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BELARUS

THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS


BRUSSELS 25-26 FEBRUARY 2019

ADVOCACY TOUR ORGANISED BY:

THE INTERNATIONAL FEDERATION FOR HUMAN RIGHTS - FIDH


with
HUMAN RIGHTS CENTRE ‘VIASNA’
and
THE BELARUSSIAN ASSOCIATION OF JOURNALISTS - BAJ

FIDH delegation to the EU - 11, rue de la Linière - B-1060 Brussels - Belgium + 32 2 609 44 23 - Twitter : fidh_eu
Julija Narkeviciute
Julija is a graduate from Sciences Po Paris. She has worked for Lithuanian, American and
French non-profit organisations prior to joining FIDH in 2015. East European countries
being the focus of her expertise, Julija has worked a lot in the sphere of supporting civil
society and human rights organisations in these countries and particularly in Belarus. She
is the author of several publications and human rights reports.
The International Federation for Human Rights. FIDH is an international human rights NGO federating 184
organisations from 112 countries. Since 1922, FIDH has been defending all civil, political, economic, social
and cultural rights as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For FIDH, transforming societies
relies on the work of local actors. Therefore, FIDH’s activities aim to reinforce their capacities and their
influence. It acts at national, regional and international levels in support of its member and partner
organisations to address human rights abuses and consolidate democratic processes. Its work is directed at
States and those in power, such as armed opposition groups and multinational corporations. Its primary
beneficiaries are national human rights organisations who are members of FIDH, and through them, the
victims of human rights violations. FIDH also cooperates with other local partner organisations and actors of
change.
Valiantsin Stefanovich
Valiantsin has been a member of Human Rights Centre “Viasna” in Belarus since 1998.
From 2011-2014, when the President of HRC "Viasna" and Vice-President of the FIDH,
Ales Bialiatski, was arbitrarily imprisoned, Valiantsin took over the management of the
organisation. Lawyer by profession, Valiantsin is an expert on freedom of expression,
assembly and association. He covers all aspects of the human rights situation in the
country and represents HRC "Viasna" at international fora and platforms.
Human Rights Center "Viasna" is a non-governmental human rights organisation, created in 1996 during mass
protest actions of the democratic opposition in Belarus. Viasna was initially a group created to help the
arrested rally participants and their families. That’s why originally Viasna had the name “Viasna-96”. On 15
June 1999 the organisation was registered as the Human Rights Center "Viasna". It is a national NGO with
the central office in Minsk and regional organisations in the majority of Belarusian cities. Viasna has about
200 members all over the country. The organisation is managed by the Council and chair of the Council,
elected by the General Congress. On 28 October 2003 the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus
groundlessly cancelled Viasna’s registration for its participation in the observation of the presidential
election in 2001. On 6 March 2004, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" became member of the International
Federation for Human Rights (FIDH). The main goal of Viasna is to contribute to development of the civic
society in Belarus, based on respect to human rights, described in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
and the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus.
Aleh Aheyev
Aleh is Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Association of Journalists and was attorney-
at-law until 2011 when he was disbarred by decision of the Ministry of Justice of Belarus.
The decision by the executive branch to disbar a lawyer is itself a violation of the
international standards of the independence of lawyers. The genuine reason for his
disbarment was his work in defending the presidential candidate Ales Mikhalevich who
was charged with organising mass riots after challenging the results of the 2010
presidential election. Aleh Aheyev was one of the six legal representatives of 2010 presidential candidates
FIDH delegation to the EU - 11, rue de la Linière - B-1060 Brussels - Belgium + 32 2 609 44 23 - Twitter : fidh_eu
and protesters to lose his licence to practice law as a result of a massive crackdown on 2010 protests. In
addition, in spring 2011, a criminal investigation was opened at the initiative of the KGB against Aleh Aheyev
and Tatiana Aheyeva, Aleh's mother, who was also disbarred in 2011 by the Ministry of Justice decision. Both
were charged with Article 380, Part 2 of the Criminal Code ("falsification of documents"). The investigation
concerned alleged violations of the procedure for concluding contracts for the provision of legal services.
The opening of an investigation into a private agreement between a client and a lawyer is against the
confidentiality principle recognised by the Havana Principles and was clearly an attempt by the authorities
to obtain confidential information on the client of the lawyer concerned. In 2012, Tatiana Aheyeva was
acquitted while Aleh Aheyev was sentenced to a fine.

