UN rights chief urges Belarus to release political prisoners

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Sept. 21 suggested a need for UN intervention in Belarus and demanded the regime free non-violent political prisoners. Although Belarus is an active member of the UN and has ratified many of its human rights policies, Pillay noted a sharp deterioration in human rights since the 2010 disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power for 17 years since his 1994 election. Pillay said that citizens have been discouraged from protesting and have not received fair trials, accusing the administration of “a policy of harassment against non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders.” The report also cited Belarus as the only European nation to still enforce the death penalty. Pillay called for an investigation into alleged abuses of the judicial system and the acceptance of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) mission to Belarus. In response, ambassador Mikhail Khvostov for Belarus said his country disagrees on what constitutes a peaceful demonstration, and that Belarus is committed to human rights.

Last month, members of the Belarus parliament introduced a bill that would ban so-called “silent protests”—including those involving large groups of people basically doing nothing. Nonetheless, silent protests continue. Earlier this year, Belarus’ Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences for two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election of Lukashenko. The two-year suspended sentences were handed down days after former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau was sentenced to five years. Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko’s 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich.

From Jurist, Sept. 21. Used with permission.

See our last post on Belarus.