HUMAN RIGHTS DISCUSSES THE SITUATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN BELARUS
Concludes Debate on the Human Rights Situation in Syria
27 June 2012
The Human Rights Council this afternoon held an interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on her report on the human rights situation in Belarus. The Council, under the same agenda item on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention, also concluded its interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry on Syria.
Navi Pillay, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, introducing her report on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said the information received by the Office revealed a distinct pattern of repeated human rights violations which were still taking place. The human rights situation had deteriorated following the December 2010 presidential elections, which had been followed by a massive crackdown on political opponents, human rights groups and independent media. The second half of 2011 had been marred by a new wave of arrests, the introduction of legal and administrative restrictions and other forms of harassment. The Government had tightened its control of the media and the Internet, while harassment of media workers, non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders continued. The report had found a pattern of serious human rights violations, and allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody and impunity for perpetrators was also of major concern.
Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, said that Belarus was a democratic country and the human rights situation in the country was better than in many Member States of the European Union. It was unacceptable from a legal point of view and in terms of content that the report had nothing to do with human rights but had been prepared in a politicised context and failed to provide an accurate picture of the human rights situation in Belarus. Concerning the drafting of the report, Belarus lamented that additional information provided to the Office of the High Commissioner had not been included in the report. The drafting of this document reflected worst practices in the preparation of documents in the Office of the High Commissioner.
In the interactive dialogue, many speakers urged the Government of Belarus to release all political prisoners and end the harassment of members of the opposition, independent media and civil society, as well as join a moratorium on the death penalty. A number of speakers expressed support for the proposed appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Other speakers said the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus was totally uncalled for, adding that the Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate forum to address the human rights situation of all countries in a constructive and equal spirit of engagement. They welcomed Belarus’ cooperation on human rights matters and condemned attempts to turn the Council into a weapon of Western powers against progressive nations.
Ms. Pillay had to leave the meeting early and took the floor to answer some questions put forward by delegations, including Belarus. She said that she had carefully studied information provided by the Government of Belarus and included relevant information in the report. In response to the question about sources, Ms. Pillay indicated that, as it had not possible to send a team to the country, the report relied on secondary sources of information which were carefully cross-checked and verified, and included the Government and witness accounts, among others. The report was written in a non-judgemental and unbiased way. It did not aim to be a comprehensive account of all violations but instead focused on indicative cases which revealed trends pertaining to the human rights situation in Belarus.
Speaking in the interactive dialogue were: Russia, European Union, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Armenia, Kazakhstan, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Bahrain, Norway, United States, Croatia, Azerbaijan, Viet Nam, Netherlands, Cuba, Spain, Venezuela, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Czech Republic, Iran, Sri Lanka, Sweden Estonia, Austria, Lithuania, Canada, China, Zimbabwe, Slovakia and the Republic of Korea.
At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its discussion on the human rights situation in Syria.
Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, speaking in concluding remarks, said that access to Syria was necessary for the Commission to obtain more information. While most of the evidence had been moved from the crime scene in El-Houleh, further investigations could be developed if the Commission had access. Mr. Pinheiro hoped that, whether or not access was gained to Syria by September 2012, the Commission of Inquiry would continue with the work that had been done since March 2012. Given the current lack of reliable information on persons in detention, there was a great need to know the numbers of people in detention.
This morning the Council started its discussion on the human rights situation in Syria and heard statements from Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Jean-Marie Guehenno, Deputy Joint Special Envoy of the United Nations and the League of Arab States on Syria, and Paulo Pinheiro, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria. It also heard a statement from Syria as the concerned country and started its interactive dialogue. The summary of all the statements can be found in press release HRC12/079E.
Speaking in the discussion were Slovenia, Costa Rica, Slovakia, Tunisia, Austria, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Indonesia.
The following non-governmental organizations also took the floor: Organization for Defending Victims of Violence, Union of Arab Jurists, Human Rights Watch, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, United Nations Watch, and General Arab Women Federation.
The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Thursday, 28 June to continue the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner on the situation in Belarus and this will be followed by a general debate on human rights situations that require the Council’s attention.
Interactive Dialogue with Commission of Inquiry on Syria
Slovenia was deeply concerned about the escalation of violence and the deteriorating human rights situation in Syria and strongly condemned the widespread human rights violations that the Syrian authorities were responsible for. The Syrian Government should put an immediate end to the human rights violations in the country, ensure accountability for those violations and implement the humanitarian response plan.
