32. In the Special Rapporteur’s view, those amendments constitute a continuation of the
Government’s erroneous response to those courageous journalists, bloggers and social
media contributors, including simple users sharing information, who use the Internet to
cover or discuss protests, pickets or any sort of unofficial political information, in a media
environment where such opportunities have been closed down by decades of abusive
policies. The amendments, if adopted, would perfect the systemic curtailing of freedom of
expression, and allow the authorities to legally block the only remaining public space for
free debate, the Internet.
33. The Internet and web-based media outlets have always been subjected to stringent
controls (see A/71/394, paras. 47–57), including during the reporting period. One way of
pressuring persons running independent websites is to block the websites temporarily,
without having to resort to a court decision. For instance, in December 2017, the Ministry
of Information blocked the popular news portal belaruspartisan.org. On 25 January 2018,
access to the independent news website charter97.org was restricted in a similar way.
34. Bloggers and their followers are frequently harassed and closely monitored through
a heavy-handed and costly system of surveillance. Siarhei Piatrukhin and Aliaksandr
Kabanau were tried by Pinsk District Court on 12 March 2018 for having allegedly
manufactured illicit media content that they had broadcast on YouTube. Interestingly, that
was the first time that YouTube had been identified as a foreign media outlet. In February
2018, the apartment where popular 19-year-old blogger Stsipan Sviatlou lives with his
parents was raided by the police, and his computer equipment was seized. Mr. Sviatlou had
been posting videos on YouTube containing criticism relating to socioeconomic issues.7
35. The arbitrary detention of dozens of individuals, human rights defenders, political
activists and journalists, even for short periods of time, prior to and during the 25 March
2018 rallies, illustrates what the Special Rapporteur described as a cyclical system of
repression against those who hold and express views diverging from the official line.
36. The events of March 2018, during which at least seven journalists were arrested by
the police, follow the same logic as those of March 2017, one of the worst years for
independent journalism in Belarus since 2011 and the aftermath of the 2010 presidential
election.8 While, in 2016, the Belarusian Association of Journalists recorded 13 cases of
short-term detention of journalists performing their professional duties, in 2017, that
number rose to 101. In 12 of those cases, the journalists were arrested for 10–15 days: the
maximum period of administrative detention. The bulk of those cases of detention occurred
in March 2017, at the time of the mass protests in Belarus.9
7 See https://charter97.org/en/news/2018/2/23/280618/.
8 See https://baj.by/en/analytics/violations-journalists-rights-infographic-2009-2017.
9 See https://baj.by/en/analytics/repressions-against-journalists-belarus-2017-shart.
37. In 2017, the authorities resumed the practice of prosecuting journalists for
cooperating with foreign media outlets without accreditation. As a result, 69 fines were
imposed on freelance journalists in 2017, more than the number imposed in the three
previous years, and amounting to more than €25,000.10
38. The Special Rapporteur continued to receive information about the situation of
journalists, especially those working for the media outlet Belsat, which is based in Poland
but broadcasts in Belarusian in the territory of Belarus. Belsat journalists are a regular
target of the authorities. There was hardly a month during the reporting period when a
Belsat journalist was not arrested or fined and his or her material seized. On 10 July 2017,
an independent journalist working for Belsat was declared guilty of forging illicit media
content and fined. In August 2017, another five Belsat journalists were fined,11 in addition
to one in September 2017, four in December 2017 and another two in February 2018.
Belsat cameraman, Andrei Kozel, who was covering the February 2018 local elections, was
brutally arrested and fined for allegedly having violated the secrecy of the vote counting
39. The aftermath of the mass arrests and persecution of journalists in 2017 continued in
2018. Yuri Pavlovets, Dimitri Alimkin and Sergei Shiptenko, three Belarusian freelance
journalists working for a number of Russian media outlets, who had been accused of
collaborating with foreign media without accreditation and charged with the criminal
offence of publishing content labelled as “extremist”, were convicted in February 2018,
after having spent a year in custody. All the accused were sentenced to five years’
imprisonment, suspended for three years.
40. On a positive note, in 2017, distribution of eight independent newspapers
(Borisovskiye Novosti, Otdushina, Volnae Hlybokae, Hazeta Slonimskaya, Intex-press,
Novy Chas, SNplus and ARCHE.Pachatak) through the State retail network resumed. Those
publications had been excluded from the Sojuzpechat network (the national retail network
for print media) and the Belpochta (national postal service) subscription service for 11
41. Local private newspaper Barysauskija Naviny is a regular target of the authorities.12
Its chief editor was tried on 1 December 2017 for publishing an article criticizing national
policies. The trial followed a warning issued by the Ministry of Information on 20
November. After a second warning, the outlet could be closed.
42. The authorities continue to treat independent artists as political opponents and to
exercise tight control over artistic expression, thus violating cultural rights. For instance,
pop music singer Ales Dzianisau was banned from playing at a concert in July 2017 by the
department of ideology, culture and youth affairs of the Executive Committee of Minsk, on
the basis that he lacked talent.13 Similarly, police raided a rock concert on 14 October 2017,
reportedly in a brutal manner, and many participants were detained for a brief period.