The Belarussian Association of Journalists. BAJ is a non-governmental, non-profit and non-partisan association
of media workers, promoting freedom of expression and independent journalism ideas in Belarus. The main
goal of BAJ is to facilitate the exercise of civil, social, cultural, economic and professional rights and the
pursuit of legitimate interests of its members, help to develop expertise and get a chance for creative self-
fulfilment, as well as to create conditions that enable freedom of the press, including the journalists right
to obtain and impart information without any interference.

An overview of the human rights situation

2019 marks the completion of the National Human Rights Plan adopted by Belarus to foster the
implementation of recommendations received during the 2015 Universal Periodic Review. Though
international and local human rights organisations welcomed the adoption of the Plan, the human rights
situation in the country has not effectively evolved. Belarus remains the only European country to use the
death penalty.
In 2018, civil society activists, lawyers, rights groups, and independent media faced constant harassment
amid new restrictions on internet freedoms. According to the Belarusian Association of Journalists (BAJ),
between January and August 2018, authorities arbitrarily detained 29 journalists, including while covering
Freedom Day protests. According to the Reporters Without Borders, harassment of journalists breaks all
records in Belarus. Foreign journalists can now enter Belarus without a visa, however they must be further
accredited to attend a wide range of events organised by political parties, NGOs and governmental
institutions. The accreditation institute is often used in practice to restrict the access of journalists to events.
In May 2018, the Belarusian Council of Ministers submitted a draft law to repeal Article 193.1 of the criminal
code, which criminalises participation in the activities of unregistered organisations, and to replace criminal
liability for that offence with an administrative fine of up to 1,225 Belarusian roubles (US$600). On December
20, 2018, the Parliament adopted amendments to the Criminal Code that exclude Article 193.1. The
amendments still need to be approved in the Council of the Republic and signed by the President. Taking
into account that since the release of political prisoners in 2015, the authorities in Belarus mostly use fines
and administrative arrest to silence dissent, there is a possibility of a surge of fines against activists of non-
registered NGOs.
Authorities continue to harass lawyers working on politicised cases by using a wide range of powers. Indeed,
legislation that establishes the executive's control over lawyers and bar associations enables the Ministry of
Justice to silence or intimidate lawyers who dare take on politically motivated cases.
The government’s policy of intimidating trade unions continues unabated.

FIDH delegation to the EU - 11, rue de la Linière - B-1060 Brussels - Belgium + 32 2 609 44 23 - Twitter : fidh_eu
FIDH calls on the EU and member states to:

 More actively include local independent human rights organisations into the EU-Belarus Human
Rights dialogue by communicating to them the goals of the dialogue, clarifying the procedure of its
agenda setting, allowing them to contribute to the agenda and sharing with them the results of the
dialogue with the authorities;
 More actively include local independent human rights organisations into projects funded by the EU
aimed at improving the human rights situation in Belarus;
 Support the work of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Situation in Belarus,
including by supporting the extension of its mandate until Belarus shows willingness to cooperate
and to implement reforms that would prevent mass violations that formed the basis for the creation
of the mandate;
 Continue to consistently and strongly condemn death sentences and executions; reassert on every
possible occasion that the EU considers a moratorium on the death penalty as one of the major
tangible steps needed for any substantial development in the bilateral relation;
 Pending a moratorium or abolition of the death penalty, call on the President to pardon death
convicts and commute death penalty verdicts;
 Follow-up on each case of execution and ask the authorities to provide reports on the judicial process
that led to the death sentence, on the conditions of detention on death row, and on the
circumstances surrounding the execution, in order to put an end to the systematic state policy of
keeping information about the death penalty secret;
 Draw attention to the issue of detention conditions within the framework of the dialogue with the
Government of Belarus on various levels; deliver a demarche addressed to the Government of
Belarus on the basis of the EU Guidelines against Torture and other Forms of Cruel and Degrading
Treatment;
 Provide technical support to the Belarusian government with an aim to:
 Reform the Criminal Code, the Code of Administrative Offences, the Law on Bar, the Law on Mass
Events, the Law on Mass Media, the Law on NGOs and other laws that regulate the work of civil
society organisations and are used to repress dissenting voices;
 Reform the judicial system to guarantee its complete independence and to guarantee the right
to fair court proceedings, the presumption of innocence, and protection mechanisms to prevent
confessions made under torture; Reform the penitentiary system to eliminate inhuman and
degrading treatment of prisoners, particularly those on death row;
 Support public debate on the question of abolishing the death penalty and involve international
experts and all actors of Belarusian civil society regardless of their legal status.

FIDH delegation to the EU - 11, rue de la Linière - B-1060 Brussels - Belgium + 32 2 609 44 23 - Twitter : fidh_eu