Costa Rica said that the international community had an important ethical and moral responsibility to carry out, for which the implementation of the Annan six-point plan was central. Costa Rica was deeply concerned about the deterioration in the human rights situation in Syria and said that everybody had the responsibility to lend their voice to the voiceless victims. The solution to this complex humanitarian situation was to be found in the political negotiations centred on the victim-based approach.
Slovakia said Slovakia had repeatedly urged Syria to stop the violence, investigate human rights violations and show more willingness to cooperate with the international community. Political reforms undertaken by the Government were not open and transparent and were deemed to fail. The growing number of incidents where victims were targeted because of their religious affiliation was of concern. All sides to the conflict, particularly the Government, should cease all violence and refrain from any excessive and disproportionate use of force.
Tunisia said that the situation in Syria remained one of concern. Tunisia was particularly concerned about the worsening humanitarian and security situation and strongly condemned serious human rights violations being perpetrated against the Syrian people, who had a legitimate expectation of freedom and dignity. The El-Houleh massacre was saddening, especially since the majority of the victims had been women and children. Tunisia called for cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry and an end to violations, and for the prosecution and punishment of the perpetrators of the violence.
Austria called on all parties to the conflict as well as their supporters outside the country to urgently redouble their efforts to seek a peaceful resolution. The primary responsibility lay with the Assad Government to protect the Syrian population. President Assad and his regime had lost legitimacy. Like others, Austria had pointed out that President Assad had to step down to allow a rapid transition process. It was deeply concerned and called upon all parties to the conflict to immediately cease the abuse and torture of children. Austria demanded that all perpetrators were brought to justice; all those responsible for human rights violations and abuses had to be held accountable.
Zimbabwe was particularly concerned by the increasing levels of violence in Syria and the resultant suffering and loss of lives, particularly among women and children. It urged all parties concerned to abide by the Joint Special Envoy’s plan, which offered the best hope for peace and stability in Syria and beyond. Zimbabwe stressed that respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria should be pivotal to all efforts by the international community to find a lasting solution to the situation in Syria and therefore called for an even-handed approach that would help to create confidence among the parties. It should not be forgotten that, ultimately, it was the Syrian people and they alone who could determine their destiny and find lasting peace to their current difficulties.
Botswana noted with great concern the update of the Commission. Syria had the primary responsibility to protect its people. It was now evident that the Government was failing to live up to this responsibility. Botswana continued to support recommendations to the Security Council to consider referring the Syrian situation to the International Criminal Court. The update by the Commission of Inquiry on El-Houleh should render this recommendation more compelling. Botswana called on all parties to implement the Joint Special Envoy’s plan.
Indonesia said that the situation in Syria was appalling and Indonesia was concerned about the escalation of the violence. Human rights and fundamental freedoms of the Syrian people should be fully respected. The international community should double its efforts to contribute to finding a peaceful solution to the crisis through diplomatic channels. The Council should add value to collective efforts in promoting democratic governance in accordance to the aspirations of the Syrian people.
Organization for Defending Victims of Violence regretted that the Joint Special Envoy’s plan had never materialised and that even United Nations observers had not helped calm the situation in Syria. The continuation of this trend would only result in increasing bloodshed and violations of human rights. The Council should play a constructive role to find a lasting and acceptable solution for both parties.
Union of Arab Jurists said that the presence of armed militia among demonstrators had turned peaceful demonstrations into violent events. Those armed militias were engaging in numerous brutal acts, including killings and torture. Arab and Western mass media were distorting the truth and were misinforming the world about the true events in Syria and cast all the blame on the Syrian authorities.
Human Rights Watch said that the abuses documented by the Commission of Inquiry in its latest report underscored the need for the Council to take immediate action. The Council should continue to urge States to demand access for the Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious violations, including the May 25 killings in El-Houleh. Further, the Council should call for unhindered access for United Nations human rights mechanisms and the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria.
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that the unremitting efforts of Russia and China to block any and all action by the international community to halt the bloodshed and ensure accountability for the crimes committed had led to what was termed by some as a de facto civil war with no end in sight. The discussions taking place on 30 June as announced by the Special Envoy could be the last chance for those Governments to take required steps to ensure the de-escalation of the situation.
United Nations Watch said that the dreams of young Syrians had been turned into a nightmare. Because of their democracy activism, they were arrested and tortured by Assad’s security forces. The reports of the representative of Mr. Annan and by the Commission of Inquiry were presented, but Syrians continued to be slaughtered. Words were no longer enough.