43. Famous Russian philosopher Piotr Riabov, who was giving a private lecture indoors
on 9 October 2017 in Hrodna, was arrested by the police, together with 20 other persons
attending the event. He was sentenced to deportation, subsequently deported to the Russian
Federation and banned from re-entering Belarus for 10 years.14
44. At the same time, the State-run media continued to be used by the authorities to
campaign against human rights defenders and election observers. Ten days before the local
elections of 18 February, two State-owned television channels broadcast the news that the
campaign “Right to choose 2018”, run by independent observers, was biased. Furthermore,
12 days before the local elections, the President dismissed the heads of three State-owned
10 See https://baj.by/en/analytics/fines-journalists-violating-article-229-administrative-code-chart-
11 See http://spring96.org/en/news/87741.
12 See https://freedomhouse.org/report/nations-transit/2010/belarus.
13 See https://charter97.org/en/news/2017/7/25/257547/.
14 See https://belarusdigest.com/story/new-repressions-in-belarus-the-art-of-staying-below-western-
media outlets: the Sovetskaya Belorussiya/Belarus Segodnya newspaper, the national
television and radio broadcasting company and the Stolichnoe Televidenie television
channel, which is now headed by the former First Deputy Minister for Information. In a
similar attempt to control public opinion prior to the poll, a candidate of the Belarusian
Christian Democracy party was excluded from standing for office for having distributed
material during a gathering in the context of the campaign.15
B. Freedom of association
45. The authorities of Belarus consider that the exercise of the freedom of association
constitutes a potential threat to the “stability” of the country and have, therefore, created a
politically guided bureaucratic system to register any entity. The right to create associations
is recognized under article 36 of the Constitution. The establishment and activities of civil
society associations are, however, restricted by the provisions of article 7 of the Civil
Society Associations Act, on the grounds of protecting the State against propaganda
inciting war or extremism and against the activities of unregistered civil society
associations. By arbitrarily equating the activities of unregistered non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) with propaganda inciting war and extremism, the Ministry of Justice
can severely restrict the actual exercise of the freedom of association.
46. The Special Rapporteur and other mechanisms have repeatedly identified legal
restrictions and State practices that are contrary to the provisions of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights pertaining to the freedom of association. In
particular, the registration process is so cumbersome that it discourages NGOs from
resubmitting their applications, giving rise to a worrisome trend. While the number of
registered associations is allegedly on the rise (see CCPR/C/BLR/5, p. 362), the Special
Rapporteur is not aware of any new registrations of human rights-related organizations or
47. The fate of unregistered organizations (the number of which is falling only because
they give up attempts to register due to the hostile process involved) has long been a subject
of human rights recommendations. Under article 193-1 of the Criminal Code, any activity
undertaken by or in connection with an unregistered entity is punishable by up to two years’
imprisonment. The mere presence of that provision in the Criminal Code, which, according
to the Government has not been used for many years (ibid, para. 369), deters attempts to
conduct unauthorized activities. De jure criminalization may be arbitrarily turned into de
facto criminalization at any time.
48. The Belarusian Christian Democracy party submitted its seventh application for
registration to the Ministry of Justice on 22 January 2018, and on 6 April was again refused
registration, based, as usual, on shortcomings relating to the registration data. The party
filed a complaint with the Supreme Court on 27 April. 16 The Special Rapporteur is
concerned about allegations of threats, made since February 2018, against local members of
the party to force them withdraw their names from the application.17
49. On 11 October 2017, the Social Christian Movement was refused registration for the
second time, again over issues regarding the application that could have easily been
C. Freedom of peaceful assembly
50. With the severe handling of the March 2017 demonstrations, the authorities renewed
their violent repression of peaceful public gatherings. Such an approach was again used, to
15 See https://belapan.by/archive/2018/02/13/942571/ (in Russian).
16 See http://bchd.info/14065-ministerstva-yustycyi-belarusi-admovila-u-registracyi-bhd.html (in
17 See http://spring96.org/en/news/89314.
varying degrees of intensity, in the context of other rallies, most recently during the
Freedom Day marches in March 2018.
51. As on previous similar occasions, the authorities conducted preventive detentions
among the suspected leaders of the protest movement, in an attempt to deter other potential
participants in rallies. Such detentions target political opponents of the Government in
particular. At rallies, law enforcement officials, sometimes in plain clothes, arrest
participants in a targeted manner but without legal grounds. The events surrounding the
Freedom Day march testify to this approach. On 21 March 2018, the police prevented at
least two persons from leaving their apartments on the grounds that they intended to
organize an unauthorized rally. On the day of the march, the police arrested several dozen
participants, in particular human rights defenders and staff of the respected Viasna Human
Rights Centre. The Special Rapporteur recalls that, in March 2017, the premises of the
Viasna Human Rights Centre was searched, and a number of the Centre’s staff members
were arrested and, in some cases, subjected to ill-treatment.
52. The procedure for obtaining authorization for holding a rally is as cumbersome and
prohibitive as that for obtaining registration for an association. The authorities may propose
alternative locations for demonstrations that would render the event meaningless, or put
forward petty grounds for refusing permission to hold a peaceful gathering. For instance, in
August 2017, two trade unionists planning to hold two pickets in support of their fellow
unionists accused of tax evasion could not hold one of them as scheduled in front of a
former stadium, as to do so, they would have needed a contract with the Department of
Utilities and the health-care service. Similarly to article 193-1 of the Criminal Code on
unregistered organizations, article 23-34 of the Administrative Offences Code provides for
up to 25 days’ imprisonment and heavy fines for anyone participating in, organizing or
covering an unauthorized public gathering. Administrative detentions can be accumulated
to exceed the maximum number of 25 days. For instance, as a consequence of his
participation in and coverage of the March 2017 protests, a video blogger based in Homiel
was sentenced four times, respectively to 13, 5, 7 and 7 days.
