Belarus: new UN resolution highlights the country’s appalling human rights situation

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Belarus: new UN resolution highlights the country’s appalling human rights situation

Geneva – Minsk – Paris, 30 June 2016 — The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council reminded the international community of the appalling situation in Belarus today by adopting a resolution that raises a wide range of human rights violations committed in the country. By renewing the mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur — the only watchdog the international community has to follow developments in Belarus — the Council highlighted the need to continue monitoring the behavior of the Belarusian government.

“Today’s resolution is an important signal sent to President Lukashenko, in power since 22 years: irrespective of attempts to polish your reputation, you’ll remain under international scrutiny as long as you take no steps to guarantee the basic rights of your citizens”, said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

Today’s resolution was adopted with a large margin: while 15 states supported it, only 9 voted against, which shows widely-shared concerns with regard to the human rights situation in Belarus.[1] The resolution mentions a series of grave human rights violations for which the Belarusian government is responsible, including torture, enforced disappearances, forced labour, violations of freedoms of the media, expression and association, the arbitrary detention and harassment of human rights defenders, political opponents and journalists, and impunity for human rights violations and abuses. It also deplores the government’s lack of cooperation with UN and regional human rights mechanisms.

“The vote on Belarus was a test of the Human Rights Council’s resolve to push for progress at the national level”, said Ales Bialiatski, FIDH Vice-President and President of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”. “The ball is now in the government’s court. It should implement key recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur over the past years, which are a clear road map for human rights reform”, he added.

The Human Rights Council is the main UN body for the promotion and protection of human rights. It has the ability to appoint independent experts (“Special Rapporteurs”) in charge of monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in countries. The Human Rights Council is made up of 47 states, which serve for a three-year term. Belarus has been on the Council’s agenda since the violent repression of protests related to the 2010 presidential election.

Background:

To reveal the extent and gravity of the human rights violations that continue to be committed in Belarus and to call on Human Rights Council members to support the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate, in May 2016 FIDH launched a campaign entitled “Belarus: a dictatorship at the gates of the European Union”: www.fidh.org/en/region/europe-central-asia/belarus/act4belarus/en

Watch the campaign video at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rc9kBar82Qo

On its website, Act4Belarus also published 9 interviews of Belarusian activists who have witnessed a great deal, including: Alena Tonkacheva (Chairman of the Board of the Legal Transformation Center), Andrei Bastunets (Belarusian Association of Journalists), Raisa Mikhailouskaya (Belarusian Documentation Center), Valiantsin Stefanovic (Human Rights Center “Viasna”), Natalya Mankouskaya (Human Rights Center Identity), Inna Kulei (Solidarnost). All highlight preocuppying situations and rights that are systematically flouted: freedoms of the media and of expression, freedom of association, LGBTI rights, the right to life and the death penalty, political prisoners, etc.

[1]  – 23 states abstained (Algeria, Bangladesh, Botswana, Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Indonesia, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mongolia, Morocco, Namibia, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Togo, United Arab Emirates).

   – States that voted in favour of the resolution: Albania, Belgium, France, Germany, Latvia, Macedonia, Mexico, Netherlands, Panama, Paraguay, Portugal, Slovenia, South Korea, Switzerland, United Kingdom.

   – States that voted against the resolution: Bolivia, Burundi, China, Cuba, India, Nigeria, Russia, Venezuela, Vietnam.  

Observers report little political pluralism in formation of election commissions

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Observers report little political pluralism in formation of election commissions

Human rights defenders Valiantsin Stefanovich and Aleh Hulak
Observers of the Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections campaign have summed up one of the key stages of this year’s parliamentary election, which will significantly affect the final assessment of the vote. The experts analyzed the formation of election commissions taking into account the announced new approaches that were expected to be applied by local executive and administrative bodies.

Formation of territorial and district election commissions is the main mechanism of the electoral process, which significantly affects the defining characteristics of elections, including the level of freedom and their democratic nature.

The campaign’s report on the results of monitoring the formation of TECs and DECs highlights the general trends that can be traced at this stage of the election, and analyzes whether the new practices announced by the CEC have contributed to the political pluralism of the election process.

Speaking of the nomination of candidates to the commissions, the observers have noted a number of cases in which candidates from the United Civil Party and the Movement For Freedom were not considered at meetings where the commissions were formed, despite the fact that their applications on had been submitted within the established period.

