GENEVA (13 August 2020) – UN human rights experts* today strongly criticised Belarus for police violence against peaceful protesters and journalists and large scale detention following a controversial presidential election, and called on the international community to put pressure on Belarus to stop attacking its own citizens.
“We are outraged by the police violence towards peaceful protesters and journalists,” the UN experts said. “The security forces do not seem to seek dialogue with the protesters or allow them to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.” Video footage have also shown anti-riot police and men in plain clothes indiscriminately beating passers-by, including minors and voluntary paramedics.
Rather than seeking dialogue to end the post-election crisis, the experts said, “the authorities only seem interested in quickly dispersing the protests and arresting as many people as possible.” At least 6,700 people have been detained despite the fact that the demonstrations have largely been peaceful. The experts expressed concern that many of the detained have reportedly been beaten or otherwise mistreated during detention.
The response of the security forces to peaceful protests has been very harsh, with frequent use of excessive, unnecessary and indiscriminate force. Some 300 people have been injured, and two deaths have been reported. The actual toll might be higher, since the whereabouts of dozens of people apprehended by the police remain unknown.
The protests were sparked by credible reports of systematic irregularities and violations of international electoral standards which marred the presidential elections.
“Under no circumstances should anybody be physically harmed or criminally detained for peacefully taking part in a protest,” said the UN experts.
They also expressed alarm that freedom of expression has been vastly curtailed. At least 50 journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and activists have been detained and harassed in recent weeks, and several are facing criminal investigations for allegedly inciting public unrest. On the day of the election and in the following days Internet access was partially or entirely restricted throughout the country. Internet disruptions have put Belarusians in an information vacuum, while many social media and news websites were completely blocked. “The shutdown clearly has a political purpose: to suppress the right of people in Belarus to access information and to communicate at a time of rising protest. The measure is inherently disproportionate and incompatible with the freedom of expression”, said the experts.
Citizens of Belarus cannot fully exercise their right to directly and indirectly participate in political and public life if they cannot exercise other human rights, such as those to peaceful assembly and association, freedom of expression and opinion and the right to information, the experts said.
“The Government of Belarus has been impervious to all calls – including our own – to stop crackdowns on peaceful protesters,” they said.
“We call on the international community to strengthen pressure on the Government of Belarus to stop violently attacking its own citizens who are exercising their fundamental rights,” they said. “We call for full respect of human rights and for accountability for violence against protesters.”
*THE EXPERTS: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule is the Special Rapporteur on the right to peaceful assembly and association; Ms. Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Ms. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Ms. Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the freedom of opinion and expression, Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.