53. Activists who participated in protests organized by the Belarusian National Congress
in Minsk and other cities on 1 May 2017 were detained and heavily fined.
54. Although observers might have anticipated smoother handling of the right to
peaceful assemble following the holding of a session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly
in Minsk in early July 2017, in that same month, a Minsk court sentenced three individuals
to periods of administrative detention and heavily fined three others who participated in a
picket to protest against the “White Legion case”, which itself was dismissed by the
authorities at a later stage.
55. The months of August and September 2017 were a particularly difficult period for
persons wishing to exercise the freedom of peaceful assembly, with the administrative
courts severely punishing individuals daring to publicly disagree with State policies. For
example, one teenage girl received a warning from the local commission for juvenile affairs
on the basis of article 23-34 of the Administrative Code for having participated in an
unsanctioned demonstration. Activists who protested against the Zapad 2017 joint Belarus-
Russian Federation military exercises were detained and fined.18
56. The Special Rapporteur recalls that one-person pickets are treated as mass public
D. Situation of human rights defenders and civil society
57. Human rights defenders were one of the main targets of the violence perpetrated by
the authorities in the context of the March 2017 demonstrations. According to the local
department of the Investigative Committee, the repression was orchestrated by the State
Security Agency and implemented by top-ranking police officials.19 The Special Rapporteur
18 See http://spring96.org/en/news/87960.
19 See http://spring96.org/en/news/88849.
recalls that Viasna Human Rights Centre was targeted by the Government through a violent
raid, the arbitrary arrest and detention of a number of its members and the confiscation of
58. The aftermath of the March 2017 events was felt into the first quarter of 2018,
despite the authorities allegedly attempting to reach out to the human rights community
within Belarus, in particular with regard to the inter-agency plan on human rights. One of
the lawyers working for Viasna Human Rights Centre attempted to bring a criminal case
against police officials who allegedly beat him on 25 March 2017. His demand was rejected
by the local department of the Investigative Committee in August 2017, a decision
confirmed by the Minsk Prosecutor’s Office in March 2018.
59. A number of NGOs have reported that the Ministry for Foreign Affairs has
organized meetings to discuss the implementation of the inter-agency plan on the
implementation of universal periodic review recommendations, but that no such invitation
has arrived from other government agencies, justifying the criticism that the plan is meant
for promotion with foreign partners. Such gatherings, although perhaps acknowledging the
existence of human rights defenders, do not provide them with an opportunity to engage in
dialogue and discuss systemic issues. Throughout his tenure, the Special Rapporteur has
highlighted the absence of any channels of communication between the Government and
human rights defenders as being one of the main shortcomings regarding the human rights
record of Belarus, and as being a key reason for the lack of improvement of human rights
governance. The mere toleration of some human rights groups, such as Viasna Human
Rights Centre, which somehow manage to operate without accreditation, is also used to
pressure groups and the whole human rights movement within the country. Although the
authorities did not interfere in the holding of a one-off civil society forum, which took place
on 4 July 2017 on the margins of the session of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, they
refused to take part in or address it.
60. Human rights defenders continue to be intimidated. For instance, on 22 October
2017, a Viasna Human Rights Centre volunteer was searched and detained for some hours
as she was returning from a meeting in Vilnius. Another anti-discrimination activist based
in Ukraine was banned from entering Belarus in November. In August, four anti-death
penalty activists, who had been distributing leaflets in the streets of Minsk received
telephone calls from the police requesting them to explain their actions.
61. The harassment of human rights defenders took a new course after the March 2017
demonstrations. A number of lawyers defending human rights activists, including members
or supporters of Viasna Human Rights Centre, have been encountering hurdles in the
course of their work since then, with some of them receiving threats of criminal
prosecution. 20 In September 2017, the Ministry of Justice reportedly ordered the
extraordinary recertification of 25 lawyers belonging to the bar associations of Minsk and
Mogilev, which resulted in the revocation of the licences of two lawyers. About 60 lawyers
were also awaiting regular recertification.21 The Special Rapporteur recalls that the exercise
of the profession of lawyer in Belarus is strictly controlled by the authorities, who conduct
“recertification” exercises every five years.
62. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the return to Belarus of prominent human rights
lawyer Alena Tonkachova, a Russian national who has worked in Belarus for about 30
years and who directs the Legal Transformation Centre. She had been deported from
Belarus in 2015 for three years on trumped-up charges. Her repeated calls to be permitted
to re-enter Belarus during the period of her ban had been ignored by the authorities.
63. Administrative and police harassment is also directed towards trade unionists who
try to defend their rights. During the last two weeks of January 2018, as many as 200
representatives of the Belarusian Radio and Electronics Workers’ Union were questioned in
the context of the “Trade union case”, an allegedly fabricated tax evasion case that was
21 See https://defendlawyers.wordpress.com/2017/09/05/belarus-human-rights-activists-alarmed-over-
launched against the head of the Union, Henadz Fiadynich. In fact, the case centres around
money received from one of the Union’s European partners. The offices of the Union were
searched in August 2017.
64. The Special Rapporteur notes the recommendations made by the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination during its 2017 consideration of the combined
periodic reports of Belarus that Belarus consult and engage in dialogue with civil society
organizations concerned with human rights protection, in particular those working to
combat racial discrimination (CERD/C/BLR/CO/20-23). The Special Rapporteur hopes that
the above-mentioned recommendation will be taken up by the authorities.
E. Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or
65. In Belarus, ill-treatment amounting to torture is a systemic tool that serves the
overall oppressive legal framework. Domestic law still does not provide for a definition of
torture, despite repeated calls for action in that regard by human rights mechanisms,
including the Committee against Torture. The Special Rapporteur hopes that the
consideration of the fifth periodic report of Belarus by the Committee against Torture in
April and May 2018 will be instrumental in advancing official acknowledgement of the
issue and the much awaited legal and practical measures to prevent torture and ill-
treatments and repair their effects.
66. There were numerous reports of ill-treatment and violence, some of them possibly
amounting to torture, during State-guided repression of the 2017 rallies. A number of
victims of ill-treatment by the police submitted complaints. The Special Rapporteur recalls
that, in the absence of a definition of the crime of torture in the Criminal Code, individuals
can only resort to the provision dealing with abuse of authority contained therein.
67. According to reports received by the Special Rapporteur, the prosecutors’ offices in
Minsk and in other cities appeared to have looked into allegations of ill-treatment during
the rallies of March and May 2017. An emblematic case concerns Sirahei Tkachenka, who
was beaten by the police on 9 May. His request to launch a criminal investigation was
rejected. Subsequently, he appealed successfully to the local Prosecutor’s Office. The
Prosecutor decided that the investigation had been conducted in an unlawful manner, and
requested further information from the local department of the Investigative Committee.
Similarly, in the case of Aleh Bahdanau, the Minsk Prosecutor’s Office decided, in
December 2017, to overturn an earlier decision of the Investigative Committee to
discontinue a criminal investigation into the cause of Mr. Bahdanau’s death. However, that
approach does not appear to be uniformly applied: the Prosecutor’s Office of Piersamajski
District, Minsk, upheld the decision of the local department of the Investigative Committee
not to launch a criminal investigation into reports of ill-treatment by the police of Aliaksei
Loika, a Viasna Human Rights Centre lawyer. The Special Rapporteur hopes that the
Prosecutor’s Office will continue its attempts to carefully monitor all the activities and
decisions of all the departments of the Investigative Committee, the mandate of which is
extremely wide-reaching,22 and will support victims’ claims for justice, including those
emanating from human rights defenders.
68. A year after the March 2017 events, the Special Rapporteur received similar
allegations of random acts of violence and ill-treatment by police and prison officials in the
context of the March 2018 Freedom Day rallies. 23 In another case of uninvestigated
violence, a Belsat journalist was allegedly beaten by four police officers in February 2018
while covering local elections. In response to the pervasive nature of ill-treatment and to the
absence of State policies to tackle it, Viasna Human Rights Centre launched a social media
campaign to give visibility to the issue.
22 See A/72/493, para. 30.
23 See http://www.omct.org/human-rights-defenders/urgent-interventions/belarus/2018/03/d24793/.
69. The fact that, in Belarus, victims have no recognized right to ask for an examination
by an independent doctor or expert is caused by the reluctance of the State to acknowledge
that torture and ill-treatment may occur. The absence of a national preventive mechanism or
any other effective mechanism to monitor the conditions in places of deprivation of liberty
(pretrial and detention centres) and the lack of effective legal remedies for victims of acts of
ill-treatment or torture highlight the lack of will to seriously tackle what is a systemic issue.
The authorities pointed to the existence of a so-called monitoring mechanism: however, that
mechanism does not respect the basic principles set out by the Committee against Torture
(see CAT/OP/12/5), as it is under the full control of the Ministry of Justice, which decides
on its composition, and has a narrow mandate. Independent NGOs encounter regular
refusals when they apply for membership of the mechanism. The Special Rapporteur also
underlines that the recent decisions to revoke the licences of certain lawyers further affect
the already meagre channels of recourse for victims to complain about acts of ill-treatment
and torture by officials.
F. Arbitrary arrest and detention, political prisoners and enforced
70. At least 110 individuals were arbitrarily arrested and detained for various periods of
time prior to and during the rallies organized by civil society organizations to
commemorate the one-hundredth anniversary of the independence of Belarus on 25 March
2018. The authorities adopted their usual approach to persons wishing to peacefully
demonstrate: they intervened upstream by arresting organizers, influencers and participants
during and after the gatherings. Given the scale of the 2018 Freedom Day marches, the ratio
of arbitrary arrests and detentions equalled those of February and March 2017, during
which more than a thousand individuals were arrested, several of whom were jailed.
71. At least five journalists covering the rally in Yakub Kolas Square, Minsk, and six
members of Viasna Human Rights Centre, were arbitrarily arrested and detained. The rally
had been called for by a famous member of the political opposition and former candidate
for the presidency, Mikhalay Statkevich, who was arrested at his home on the eve of the
event and detained for 10 days.