“Some changes did happen, but the outcome of these procedures remained intact,” Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the campaign coordinator said.

It is also stressed that during the discussion of the characteristics of candidates advantage was given to representatives of pro-government political parties and public associations. It is emphasized that the lack of clear selection criteria results in the selective approach in the formation of election commissions. Thus, the experts have concluded that the CEC’s Decree No. 18, which, inter alia, proposed to discuss the business and political qualities of applicants, in practice did not contribute to greater political pluralism in the formation of TECs and DECs.

“The law should provide for certain guarantees that would allow all actors involved in the elections have their representatives in the elections commissions,” says election expert Valiantsin Stefanovich.

Citing statistics, the analysts say that the representation of political parties in TECs and DECs remains low (24.2% and 13.6%, respectively) as compared to the representatives of public associations (51% and 54.3%, respectively).

As before, the main administrators of the elections are representatives of the five largest pro-government associations — Belaya Rus, Belarusian Republican Youth Union, the Belarusian Women’s Union, the Belarusian Public Association of Veterans, and the Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions. The total percentage of their representatives in the composition of TECs and DECs is 40% and 42.3%, respectively.

The observers deplore the “traditionally low” representation of opposition parties — 31.2% of the nominated amount in TECs and 19.4% — in DECs.

See more details in the analytical Report on the formation of territorial and district election commissions prepared by the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”.

The campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” is a non-partisan initiative and does not intend to support political parties and politicians. The entire election process is assessed solely on the basis of the principles of free, democratic and transparent elections, which can enable the people of Belarus to fully exercise their constitutional right to participate in the government of the country.

Death row secrets. Part 3

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Death row secrets. Part 3

The topic of the death penalty is still a dark secret in Belarus. The public knows very little about the conditions of those held on death row. We only know that after the verdict they are for a while imprisoned in a jail in the center of Minsk. Therefore, human rights defenders are always trying to glean the necessary information. Representatives of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus” have gathered memories and testimonies of former prison staff and former inmates, their family members, part of which has been used to prepare this publication. For obvious reasons, these people asked not to disclose their names.

Skydiving without a parachute

Almost all the death convicts write to the President to ask for pardon, although having little hope that he will keep them alive. Today it is known that Aliaksandr Lukashenka has pardoned only one person sentenced to death.

What happens to the prisoner and his mind in a state of constant pressure in anticipation of execution?

According to the testimony of prison staff, many death convicts attempt to commit suicide. It was once said in an interview with the prison’s former head Aleh Alkayeu. He recalled a time when two persons sentenced to death were held in the same cell.

“Death is always terrible. Even a natural one. But when life is taken by other people, death becomes infinitely terrible. And never believe those who complain about a life sentence, saying that it would be better if he was shot. The right to voluntarily leave this life can never be taken from a human being. Even in prison, there are dozens of ways to commit suicide. But suicide is a rare case in prison. I remember only one case when two convicts hanged themselves in turn on one rope just a few days before the execution. Having calculated the frequency of sentry’s walks, which was about 8-10 minutes, one of them hanged himself. The other one had time to take him down, put the body on the bed and lay down himself. Then, after the guards had passed the cell, he climbed a chair and put his head into the loop, where he was later found.

People on death row are in a constant state of nervous tension. As noted by Aleh Alkayeu, it’s like skydiving without a parachute, where there is a slim chance of falling on a haystack. Naturally, during the execution the tension reaches the upper limits the human body can endure:

“It’s difficult to determine the level of madness, but inadequacy and prostration can be observed in almost each of them. The convicts tend to be humble and completely weak-willed. It is difficult to single out some individual traits. I remember only a few people who look more or less aware of what was going on before the execution.”

During his stay in jail, death convict Ryhor Yazepchuk lost his mind. According to the prison staff former prisoners, he was ‘lying on the floor, rolling from one corner of the cell to another and singing songs, but they did not try to calm him down.”

Vasil Yuzepchuk, Ryhor Yazepchuk’s distant relative, who was also sentenced to death, was illiterate. He was taught to write and read by another death convict Andrei Zhuk. The latter sent several letters to human rights defenders. Thanks to him, it became known that Yuzepchuk was with him in the same cell.

“Andrei Zhuk’s letters said that his cellmate Vasil Yuzepchuk, who was almost illiterate, tried to overcome the horror of death singing from time to time a line from the song “I’ll sit in a convertible and go away somewhere…”. Although you cannot go anywhere, you can just ‘depart under the sentence’.”