General Arab Women Federation said that the situation in some countries of the Middle East was explosive due to foreign intervention in their internal affairs. Recently in Syria, under the cover of upholding democracy, some United Nations Member States had been supporting and arming mercenaries to topple the regime which enjoyed the support of the majority of the Syrian people, in violation of the United Nations Charter. The Federation noted with distress that the crisis persisted and was becoming more violent, inflicting heavy tolls on human life and on the socio-economic matrix of society and leading to the destabilization of the country.
PAULO PINHEIRO, Chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry on Syria, said in concluding remarks that there was no reliable information on persons in detention. In the second report there had been mention of the situation of facilities and some initiatives had been suggested that would be decisive to reform the situation. There was a great need to know the numbers of people in detention. During the visit to Damascus, Mr. Pinheiro said he was only able to receive information about the release of persons after five amnesties, but there was no idea of how many continued to be in detention. The Commission had been mandated to coordinate with the United Nations Supervision Mission in Syria and had been doing so. He had met with them and had held good conversations during his stay in Damascus. Syria had ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and also had obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and was very much aware of its obligations. On the need for more information about the violence practiced by armed groups, Mr. Pinheiro said that if there was access to Syria more information could be obtained. The Commission of Inquiry was grateful for the support already provided by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, but with more resources it would be able to do more in terms of monitoring and documenting human rights violations. It did have a contingency plan for eventual access to Syria, especially for El-Houleh. Most of the evidence had been moved from the crime scene, but there were many investigations to be developed in the country which could be done with access. It was hoped that, whether or not access to El-Houleh was gained to Syria by September 2012, the Commission of Inquiry would continue with the work that had been done since March 2012.
The Council has before it the report of the High Commissioner on the situation of human rights in Belarus (A/HRC/20/8)
Presentation of the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Belarus
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, presented her report on the situation of human rights in Belarus which had been prepared in Geneva as the Government had never replied to the High Commissioner’s request for a visit. The information received by the Office revealed a distinct pattern of repeated human rights violations which were still taking place. The human rights situation had deteriorated following the December 2010 presidential elections, which had been followed by the campaign of massive crackdown on political opponents, human rights groups and independent media. The second half of 2011 had been marred by a new wave of arrests, the introduction of legal and administrative restrictions and other forms of harassment. The Government had tightened its control of the media and the Internet, while harassment of media workers, non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders continued. Another critical issue was the lack of independence of the judiciary and pressure on defence lawyers whose clients had been charged in relation to the December 2010 events. Belarus was still the only European country that retained the death penalty for certain crimes and since the last report, had executed at least four persons. The report had found a pattern of serious human rights violations in Belarus since 19 December 2010 with further restrictions of fundamental human rights, while allegations of torture and ill-treatment in custody and impunity for perpetrators was also of major concern. The Government needed to review legislation, policies and practices pertaining to human rights, and fully cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other human rights bodies, including by granting access to Belarus.
Statement by Belarus as the Concerned Country
Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, said that Belarus was a democratic country and the human rights situation in the country was better than in many Member States of the European Union. For example, the Council of Europe had noted the deterioration of the situation of human rights in Europe, in particular the rights of ethnic minorities and migrants. However there had not been a single visit to European Union countries by mandate holders on involuntary disappearances and extrajudicial executions. It was unacceptable from a legal point of view and in terms of content that the reports had nothing to do with human rights but had been prepared in a politicised context and failed to provide an accurate picture of the human rights situation in Belarus. The report, for example, referred to demonstrations that had violently attacked government property as “petty hooliganism”, without further consideration. In Belarus’ response to protests, nevertheless, the police had neither used tear gas nor rubber bullets, and all court hearings for those arrested had been public.
Concerning the drafting of the report, Belarus lamented that additional information provided to the Office of the High Commissioner had not been included in the report. What were the High Commissioner’s sources for the report? There was no reference in the report to the position of the Government which had also been presented as an official document of the Council; and many of the recommendations in the report which dealt with the implementation of measures from regional organizations simply went beyond its mandate. The drafting of this document reflected the worst practices in the preparation of documents in the Office of the High Commissioner. Furthermore, after the events discussed in the report, some countries had established sanctions and other illegal measures against Belarus in contradiction to the resolution against the use of coercive measures, and the Office of the High Commissioner had not taken any action.
