Belarus: Concerns over State's lack of cooperation with Committee
Human Rights Committees 124th session - October 2018
The 124th session of the Human Rights Committee in Geneva, Palais Wilson, 8 October 2018. Photo credit: CCPR-Centre
On 8 and 9 October 2018, the Human Rights Committee reviewed the Fifth Periodic Report of Belarus on its implementation of the ICCPR. In welcoming the official delegation, Sarah Cleveland, Committee-Vice Chairperson, made note of the 20-year delay in Belarus’ ICCPR reporting obligations. Permanent Representative of Belarus to the UN Office at Geneva, Yuri Ambrazevich, expressed Belarus’ commitment to international human rights treaties, regardless of the delay. Following this, he highlighted the positive steps the State had taken towards the improvement of human rights in Belarus, such as legislation that had been introduced, as well as the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The webcast is available here: part 1 and part 2.
"“We are struck by the fact that a huge amount of NGOs in Belarus are not legally registered”. "
Failure to cooperate with the Committee
The first issue raised of the day was Belarus’ failure to cooperate with the Committee, especially in the case of individual complaints, 39 cases of individual complaints are still pending, as Belarus has refused to cooperate with the Committee. The delegation stated that this is simply not true, and that they handed in over 90% of their cases on time.
Death penalty and interim measures
Although the Committee acknowledged its views as only ‘advisory’, its members emphasised the significance of it posing as an authoritive body for the covenant. They were also concerned about Belarus’ compliance with interim measures the Committee had requested, especially in cases of the death penalty. This posed as another key issue of the review: the Committee asked for updated statistics regarding the death penalty and how many of the 172 people that had been sentenced to death since 1997, had already been executed. A prominent and recent case is that of a Belarusian national that had been sentenced to death, yet it is unknown as to whether or not he has been executed till now, despite requests for interim measures.
Although Committee member, Christoff Heyns, repeatedly asked for information on the status of the executions, the delegation did not respond. He furthermore urged the State to move faster, stating that “it will take time to abolish the death penalty, but in mean time we urge you to implement interim measures requested by the Committee, as well as ensure that the right to appeal is guarenteed for all persons facing death penalty”. Belarus closed the dialogue regarding the death penalty at this stage by stating they will not ratify Optional Protocol 2 and asserting “although support for the death penalty has decreased since the national referendum held in 1996, more than 50% of Belarus is in favour of keeping the death penalty".
Freedom of expression, assembly and association
Another main concern of the Committee was that of freedom of expression, assembly and association in Belarus. Committee member Margo Waterval raised the issue of peaceful assembly by identifying some of the hefty restrictions imposed on the conduct of demonstrations, such as only organizing them outside of central areas rendering them ineffective.Yuval Shany, Chairperson of the Committee, reiterated this point, and added that the restrictions on freedom of association are problematic, “We are struck by the fact that a huge amount of NGOs in Belarus are not legally registered”.
The delegation reacted to this comment by saying they do not interfere in the establishment of NGOs and their activities, however they are committed to facilitating NGO registration including through electronic processes.
Racism, discrimination against the LGBT community, Roma people and women
Committee members also criticised the fact that there are no comprehensive anti-discrimination laws in Belarus, while racism, discrimination against the LGBT community, Roma people and women are significant problems. The Committee pointed out the statement made by president Alexander Lukashenkoin 2012, “it is better to be a dictator than gay” and asked the delegation to comment. The delegation maintained that there had been no reports issued regarding this matter.
Ilze Brands Kehris, Committee member, expressed her concerns regarding discrimination against women, such as gender-based violence. Brands Kehris asked the delegation what measures they planned on taking to put an end to it. The head of the delegation responded that Belarus had recently submitted its national report to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The delegation also stated that Belarus is a multi-ethnic state, with over 140 different ethnicities and that “the Roma community is fully integrated into society”, as well as the LGBT community, as “everyone throughout the country enjoy the same rights, including free education”.
In the closing statement of the session, the Committee members maintained that they do not constitute good faith on the State party’s part for it to refuse to cooperate with the Committee.
Recommendations of the Human Rights Committee
By 2 November 2020, the State party should provide information on the following recommendations from the Committee's Concluding Observations:
Views under the Optional Protocol and interim measures of protection
- Revisit its position with a view to fulfilling its obligations under the Optional Protocol
- Fully cooperate with the Committee in good faith in the consideration and examination of communications under the Optional Protocol
- Comply with requests for interim measures of protection
- Guarantee the right of victims to an effective remedy when there has been a violation of the Covenant, in accordance with article 2 (3) of the Covenant.
- Consider establishing a moratorium on executions and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant
- Commute all pending death sentences to imprisonment and increase efforts to change public perception about the necessity of maintaining the death penalty.
- Never impose the death penalty in violation of the Covenant, including in violation of fair trial guarantees, and provide for an effective right of appeal against death sentences
- Amend article 175 of the Penalties Enforcement Code with a view to bringing it in line with the State party’s obligations under article 7 of the Covenant
- Promptly and fully comply with the Views adopted by the Committee in the cases of Vasily Yuzepchuk, Pavel Selyun, Oleg Grishkovtsov, Andrei Burdyko, Vladislav Kovalev, Andrei Zhuk and Alexandr Grunov.
Freedom of peaceful assembly
- Revise laws, regulations and practices, including the Mass Events Act
- Ensure that any restrictions on the freedom of assembly comply with the strict requirements of article 21 of the Covenant.
- Investigate all cases of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials, arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful protesters and bring perpetrators to justice.