72. Mr. Statkevich has regularly been the target of State harassment of political
opponents. The release of a number of political prisoners in the course of the past two
years, although without full rehabilitation, was compensated by the frequent arrest or
rearrest of others for short periods of time. A typical example is Belarusian Radio and
Electronics Workers’ Union accountant and local leader, Ihar Komlik, who was detained
during the period 5 August–2 October 2017 on the basis of trumped-up charges. Although
currently at liberty, Mr. Komlik and fellow trade unionist Mr. Fiadynich continue to face
charges, the deadline for the corresponding investigation having been extended to 1 May
2018. On April 27, Mr. Fiadynich was summoned to appear before the Investigative
Committee, and was informed that the size of the team investigating the “Trade union case”
had been increased from two to eight officials. From a technical point of view, the
investigation was supposed to end on May 1, but given the changes to the roster of the
investigative team, it is likely that the deadline for the case will be extended once again.24
73. At the time of completion of the present report, there were still two political
prisoners in Belarus, Dzimitry Paliyenka and Mikhail Zhamchuzhny. Amnesty International
declared Mr. Paliyenka, who suffers from asthma and is currently being denied appropriate
treatment, to be a prisoner of conscience on 22 August 2017.25 The Special Rapporteur
shares the concerns expressed by Belarusian human rights defenders regarding the
deteriorating situation of Mr. Zhamchuzhny, whose health and physical integrity are
affected by harassment by prison and judicial officials, and by inappropriate decisions, such
as punishing him for not dusting the table in his prison cell. Between August 2017 and the
24 See http://praca-by.info/all-news/item/5536-delo-profsoyuzov-sledstvennaya-gruppa-uvelichena-s-2-
do-8-chelove (in Russian).
25 See https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur49/6984/2017/en/.
time of completion of the present report, Mr. Zhamchuzhny received as many as 24
74. Fourteen individuals were arrested during the March 2017 events for having
allegedly created an illegal armed group (the White Legion case) and detained. By the end
of June 2017, on the eve of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session, all of those persons
had been released, although the charges against them had not been dropped. The criminal
case in their regard was closed on November 2017. Their appeals to the courts for
compensation for moral harm caused by their illegal pretrial detention were all rejected.
G. Death penalty
75. According to information available, two individuals were executed in Belarus in
2017 and another six are currently on death row. The family of Kiryl Kazachok was only
informed in March 2018 that he had been executed in October 2017, having been sentenced
in 2016.26 Siarhei Vostrykau was executed in April 2017, after spending 11 months on
death row. The Special Rapporteur joins members of the international community who
regularly condemn Belarus for conducting executions, when the authorities could so easily
adopt a moratorium on the practice or commute death sentences into life imprisonment.
76. Death sentences were most recently handed down in Belarus on 20 January 2018, by
Minsk City Court in the cases of Viachaslau Sukharka and Aliaksandr Zhylnikau. Those
decisions were the first death sentences to be issued by that court since at least 2009. Both
of those defendants had initially been sentenced to life imprisonment, but, following an
appeal to the Supreme Court, which had sent the case for retrial, Minsk City Court
sentenced them to death.
77. There are reports that the Belarusian parliamentary working group on the question of
the death penalty resumed its work in 2017. The Special Rapporteur is, however, unaware
of any concrete developments in that regard. Rumours that the President might hold a
referendum on the issue failed to materialize. In an interview with ONT TV, the Chair of
the Central Election Commission, Lidia Yermoshina, referring to the intentions of the
President, dismissed “speculation” about a referendum on constitutional changes in the near
future. The Chair noted that some aspects of the Constitution needed to be modernized, but
that, where outdated clauses did not interfere with the everyday functioning of society, it
was better to opt for stability and not initiate a constitutional referendum.27 The President
himself has shown no leadership on the matter, often referring to the public support the
death penalty allegedly enjoys in order to close down any positive development in that
78. The Special Rapporteur recalls that Belarus is the only country in Europe and the
only former Soviet republic to retain the death penalty. The overall judicial system and the
way in which executions are carried out paint a grim picture of the rule of law in Belarus,
and entail a number of violations of basic rights for those convicted and for their relatives.
The secrecy surrounding executions, and the fact that no details of executions or of places
of burial are given to the families also amount to torture,28 and contravene paragraph 7 (c)
of General Assembly resolution 71/187 on a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.
H. Local elections of February 2018
79. Local council elections to select 18,110 representatives in 1,309 oblasts, large cities
and villages were held as scheduled on 18 February 2018. As for previous polls, neither the
way in which they were conducted nor their results were transparent, and the authorities
committed a number of human rights violations in that regard.
26 See https://dp.spring96.org/en/news/89411.
27 See http://ont.by/news/our_news/lidiya-ermoshina-prezident-vnyos-polnyyu-yasnost-vo-vse-
razgovori-referendy (in Russian).
28 See, for example, Schedko v. Belarus, (CCPR/C/77/D/886/1999).
80. A month before the polls, the Chair of the Central Election Commission had
clarified that amendments to the Electoral Code could be made only once the Constitution
had been amended. 29 While the Government could have used that occasion to test
implementing at least some of the long-standing recommendations made by the OSCE
Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on the occasion of previous polls, the
authorities continued to intimidate candidates by, for instance, videotaping their meetings,
conducting defamation campaigns, manipulating lists to ensure the loyalty of candidates,
inflating turnout figures and violating media freedoms. Journalists and bloggers were
expelled from polling stations, sometimes violently,30 and two major news websites were
blocked before the elections (see section VI (A) above on media freedom). Members of the
political opposition are often refused registration as candidates on the basis of petty
grounds, such as small inaccuracies on the corresponding forms. However, some of the
appeals lodged against such decisions have been successful.31
81. Despite minor improvements in, for instance, the allocation of locations to hold
campaign events, the opposition, which, in September 2016, was permitted to send two
representatives to the otherwise entirely pro-government National Assembly, the February
local elections did not bring even partial concessions. According to the information
available to the Special Rapporteur, only one opposition candidate obtained a seat, in a
village council. The way in which the February 2018 elections were held should not only be
seen as a continuation of the abuse experienced at previous elections, but also as a rehearsal
for the nationwide mechanism used to thwart the right to free and fair elections, ahead of
the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2019 and 2020 respectively.