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Human Rights Situation in Belarus
Russia denounced the report of the High Commissioner on Belarus as politicized and unfounded, noting that the Belarusian authorities had made enormous efforts in cooperation and significant progress in the field of human rights. The attitude of countries of the European Union was purely politicized. Russia condemned the intolerable, unilateral measures of coercion which had damaging consequences for the population of Belarus. The European Union had as usual chosen pressure and sanction against a sovereign State. This attitude was not productive. Russia questioned if the appointment of a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus would encourage cooperation and dialogue?
European Union remained extremely concerned about the human rights situation in Belarus, which had significantly deteriorated since the last presidential elections were held in December 2010. The European Union urged the Government to immediately and unconditionally release and fully rehabilitate all political prisoners. It also called for comprehensive, transparent and credible investigations into all reported cases of torture and ill-treatment, and for perpetrators to be brought to justice.
Hungary said for many years, Belarus’ civil society groups had been forced by the Government to operate in increasingly difficult conditions and had struggled with arbitrary registration procedures. The Criminal Code, as amended, suggested a new, expanded definition of espionage, which could be used for targeted persecution by the authorities of non-governmental organization activists and civil society leaders. In case of Belarus’ lack of cooperation, the Human Rights Council had a mandate for action, possibly elaborating a mandate of a rapporteur reporting on the country’s situation.
Poland said that despite the concerns raised at regional and international levels, the authorities in Belarus had failed to improve the human rights situation and had rejected any offer of cooperation, including with the Council’s human rights mechanisms. It was regrettable that Belarus still had not accepted the High Commissioner’s recommendations to release all political prisoners and to end the harassment of human rights defenders, journalists and political opponents.
Germany echoed the sobering concerns about the lack of improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus and the continued pattern of abuses. The seriousness of the situation required the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus. Germany called on the Government to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of human rights violations, pronounce a moratorium on the death penalty and cease all practices that were in contravention of human rights.
Armenia supported the efforts of Belarus to improve the human rights situation and in particular its cooperation with United Nations treaty bodies and the extension of the standing invitation to the Special Procedures. The initiatives by Belarus could strengthen the performance of the Government in the area of human rights.
Kazakhstan noted that the High Commissioner’s oral report was based on secondary sources, and also that Belarus had conveyed an invitation for the High Commissioner to visit in August 2011, which showed the willingness of Belarus to engage with the Council on the events described in the report. It was inappropriate to politicize the Council’s work and unacceptable to use human rights issues to exert political pressure.
Response by High Commissioner for Human Rights
NAVI PILLAY, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking in response to statements made so far and starting with a question from Belarus, said she had carefully studied information provided by the Government of Belarus and included relevant information in the report. For example, the numbers of detained and convicted persons were figures given by the Government, and the status of people connected with the events of 19 December 2010 was also provided by the Government of Belarus. In response to the question about sources, the High Commissioner said that as she was not able to send a team to the country she had had to rely on secondary sources of information which were carefully cross-checked and verified, and included the Government, witness accounts, the United Nations treaty bodies, international and regional organizations including the OSCE, and international and Belarusian non-governmental organizations such as the Belarusian Association of Journalists, the Belarusian-Helsinki Foundation and the Vienna Centre. The report was written in a non-judgemental and unbiased way. It did not aim to be a comprehensive account of all violations but instead focused on indicative cases which revealed trends pertaining to the human rights situation in Belarus.
Answering questions about why she had not responded positively to an invitation to visit Belarus, the High Commissioner confirmed she did receive an invitation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus in August 2011, but was told very clearly that her visit must be de-linked from her reporting obligations, with which Belarus did not want to comply. Therefore it would have been very difficult for her to visit the country and then not rely on information gained for the report. The High Commissioner viewed it as a postponed visit. Regarding her Office’s position on European Union sanctions on Belarus and their impact on the human rights situation, the High Commissioner said as a general principle she believed that sanctions not imposed by the United Nations but as a bilateral matter must be carefully accounted so as not to affect ordinary citizens. The European Union sanctions appeared to target specific Government employees, but the High Commissioner said she was looking into any impact they had on ordinary people.
Regretfully Belarus has largely ignored the recommendations in the report, but the High Commissioner did appreciate positive events such as the release of 24 prisoners last August and September. However those positive acts were marred by new arrests and fresh sentencing as well as more restrictive legal positions. Responding to a question about establishing a Special Rapporteur on Belarus, the High Commissioner made it clear that such a decision was for the Council and its Member States to make. The authorities of Belarus must tackle concerns through systematic measures such as liberalization of the legal system, reform of the court system and fundamental review of policies vis a vis political opponents and civil society. The High Commissioner said she stood ready to assist the Government of Belarus.
Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus
United Kingdom shared the High Commissioner’s deep concern over the human rights situation in Belarus which continued to deteriorate and said that the Council must take further action. The United Kingdom supported the proposal for establishing a Special Rapporteur, who would provide much needed independent monitoring of the situation. Given the lack of cooperation of Belarus so far, how would it be possible to ensure that the long list of recommendations from the report was implemented?
Switzerland expressed concerns about the continuing deterioration of the situation in Belarus and recalled that the authorities had the responsibility to create space for civil society organizations. Switzerland was dismayed at the executions in March and called on the Government to confirm the information to the families, return the bodies and declare a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to abolishing it. What could be done to support the cooperation of Belarus with the international community in the future?
Bahrain supported the position of Belarus with regard to the need to ensure that truthful information was provided to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The Office should also give more regard to the information provided by the Government and Belarus should increase its cooperation with the human rights mechanisms.
Norway said that the latest executions this spring in Belarus had underlined the seriousness of the situation and its continuing deterioration. The lack of cooperation by the Government with the High Commissioner was deplorable, while the practice of the death penalty did not bring Belarus closer to the European community’s values. Given the deterioration in the country and the lack of cooperation by the authorities, Norway supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus.
United States said that the freedoms of association, assembly and expression, and the right to a fair trial had been significantly curtailed by the Government of Belarus and was deeply concerned about the crackdown against human rights activists and defenders, journalists and civil society. The United States drew attention to the issue of freedom of movement, not addressed in the report, as the reporting period stopped shortly before this pattern started to emerge. Along with the list of violations and restrictions the situation warranted the creation of a stronger mechanism to monitor and report on the situation, such as the creation of a Special Rapporteur.
Croatia said that the human rights situation had significantly deteriorated since the last presidential elections in December 2010. Several individuals exercising their right to freedom of association, assembly and expression remained under detention and many more had been arrested. The Government of Belarus should conduct a comprehensive and transparent investigation. Croatia believed that the human rights situation in Belarus required the Council’s continued close attention and supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus in order to ensure dedicated and effective monitoring.
Azerbaijan noted recent measures by Belarus on the promotion and protection of human rights. Belarus had cooperated with the existing human rights mechanisms of the United Nations, including the submission of the mid-term progress report on the implementation of Universal Periodic Review recommendations. Belarus had updated and informed the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, mandate holders, and Member States on recent developments. Azerbaijan believed that all outstanding issues could be considered within the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between Belarus and the Council’s human rights mechanisms.
Viet Nam stressed that rights and freedoms were not absolute and their exercise required responsibilities in respect to public order. Any wrongful use of those rights such as insight to hatred, vandalism to public property and violence should be condemned. The Council must maintain its objective approach in the spirit of dialogue, non-confrontation and mutual respect. Viet Nam called upon Belarus to protect and promote human rights in accordance with international standards under human rights law.
Netherlands recalled that the quality of a society was best judged by the way it treated its minorities. A pluralistic society fostered innovation and progress and maintained a level of stability because dissenting voices knew that their opinion had been heard when decisions were made. The Netherlands asked the High Commissioner about the lack of an independent judiciary in Belarus, and about the relieving of a number of judges of their duties, following blacklisting by the European Union.
Cuba said today’s dialogue was an example of the politicized approach of the Council which would ultimately lead to its collapse. The High Commissioner ignored an invitation to visit Belarus, the report presented was not objective, its sources were not credible, and the majority of its information had not been verified. The real intent of the exercise was to re-establish the spurious mandate on Belarus dissolved in 2007 in a historic decision by the Council. Cuba reaffirmed its support for the people and Government of Belarus.
Spain said that the report of the High Commissioner offered a credible panorama of the human rights situation in Belarus and Spain condemned the violence meted out against peaceful protesters, human rights defenders and the independent press. The use of the death penalty by Belarus was a violation of international standards and Spain encouraged the authorities to enact the moratorium on the death penalty.
Venezuela said that despite the efforts to demonize the country and diminish its commitment to democracy, Belarus continued to guarantee every step of the right to a fair trial to those who had violated the laws. Venezuela condemned yet another attempt to turn this Council into a weapon of Western powers against progressive nations and said that the establishment of Special Rapporteur would be an act of hostility.
Turkmenistan expressed its appreciation for the active cooperation of Belarus with different human rights monitoring mechanisms, including the Human Rights Council. Turkmenistan welcomed the decision of Belarus to work closely with international institutions and the High Commissioner for Human Rights and to provide them with information on the events following the presidential elections in 2010.