Eduard Lykau was characterized as a very impulsive person who used a lot of gesturing when talking to other people.

“Lykau was always saying something, waving his arms. Unlike him, his cellmate Sialiun was very quiet. He was the quietest and most peaceful prisoner ever. But from time to time, they had to take turns, then Sialiun got up and walked across the room, while Lykau was sitting. For convicts, smoking and walking are the only entertainment. They could also sit down and write a letter at a small table.”

Another death convict, Aliaksandr Hrunou, tried to cut himself, after his cellmates had been executed:

“There was an accident in Valadarka. All prisoners are allowed to shave, for that they are given disposable razors. A guard gave him a razor and did not watch him shave. And then he noticed that Hrunou began to dismantle the razor. And he could not react quickly, as he had to open the cell and prevent it. It took time to notify the prison head, and he had managed to take out the blade and was going to cut his hands and neck, but when the staff broke into the cell he threw the blade into the sink. Later they invited a plumber to take out the blade.”

Sometimes, testimonies by the prison staff are inconsistent, and it is rather difficult to establish the exact chronology, but here’s what witnesses told about the convicts held in the new cells.

“Sialiun and Lykau were shot at the same time. There was a time when Ryhor Yazepchuk was taken out, probably to be shot. Then the others were put in one-man cells. Yazepchuk was then in cell No. 102. Then Hrunou and Sialiun were put in cell No. 104. After Hrunou’s neighbors, Lykau and Sialiun, were gone, he tried to commit suicide.”

These three isolated cells on death row, which are now located in the new building, have several other cells adjacent to them. Next to the death convicts, there are several cells for those serving life sentences, as well as some dangerous criminals.

Human rights activist Andrei Bandarenka is one of the recent inmates of this building. Before he was transferred here, the cell window had been protected by a fine-meshed net, and a lock was installed in the small window in the door. All this was done in order to prevent Bandarenka’s contacts with other prisoners, as well as to increase psychological pressure on him.

Nearby is the cell that used to hold one of the key Belarusian criminal bosses Dzmitry Haleyeu.

 “I want them to shoot me”

Human rights defenders received a letter from death convict Pavel Sialiun, which was written during his detention in the Valadarka jail. This, as he was described, outwardly calm and quietest of all prisoners, wrote in two languages when awaiting execution. Below is a poem in Russian [with a word-for-word English translation], but he also sent several letters in Belarusian.

Я хочу, чтоб меня расстреляли,           

Чтобы пулю в затылок пустили.

Никогда вы, ублюдки, не знали,

Грязной лапой кого погубили.

Не осталось во мне человека.

Из-за вас превратился я в зверя,

В душегуба, убийцу и зека!

Это ваше взошло во мне семя.

Я своих палачей презираю,

Мне плевать на судью, прокурора.

Свысока я за тем всем взираю,

Что запишут в листы приговора.

Не меня посадили вы в клетку,

А свою обнищавшую совесть!

И на ней вы поставите метку,

Когда выстрелом кончите повесть!

I want them to shoot me,

To let a bullet in my head.

You bastards have never known

Who you’ve killed with your dirty paw.

There’s nothing of a human being in me anymore.

Because of you, I’ve turned into a beast,

A murderer, a killer and a prisoner!

It’s your seed that has sprouted in me.

I despise my executioners,

I spit on the judge and the prosecutor.

I look down on everything

To be written in the verdict sheets.

It’s not me you have put in a cage,

But your impoverished conscience!

And you are going to label it,

When a shot will finish the story!

At first glance, it seems that this is a poem by a man obsessed with hatred, as it is full of resentment and anger! But it is necessary to stop and think about this: why did he write this? Did he live outside society? Didn’t he live next to us? Pavel Sialiun, who was executed in the name of the state, is also part of our society, part of ourselves. Apparently, society should remember that.

This was also noted in a recent interview by the coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus” Andrei Paluda:

“You have to understand that people who have been sentenced to death are not aliens from another planet, but the citizens of our country who live next to us. And we always have to analyze why a man chose to commit a brutal crime. If you look at the portrait of a death convict, most often this is a person who has previously been convicted. This raises the question in our prison system. What do the people face in prisons, if they are released with even more violent behavior? In addition, the problem of alcoholism is very acute. Most murders are committed in Belarus while intoxicated. Sending Kulesh to death, the government fights crime in the society, on the one hand. But on the other hand, it pours alcohol, by allowing the sale of alcohol at night before the elections.”