82. The Special Rapporteur was pleased to see that two independent groups, Human
Rights Defenders for Free Elections and Right to Choose 2018 (a coalition of opposition
parties), tried to exercise their right to observe the elections. Both groups reported on their
lack of access to the premises where vote counting was being carried out. The Right to
Choose 2018 media centre installed for the election was closed following pressure by the
State Security Agency on election day. Some of the members of Right to Choose 2018 and
other activists, who were filming and livestreaming events on social media, were jostled by
the entourages of the pro-government candidates: other activists were detained by the
police for several hours and one was sentenced to seven days in detention. The Special
Rapporteur welcomes the courage and efforts of those persons who attempted to livestream
the elections, a first in Belarus.
I. The rule of law and the independence of judges and lawyers
83. As demonstrated by the Special Rapporteur in his previous reports, there is virtually
no rule of law in Belarus, owing to the extent of the power of the executive branch over the
National Assembly, the judiciary and legal professionals. On 25 January 2018, for instance,
President Lukashenko met with the Chair of the Lower Chamber of the National Assembly
to discuss the Assembly’s potential, and to find out whether it contained promising
people.32 The only reported marginal progress, which, however, needs to be fully confirmed
with regard to facts and dates, is a number of requests by certain Prosecutor’s Offices to
further investigate allegations of police violence (see paragraph 67 above).
84. The latest developments in that regard concern the reprisals and intimidation carried
out by the authorities against independent lawyers who defend human rights activists,
especially those who were involved in the rallies of February and March 2017 and in the
“White Legion case”. The mere fact that the Minsk City bar association removed one of its
members, Hanna Bakhtsina, in absentia and without prior notice, on the basis of her lack of
29 See https://www.svaboda.org/a/28989238.html (in Belarusian).
30 See https://rsf.org/en/news/journalists-bloggers-barred-vote-count-belarus.
31 See https://spring96.org/files/misc/local_elections_2018_final_report_en.pdf.
32 See http://president.gov.by/en/news_en/view/meeting-with-chairman-of-house-of-representatives-
professional skills, and that 60 lawyers had to undergo a recertification process, testifies to
the denial of the right to be defended by a lawyer in Belarus.
85. The Special Rapporteur recalls that the authorities conducted a similar recertification
exercise in 2011 for legal counsels who were defending individuals accused of rioting
during the period of intense repression in the wake of the December 2010 presidential
election. The recent attempt to demand recertification, and to ban or threaten to ban lawyers
(by issuing conditional certification), is another feature of the cyclical oppression of human
rights in Belarus.
86. As during previous reporting cycles, the Special Rapporteur continued to receive
examples of disproportionate sentences and fines against those who had criticized the
official narrative. For instance, an activist who tried to display a banner on a statue of Lenin
in the city of Lida was held for two months without trial, and subsequently sentenced to one
year’s imprisonment in September 2017.
87. The Special Rapporteur notes that Belarus dropped by 11 places in the 2017
democracy index of The Economist, ranking 138th out of 167 countries.33
88. During its consideration of the Belarus combined periodic reports in late 2017, the
Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concerns about the
extent of the powers of the President over the judiciary (see CERD/C/BLR/CO/20-23, para.
J. Economic and social rights and conditions of work
89. Forced labour remains the most visible violation of economic and social rights in
Belarus. That practice has been denounced by the Committee on Economic, Social and
Cultural Rights and the International Labour Organization, which have made several
recommendations to eliminate it. Belarus still has to address the issue, both in its legislation
and its practices, notably with regard to subotniks (days of “voluntary” unpaid work) and
participation in activity therapy centres.
90. The obligation, for instance, to participate in harvesting on State-owned farms or in
street cleaning sessions, is regularly applied to factory workers, civil servants and
schoolchildren, and is disguised as strong encouragement by the authorities. The economy
of Belarus is centralized in nature, controlled by the President and his administration and
largely underperforming, allowing for the above-mentioned labour violation to be praised
as patriotic. Such practices are regularly monitored by the President himself, who, for
instance, publicly demanded that those responsible for bringing in the harvest in Gomel
oblast untimely in the second half of 2017 be punished. In November 2017, a Viasna
Human Rights Centre lawyer denounced the decision of the local executive committee of
Homiel to send teachers, students and employees to harvest flax: no measures were taken in
that regard. Similarly, attempts to launch an investigation against those who decided to send
schoolchildren to harvest potatoes in Maladziecna District in September 2016, during
which time 13-year-old Viktoryia Papachenia died when hit by a truck, were rejected by the
Prosecutor’s Office in December 2017.
91. The Special Rapporteur recalls that the large-scale demonstrations of February and
March 2017 were directed against presidential decree No. 3 of 2015, which provided for the
financial liability of any individual who had not worked for 183 days in a year. The
Government estimated the number of individuals concerned at approximately 470,000. The
decree in itself was a violation of economic and social rights, as it was intended to punish
anyone who refused to work for the almost entirely State-driven economy, therefore
increasing the unemployment rate and becoming a “social parasite” according to the
92. Faced with heavy internal and international criticism regarding presidential decree
No. 3 of 2015, the President suspended its implementation and asked the Government to
33 See https://www.eiu.com/topic/democracy-index.
prepare an alternative text. Hence, presidential decree No. 1 of 2018 on population
employment assistance measures was adopted on 21 January, allegedly to help citizens find
jobs and to encourage self-employment. However, in essence, the new decree is similar to
its precursor and states that all able-bodied unemployed citizens will have to pay for a
number of social and public services that are normally heavily subsidized by the State.