Uzbekistan regretted that the report of the High Commissioner was based on indirect research and secondary sources, in detriment of information provided by the Government. Uzbekistan found it unacceptable that the report requested, without examination by the national judiciary, the liberation of prisoners.
Czech Republic said journalists and media workers faced strict limitation in exercising their right to freedom of expression in Belarus. Political prisoners released often bore traces of physical and psychological ill-treatment in detention. The Czech Republic was particularly worried about the fact that Belarus still retained the death penalty and carried out executions and supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Belarus.
Iran commended Belarus for its commitment to its international obligations concerning the promotion and protection of human rights. Unilateral political and economic sanctions imposed by the European Union and the United States against Belarusian citizens were vivid examples of the violation and abuse of international law and relevant United Nations resolutions. The international community should also recognise steps already taken to implement international human rights commitments through an open and meaningful dialogue.
Sri Lanka noted that resolution 17/24 on the human rights situation in Belarus was adopted without that country’s consent and reiterated that action contemplated with regard to Belarus must meet with its consent. Sri Lanka also noted the invitation extended to the High Commissioner to visit Belarus in August 2011. The Universal Periodic Review mechanism was the appropriate forum to address the human rights situation of all countries in a constructive and equal spirit of engagement. Sri Lanka encouraged the international community to constructively engage in a positive dialogue with Belarus.
Sweden expressed deep concern over the continued deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus, particularly the actions of 19 December 2010 and in its aftermath. Sweden deplored that Belarus was the only country in Europe to still retain the death penalty. Sweden asked the High Commissioner how she assessed the situation for journalists in Belarus today, and said it supported the European Union resolution to appoint a Special Rapporteur on Belarus.
Estonia was deeply concerned about continuing violations of the rights to freedom of association, expression and peaceful assembly and the imprisonment, torture and ill-treatment of human rights defenders, political activists and journalists. A stronger response to the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus was necessary and Estonia supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur. It urged the Government of Belarus to release all political prisoners and end the harassment of members of the opposition, independent media and civil society, as well as join a moratorium on the death penalty.
Austria condemned the large number of arrests, detentions and beatings of journalists by the security forces which were described in the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. It called for an independent, impartial and objective investigation into all alleged human rights violations. Perpetrators had to be held to account and victims had to be fully rehabilitated and compensated. Austria urged Belarus to join a global moratorium on the death penalty and to completely abolish the death penalty. Belarus was the only country in Europe which continued to apply the death penalty.
Lithuania expressed great disappointment that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was not allowed access to Belarus during the preparation of the report. Belarus had systematically failed to comply with the recommendations of international organizations and fulfill its international obligations. Lithuania strongly encouraged the Human Rights Council to adopt the country-specific resolution and appoint a Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus.
Canada urged the Government of Belarus to remove restrictions on civil and political rights and to bring these laws in line with its international human rights obligations. What, in the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ view, would be an effective way for the international community to engage civil society and independent media in Belarus? It was pleased to see the release of two political prisoners, former Belarusian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and Dmitry Bondarenko. However, many political prisoners remained incarcerated.
China said China always stood for a constructive dialogue and cooperation on human rights issues and believed the promotion and protection of human rights should suit a country’s situation, culture, history and tradition. China opposed the use of human rights to interfere with other countries domestic affairs and supported positive efforts made by Belarus to promote human rights. China hoped Belarus would continue to maintain its political stability and the continuous rise in people’s living standards.
Zimbabwe said as a matter of principle it did not endorse the imposition of country-specific mandates in dealing with human rights situations except those cases where the country concerned gave its full consent. Zimbabwe considered the proposed appointment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus totally uncalled for. Belarus was already cooperating with mechanisms of the Human Rights Council including the Universal Period Review process.
Slovakia said that since December 2010 Belarus had avoided any meaningful cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms and Slovakia supported the establishment of a Special Rapporteur on Belarus. Slovakia took a negative note of the leader of the non-governmental organization Legal Aid to Population Mr. Alesh Volchak for alleged petty hooliganism and called for his unconditional release, and that of all political prisoners.
Republic of Korea was concerned about the systematic human rights violations in Belarus, particularly of basic freedoms of expression, and continued impunity of perpetrators. The Government of Belarus had turned a blind eye to the international community’s efforts of constructive engagement, and along the same lines had further restricted basic civil and political rights and had engaged in the harassment of civil society organizations and the media. The Government of Belarus was called on to cooperate fully with all United Nations human rights mechanisms.
For use of the information media; not an official record