One of the death convicts, Aliaksandr Hrunou, who briefly shared a cell with Pavel Sialiun, after shooting Selyun and Lykov was for a time transferred to cell No. 73 located on the second floor of so-called mental hospital [a building for persons convicted of minor crimes]. This happened after Hrunou’s sentence was overturned by the Supreme Court and case was sent back for revision. This was an unprecedented thing – a man walking out of death row. However, the death sentence was later confirmed. His cellmates say that he was always quiet, did not talk much, paid no interest to anything and always kept his things packed in a bag, as if he were always ready to go somewhere.

Valadarka still remembers the sensational case of the terrorist act in the Minsk subway, followed by the execution of two men, Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislav Kavaliou. It was initially reported that they were constantly held in the KGB jail, but as it became known later they were brought to Valadarka for a while, apparently to be executed here.

“Kanavalau and Kavaliou were in Valadarka for one day. They were brought here just for an hour. Some of the jail staff still believe that the executed men were innocent.”

The topic of the death penalty remains relevant in the Belarusian society. Information on executions is still classified. Family members do not know the time or the place of convicts’ burial and cannot visit their graves. On the other hand, the relatives of the victims of criminals who often ask for the death penalty for the murderers of their loved ones do not receive adequate psychological assistance from the state, and their desire for revenge does not help to overcome the severity of the loss.

Belarus continues to use its Soviet legacy – the death penalty. Given the country’s attempts to improve relations with Europe, executions at the heart of the continent look more than absurd today.

Death row secrets. Part 1

Death row secrets. Part 2

Ales Bialiatski: government opposes any human rights activity

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Ales Bialiatski: government opposes any human rights activity

Ales Bialiatski. Photo: TUT.by
The government of Belarus continues to ignore human rights issues, Ales Bialiatski said in his comment on a recent decision by the Mahilioŭ authorities to deny registration to a local Center For Gender Studies Ruža.

According to the NGO’s head, Alena Barysava, the ban referred to absence of gender discrimination in the country, as “gender equality is guaranteed by the Constitution of Belarus”. Therefore, equality is secured by authorized government bodies, while eradicating discrimination is allegedly beyond the NGO’s competence.

Commenting on the statement of the absence of gender discrimination in Belarus, Ales Bialiatski cited a striking episode from the Soviet time, when a Russian lady said there was “no sex in the Soviet Union” during a US-Soviet TV Bridge in 1986.

“It’s just the same thing: Mahilioŭ officials say that there is no gender discrimination in our country. In fact, it can be only claimed by people who do not want to be realistic about the life that we live, these people are insincere and hypocrites. It is obvious that the problem of gender discrimination is relevant for Belarus. It is all over the world. Sometimes it is hidden, camouflaged, but often open,” Viasna leader said.

Ales Bialiatski says the ban is a “manifestation of the nervous reaction to the citizens’ wish to register a human rights organization”.

“No new human rights organizations have been registered for a long time already, and the current ban is yet another example after the case of the national association Pact two years ago and an attempt to close the Mahilioŭ Human Rights Center last year,” says the human rights defender. “It’s the stubborn unwillingness of the authorities to face the problems of human rights in Belarus, both political and social ones, and the desire to control, to filter all manifestations of public life.”

Viasna head emphasizes that the declaration of freedoms in the Constitution does not guarantee the full exercise of these freedoms in real life.

“It is the mission of human rights organizations to enforce the rights and freedoms prescribed by the Constitution and international agreements. Paradoxically, such a decision itself violates the Constitution: formally advocating constitutional rights, they are actually breaking the law,” says he.

Summing up, Ales Bialiatski says: “The authorities are afraid of human rights defenders and any forms of their activity, therefore they refuse to register new human rights organizations. Meanwhile, this is a gross violation of the Belarusian legislation and the international obligations of Belarus.”

Human rights defenders insist on independent analysis in Eduard Palchys case

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Human rights defenders insist on independent analysis in Eduard Palchys case

Valiantsin Stefanovich. Photo: belapan.com
Viasna activists do not rule out a political motive in the persecution of critical blogger Eduard Palchys, but stress that an unbiased examination of his texts should be carried out, Valiantsin Stefanovich said in his comment for naviny.by.