According to the Ministry of Labour, approximately 250,000 persons are targeted by the
new decree and may still be officially labelled as “antisocial”, a term that was previously
only used to designate alcoholics but that may be applied by local authorities to anyone
with an antisocial lifestyle. 34 Victims of such labelling may be sent to medical labour
camps. Encouragement to work actually takes the form of threats to cut social services for
those not employed under the rules of what is described as “legal employment”.
93. Despite several recommendations to adopt a specific anti-discrimination text, the
Belarusian legal framework continues to lack a comprehensive provision prohibiting
discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity,
language, political conviction or physical or mental disability. The Special Rapporteur
continues to receive information on cases of discrimination and regrets that victims have no
legal remedies at their disposal.
1. Racial discrimination
94. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination considered the
twentieth to twenty-third combined periodic reports of Belarus during its ninety-fourth
session, on 30 November and 1 December 2017. The positive developments the Committee
noted since its previous consideration of the eighteenth and nineteenth periodic reports of
Belarus in 2013 relate only to legal changes, including the ratification of treaties dealing
with trafficking in persons.
95. The Committee reiterated the concerns it had expressed during previous
considerations of periodic reports of Belarus, namely the continuing absence of a legal
definition of, and provisions prohibiting, racial discrimination. During its dialogue with the
Committee, the delegation of Belarus indicated that Belarus was examining the need to
introduce such legal provisions (see CERD/C/SR.2603, para. 8). The Special Rapporteur
recalls that examination of the need for legal changes is a recurrent feature of the action
plan on human rights, and notes that, in the case of racial discrimination, no progress
regarding such examination can be seen. The Committee also reminded Belarus of the need
to have in place comprehensive legislation criminalizing hate speech.
96. The Committee devoted a large part of its time to the situation of Roma, especially
regarding racial profiling by State agents, and the discrimination they face in employment,
particularly in the context of policies combating “social parasitism”.
97. In his previous reports, the Special Rapporteur described the entrenched
discrimination that women face in Belarus. Patriarchal stereotypes, amplified by State
policies and official positions and speeches, combined with the absence of specific
legislation on gender equality, have allowed little space for improvement. On the occasion
of Women’s Day 2018, President Lukashenko issued greetings to women, thanking them
for their wisdom, care of children and youth, energy and diligence, and for maintaining
comfort and harmony in the home. He added that their femininity and charm made others’
34 See https://finance.tut.by/news579832.html (in Russian).
lives more beautiful and exciting.35 Three days earlier, President Lukashenko had appointed
21 new high-level administrative staff members, with no women among them.36
98. The Special Rapporteur recalls that, during its consideration of the eighth periodic
report of Belarus in October 2016, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination
against Women reiterated most of the recommendations it had made five years earlier
(CEDAW/C/BLR/CO/7). The Special Rapporteur recalls that Sustainable Development
Goal 5 deals with gender equality and that, with the concluding observations of the
Committee (CEDAW/C/BLR/CO/8) and other relevant mechanisms, the Government of
Belarus has a full toolbox with which to achieve that Goal.
3. Persons with disabilities
99. Belarus was the last European country to sign the Convention on the Rights of
Persons with Disabilities, in 2015, ratifying it and its Optional Protocol in 2016. The initial
report of Belarus to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is due to be
submitted by 29 December 2018.
100. The Special Rapporteur hopes that the situation of the approximately 555,000
officially recorded individuals (about 6 per cent of the population) receiving a disability
pension will significantly improve. Such progress should not only translate into enhanced
financial support but also into better accessibility to their environment, to the labour market
and other fundamental aspects of daily life.
101. Specialized NGOs report that progress on an accessible environment, especially
regarding cultural and other facilities, has been slow or inadequate, but that there have been
good discussions on the creation of quotas for persons with disabilities in companies. The
Special Rapporteur commends NGO staff members and disability rights activists for their
efforts regarding visibility and their creativity when carrying out advocacy work, and hopes
that the Government will establish a dialogue with them.
4. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons
102. The authorities of Belarus continue to refuse to allow lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and intersex persons to exercise a number of rights. Same-sex relationships are
stigmatized and civil society organizations working on related issues repeatedly have their
requests for accreditation rejected. The inter-agency plan for human rights does not contain
any recommendation aimed at ending discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual,
transgender and intersex persons, thus failing to acknowledge what is a part of the reality of
103. Law No. 362-729 on the protection of children from information harmful to their
health and development, which was signed by the President in May 2016, entered into force
in July 2017. Under the law, any information (described in the text of the law as
“propaganda”) that could affect the institutions of the family and marriage is prohibited.
104. Over the past 10 years, the public space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and
intersex persons has shrunk sharply. Minsk previously hosted a gay pride march in the early
2000s, but no such gathering has taken place since 2010, owing to the absence of official
authorization, a factor that spreads fear among would-be organizers of such events.
V. Conclusions and recommendations
105. The findings for the period under review show no improvement of the human
rights situation in Belarus. The effects of the continuous application of an oppressive
regulatory and punitive framework were aggravated by recurring violent crackdowns
on those exercising the right to peaceful assembly, such as in February and March
35 See http://president.gov.by/en/news_en/view/womens-day-greetings-18257/.
36 See www.belarus.by/en/government/events/belarus-president-makes-new-
2017 and March 2018. New amendments to media laws threaten further harsh
restrictions to freedom of expression online.
