Encouraging frankness in Belarus

News - 2017-07-25
Recently a unique meeting took place in Minsk, Belarus. Political opposition and civil society representatives were given an opportunity to discuss the human rights’ situation in Belarus with their government.
OSCE meeting in Belarus.
Some of the participants are periodically in prisons and others are not allowed to enter the country. Photo: OSCE PA

This opportunity was made possible by Kent Härstedt, Forum Syd’s Chairman as well as Deputy Chairman of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). The meeting was a side event to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly.

A rare guest in the country, UN special rapporteur on Belarus Miklos Haraszti opened the debate. His mandate is not recognized by the Belarussian government and he is therefore denied entry to the country in that capacity. Haraszti expressed several concerns for Belarus; the monopolized state controlled TV broadcasting, the limitations of opposition in parliament, the use of death penalty and the arbitrary registration process of non-governmental organizations

An update of the situation of freedom of speech was given by Andrei Bastunets, Chairman of the Belarusian Associations of Journalists. By end of March this year 96 journalists had been detained, compared to 13 in 2016.

Valery Voronetsky, Member of Parliament (MP) for International Affairs, participated on behalf of authorities. Voronetsky dismissed the claims from opposition and civil society that the freedom to organize, freedom of press and speech are being violated. Instead he stressed that international pressure was not going to create political change.

- You are all aware that when external pressure is forced upon a state, the state must consolidate. This has consequences not only for external but also for internal policy. No self-respecting state would allow interference in its internal policy.

Members of the political opposition called for structural reforms, freedom for political opposition to hold pickets, rallies and meetings to allow free and fair elections. Human rights’ defender Ales Bialiatski affiliated to the organization Viasna, criticized the state repression during protests this spring. Over a thousand people were then interned by “unreasonable court decisions”, according to Bialiatski who also shared his personal safety situation.

- In 2003, the Ministry of Justice deprived us of registration and now we are actually outlawed. Because of article 193.1 of the Criminal Code, I can be removed from this hall and moved to Volodarka prison, all in accordance with the law.

MP Voronetsky seemingly brushed the critique off and tried to instill faith in the government.  

- Belarusians have always been warriors. We defended our independence, the right to be called The People, and therefore we do not like very much when they try to impose something on us. Why does anyone think that he understands human rights better than us? What are the grounds? Stop pressing, pushing and you will see an example of the most democratic, most humane state in Central Europe and the whole region.

When further questioned by the Belarusian paper tut.by of whether Voronetsky would be ready to invite UN special rapporteur on Belarus Miklos Haraszti, Voronetsky replied to the journalist:

- I do not represent the parliament. I can only say that we will definitely consider this issue.

The unusual gathering prompted no clear commitment from the government but may provide the start of a dialogue that thus far has been rejected.

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