Little is yet known about the case of Eduard Palchys, nicknamed Jhon Silver at the 1863x.com website. His relatives are reluctant to contact reporters and to disclose any details, while the investigating authorities confine themselves to uncluttered messages. Some politicians and opposition activists were quick to say that the charges were politically motivated, since Palchys’ publications defended the independence of the country. However, human rights activists are in no hurry to give a clear assessment of the case unless more details are disclosed. At the same time, they quickly responded to a ban on access to a lawyer, naviny.by said.

Valiantsin Stefanovich of the Human Rights Center Viasna, who has been monitoring the blogger’s case, says that the right to legal protection is guaranteed to all Belarusian citizens by Article 62 of the Constitution and the Code of Criminal Procedure.

“A citizen has the right to be protected from the moment of detention,” Stefanovich said. “This includes, in particular, the possibility of unhindered and confidential meetings with a lawyer, unlimited in frequency and duration. The right to protection is one of the basic procedural safeguards.”

Stefanovich stressed that, according to Palchys’ former lawyer, she was not allowed to see her client for quite a long time, which violated his rights.

“That’s why we made a statement, as we had repeatedly witnessed such violations before,” the human rights activist said.

At the same time, Viasna’s representative does not rule out political grounds for the persecution of the critical blogger.

“But in order to draw conclusions, we have to analyze those texts, which, according to the investigation, incited hatred, and to obtain information concerning the publication of pornography on the website,” Stefanovich said. “We assume that an examination may have groundlessly found elements of hate speech in Palchys’ texts.”

Stefanovich said that it is essential to examine the posts by experts, for example, from the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

“It is not until then that we can draw conclusions about the nature of Palchys’ persecution: either for expressing his opinion or for inciting hatred (hate speech),” the human rights activist said. “Hate crimes should not be tolerated by the state.”

Eduard Palchys was detained on the territory of the Russian Federation in late Janury. He was then arrested and extradited to Belarus. He is facing charges under Part 1, Art. 130 (“incitement to racial, national or religious enmity or discord”), and Part 2, Art. 343 (“dissemination of pornographic materials”) of the Criminal Code.

Amnesty International calls to annul preventive supervision imposed on Pavel Vinahradau

MIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English – Press Release/Statement

Headline: Amnesty International calls to annul preventive supervision imposed on Pavel Vinahradau

Pavel Vinahradau. Photo: 34mag.net
Amnesty International has condemned the arbitrary penalty against Pavel Vinahradau, who was sentenced to six months of “preventive supervision” on 7 June 2016, on the basis of his participation in peaceful, but unauthorized protests. Amnesty International calls on the Belarusian authorities to ensure that these measures are lifted.

The conditions of the “preventive supervision” to which Vinahradau was sentenced, include:

– He may not leave his home between 7pm and 7am, except for work.

– He must register with the authorities four times a month

– He may not leave the city of Minsk without the permission of the authorities.

Most worryingly, any violation of these rules can lead to imprisonment. These measures amount to an arbitrary restriction on Vinahradau’s rights to liberty and liberty of movement.

This punishment was imposed on the basis that Vinahradau has been convicted of administrative offenses four times in one year. Each of these convictions were for participation in peaceful, but unauthorized protests. Vinahradau believes that the six-month length of his supervision is designed to prevent him in participating in public events around the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for September of this year.

The right to peaceful assembly is guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Belarus is a state party. It is contrary to international law and standards to require authorization for peaceful assemblies, or to dissolve peaceful assemblies or subject participants to administrative or criminal sanctions for participating in peaceful assemblies without authorization. As the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, has stated “the exercise of fundamental freedoms should not be subject to previous authorization by the authorities.”

Vinahradau is an activist with the youth political movement Zmena (Change). He has faced numerous arrests and detentions, mostly for exercising his right to peaceful assembly. Among these, he was sentenced to two years of house arrest in 2008 for his participation in a peaceful protests against tax and employment regulations for small businesses. At the time, Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience and called for the sentence to be lifted.

He was also arrested following the protests against the presidential election results in December 2010, and sentenced to 4 years of imprisonment (he was pardoned in September 2011).

Vinahradau spent a total of 66 days in detention between 30 December 2011 and 12 December 2012 on eight separate administrative convictions, all for minor hooliganism or violation of the order for public meetings and pickets. For instance on 30 December 2011 he was called into the Moscow District police station in Minsk for an “educational preventative talk”, at the end of which he was sentenced by a judge under the administrative code to seven days for swearing. He spent the New Year holiday in detention. On 2 March 2012 he was sentenced to seven days for swearing, and on 25 April five days for swearing. On 7 September 2012, police detained him near his home and took him to the Moscow District police station in Minsk, where they accused him of swearing in public. He was subsequently sentenced to five days’ detention. In all cases the witnesses to his swearing in public were police officers.