106. On the occasion of his previous report to the Human Rights Council, the
current Special Rapporteur deplored the lack of any meaningful progress on systemic
human rights issues since the establishment of his mandate: issues which the High
Commissioner for Human Rights had previously highlighted in 2011. The
purposefully oppressive legal framework, the structural absence of the rule of law and
the blatant lack of consideration of the recommendations of human rights
mechanisms testify to the freezing of fundamental freedoms in Belarus. During his
period in office, the Special Rapporteur has demonstrated that the human rights
record of Belarus could easily be improved if there were to emerge, at the internal
level, political will to utilize the ready-to-use toolbox provided by the
recommendations of the human rights mechanisms, including the universal periodic
review, over more than 20 years.
107. As no tangible progress on systemic issues has been achieved, the Special
Rapporteur is of the view that there is no reason to discontinue the international
scrutiny of the human rights situation in Belarus, all the more so given that no
regional scrutiny is applicable owing to the exclusion of Belarus from membership of
the Council of Europe because of the retention in the Criminal Code of the death
penalty and its regular application.
108. While members of the international community have constantly reminded
Belarus of the need to comply with its international obligations, and to implement the
recommendations of the human rights mechanisms, the State party’s authorities do
not even acknowledge the existence of civil and political human rights issues. While
the State party’s authorities claim to have made progress on social rights, in fact, their
repressive handling of civil liberties also affects social and economic rights, as the
“social parasitism” policies show. The exercise of civil and political rights is described
as a threat to “social stability”, and their repression has been presented to some
partners as being necessary in order to avoid political instability amid geopolitical
tensions in the region.
109. The human rights record of Belarus, which has gradually worsened since 1996,
has shaped the lives of several generations of Belarusians. A 22-year-old in Belarus
has never experienced free and fair elections, does not know what the independence of
the judiciary and the separation of powers mean in reality, fears to publicly express
views that are critical of government policies, does not have free access to different
media or to a diverse culture, finds it normal to undertake forced labour at the
weekend and has grown up with patriarchal stereotypes about women and men. Amid
the continuing vilification of, and prohibitive restrictions on the work of human rights
defenders, political, cultural and environmental activists and independent journalists
in the country, the persistence of such actors must be praised, protected and
encouraged. The Special Rapporteur deems it vital for the situation of civil society
activists to continue to provide international support for them through the present
110. Attempts by Belarus to present alleged progress made regarding its human
rights record through, for instance, the cyclical release of political prisoners, the
granting of permission to two token opposition members to be present in the National
Assembly, or the adoption of an inter-agency plan on human rights without tackling
any of the persistent systemic issues, are contradicted by the daily reality faced by
citizens, who are obliged by the country’s laws to obtain specific official permission
for every instance of exercising their rights to peaceful assembly, to freedom of
association and to freedom of the media, and who are considered as criminals and can
be condemned to prison sentences under the above-mentioned laws because of their
decision to exercise their rights to political expression, to peacefully demonstrate, or to
participate in unregistered gatherings.
111. The Special Rapporteur has described in the present report the cyclical system
of oppression of human rights in Belarus. The State party’s authorities have
established a permanent state of intimidation through their oppressive laws and
policies, and regularly resort to large-scale violence by law enforcement officials. The
crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in March 2017 and in March 2018, the return
to administrative arrests of demonstrators after a brief period of simply fining them,
and to frequent short-term arrests of political opponents, are illustrative of the
cyclical nature of oppression.
112. The presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2020 and possibly
2019 present an opportunity for the authorities to allow Belarusian society the
breathing space that it deserves. In that regard, the focus of policies on key issues,
such as freedom of expression, including of the media, freedom of peaceful assembly,
freedom of association and political plurality, could be shifted. Given the persistent
lack of political will to take such action demonstrated by the incumbent
administration over the past few decades, the Special Rapporteur has limited hopes
that the State party’s authorities will seize the opportunity to start changing policies.
That is another reason why, in the Special Rapporteur’s view, international scrutiny
of and the provision of support regarding the human rights situation in Belarus
113. The Special Rapporteur regrets that the Government has refused to engage
with the mandate, and hopes that its attitude will change in the remaining few months
of his mandated period, or towards his successor in the mandate, which should be
renewed. The recommendations that he made in his previous reports remain valid.
114. In addition, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government:
(a) Release all political prisoners, and end the practice of imprisoning
individuals and political leaders who express dissenting views;
(b) Allow the existence of nationwide independent media, and end
harassment against journalists;
(c) Put an end to discriminatory social policies combating “social
(d) Repeal article 193-1 of the Criminal Code curtailing the freedoms of
peaceful assembly and of association;
(e) Create a simple notification system for associations, pickets and peaceful
assemblies, and put an end to the oppressive system of authorization and
(f) Involve civil society representatives, including human rights defenders,
in any dialogue on human rights issues; in that regard, use the domestic discussions on
the realization of the Sustainable Development Goals to start such a dialogue;
(g) Introduce a moratorium on executions, leading to the total abolition of
the death penalty;
(h) Put an end to discriminatory practices and narratives against women
and individuals belonging to minorities;
(i) Put an end to the oppression of cultural expressions addressing civil,
political and socioeconomic issues;
(j) Ensure the independence of the judiciary, and stop the harassment of
lawyers, including through the reaccreditation process;
(k) Revise the Electoral Code to include long-standing recommendations
from the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights;
(l) Address the systemic issues highlighted by the human rights mechanisms
by implementing their recommendations;
(m) Issue a standing invitation to all special procedures.