Amnesty International calls on the Belarusian authorities to annul the “preventive supervision” imposed on Pavel Vinahradau, which is unlawful since it is based on his legitimate exercise of his right to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Uladzimir Labkovich: Yarmoshyna’s words a political statement

imageMIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English –

Headline: Uladzimir Labkovich: Yarmoshyna’s words a political statement

There will be no transparent counting of votes during this year’s parliamentary elections, said Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the Central Election Commission. The statement reflects the authorities’ current approach to the administration of elections, says Uladzimir Labkovich of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign.

“The commissions will not display each ballot when counting. To do this, we need to amend the law, because the counting procedure is described there,” said Ms. Yarmoshyna in response to a question of the BelaPAN news agency at a briefing on June 23. However, she argues that the CEC has implemented the OSCE ODIHR’s recommendation to allow the observers to see the vote count.

“Clear and transparent procedures for counting should be established and strictly implemented. Consideration should be given to announcing and displaying the choice on each ballot. The tallying of results and completion of results protocols should be conducted in an open manner that provides for meaningful observation,” said one of the ODIHR’s key recommendations following the 2015 presidential election.

“It was our common demand, both by ODIHR and our campaign, as well as by the opposition political parties, so that each ballot could be displayed and that not only the observers, but also members of the commission could know voting results at the polling station. Since the procedure that we have at the moment is not transparent even for to the members of the commission, because each commissioner counts his or her little pack of ballots and should therefore trust the results of counting by their colleagues. Most importantly, this procedure does not provide for error correction,” says Uladzimir Labkovich.

In early March 2016, Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections sent their proposals on the implementation of the ODIHR recommendations. Speaking of the above recommendation, the experts suggested the following way of its implementation: “It is possible to settle the issue in the guidelines for the members of election commissions approved by a resolution of the Central Election Commission. We believe that the establishment of a clear vote counting procedure with the ballots being counted by only one member of the election commission and the choice on each ballot being announced and displayed to the observers, so that each of those present at the counting of votes (including the PEC members and observers) could see the mark made by the voter, would be a major step towards greater transparency and reliability of the counting of votes.”

What has the CEC actually done to implement the recommendations of both national and international observers?

“The CEC has amended its decision by adding a wording saying that when at the polling station the observers should not be placed behind, but in front of the tables for vote counting,” says the human rights activist, calling the move “an attempt to manipulate the term of transparent vote count”. “Because it does not matter where the observer is — on the table, under the table or at the table. What matters is whether he or she can see the choice of the citizen on each ballot. After all, with the procedure that we have now an observer can be put on the table, but he will still be unable to see each ballot. Of course, we believe that the recommendations of both national and international observers have not been fully implemented.”

Obviously, this is the position of the current government — to prevent a transparent vote count, concludes Labkovich.

He says it is interesting to trace the evolution of Ms. Yarmoshyna’s replies to the question about her statement that the display of each ballot is “not consistent with the law”.

“Initially, when our campaign (during the last presidential election) wrote to the Central Election Commission with a proposal to regulate the procedure of vote counting, Ms. Yarmoshyna answered that they could not resolve this, since it was the competence of election commissions and each commission reportedly was free to decide how to count votes. Now she has decided to strengthen the fragile wording and refers to the fact that it allegedly runs counter to Article 55 of the Electoral Code. But if we read this article, we will see that it provides for the steps of the commission during the vote count at the polling station (for example, that the first step is opening the box for early voting, then the boxes for home voting and then the ballot boxes located at the polling station on Election Day). However, this article does not regulate the procedure for counting the votes, but says that the calculation is carried out solely by the members of the commission. And we do not object this. Therefore, this statement by Yarmoshyna is not juridical, but a political one. And, on the basis of it, we can already state the sad truth: the independent observers, and, I believe, the international ones, too, will have great distrust of the election results, which we will hear on September 11.”

At the same time, the human rights activist stresses that Belarus is virtually the only country in the region, which still  practices the secret ‘special operation’ of the counting of votes, as both the Russian legislation and the legislation of other countries of the Eastern Partnership provide for “sane and transparent procedures”.

Human Rights Defenders For Free Elections

© Multimedia Investments Ltd Terms of Use/Disclaimer.

The death penalty: Belarus still outside global trend

imageMIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English –

Headline: The death penalty: Belarus still outside global trend

Valiantsin Stefanovich at the pavillion of the Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus campaign during the 6th World Congress in Oslo
Human rights activist Valiantsin Stefanovich, who, along with his colleagues, is taking part in the 6th World Congress against the Death Penalty in Oslo, describes the major trends discussed at the global forum.

According to Valiantsin Stefanovich, the recent changes in the situation of the death penalty around the world were addressed by Stavros Lambrinidis, EU’s Special Representative for Human Rights, in his speech at the opening ceremony of the Congress:

“He said a very important thing: the time has passed when we asked you why you declared a moratorium on the death penalty; the time has come for us to ask you why you have not done so. Since, today the countries using the death penalty remain in a minority. Most countries in the world have either abolished the death penalty or introduced a moratorium, or abandoned it in practice.”

“At the opening of the Congress, the floor was given to representatives of the Foreign Ministries and the Ministries of Justice of the states, whcih ave introduced a moratorium on the death penalty or abolished it this year. It was very interesting to listen to the representatives of various countries, who have joined the global trend,” said Stefanovich.

In addition, the delegates of the forum watched Pope Francis’ video address, which once again called on all countries to join the global work for the abolition of the death penalty.

On June 22, there was a discussion on Belarus, which was arranged by representatives of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Norwegian Helsinki Committee. In his speech at the side-event, Valiantsin Stefanovich emphasized the fact that the official Minsk has recently sought to its improve relations with the West, and this may affect the solution to the problem of the death penalty in our country. “It is possible that these steps will lead to abolishing the death penalty. Or, at least, contribute to the introduction of a moratorium,” he said.

Viasna’s representative says the event was a success. “The discussion caused some interest, there were a lot of people. An effective argument was the presentation of the English-language version of the documentary book The Death Penalty in Belarus, which was presented by one of its authors, Palina Stsepanenka.

The discussion was also contributed by Liubou Kavaliova, mother of Uladzislau Kavaliou, a young man executed under charges of terrorism; Andrei Paluda, head of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against Death Penalty in Belarus”; Florence Bellivier, FIDH Deputy Secretary General; and NHC’s Secretary General Bjørn Engesland.

On June 23, the Belarusian human rights activists have taken part thematic events, and in the evening, together with other delegations, they will join a global march against the death penalty, which will start at Oslo’s City Hall building and pass through the central streets of the Norwegian capital.

© Multimedia Investments Ltd Terms of Use/Disclaimer.

Activist forcibly held by police without charge

imageMIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English –

Headline: Activist forcibly held by police without charge

A civil rights activist, Tamara Siarhei, says she was forcibly taken to a police station without being charged in order to prevent her from attending a protest rally in Minsk, RFE/RL said.

Siarhei told RFE/RL by telephone while in police custody on June 23 that several plainclothes police detained her in the morning near her home as she tried to travel to a pensioners’ rally against “lawlessness in Belarus courts.”

Siarhei said the men forced her into a police car and brought her to a police station.

She said they explained that she was detained as a result of a lawsuit she filed in May against the chief of the Minsk City Police, Aliaksandr Barsukou.

Siarhei was still being held by police hours after being detained.

She said her detention was illegal because it violated her right to free movement.

© Multimedia Investments Ltd Terms of Use/Disclaimer.

Freelance journalists appeal violent detention in Lojeŭ

imageMIL OSI – Source: Viasna Belarus Human Rights Center in English –

Headline: Freelance journalists appeal violent detention in Lojeŭ

Freelance journalists Kanstantsin Zhukouski and Aliaksei Atroshchankau, who were detained on June 21 in the town of Lojeŭ, Homieĺ region, have written to the Investigation Committee asking the authorities to investigate their brutal detention by the police officers. The reporters say they were beaten after the arrest.

According to Zhukouski and Atroshchankau, they spent more than five hours in the police department, where they were forced to lie on the floor and threatened with violence. They also say that the police officers put their feet on the journalists’ heads and twisted their hands. A video camera was damaged during the detention. As a result, the journalists were released without charges.

The reporters were detained when shooting a story about the problems of a local brick factory.

© Multimedia Investments Ltd Terms of Use/Disclaimer.