In November the European Union is to consider the issue of extending sanctions against Lukashenka’s regime. In this connection human rights activists of Sweden, the country presiding in the European Union, offered their new project at Youtube.
Östgruppen, a non-governmental organisation invited 12 well-known Belarusian experts to give an estimate to the readiness of Belarusian authorities to fulfil the 12 demands of the European Union and to tell about the situation with human rights in the country.
As Radio Svaboda was told by one of the authors of the project, Östgruppen Chairman Martin Uggla, “so far there are no signs Belarus directs its steps towards the 12 recommendations of the European Union. Several steps done in the direction of democracy made in autumn 2008 are cosmetic. As before, repressive laws are in force, dissenters are persecuted; conditions for holding free and fair elections are absent.”
Martin Uggla has also underlined that “Östgruppen is not against the dialogue between Belarus and the European Union, but it that should not go against human rights”.
Requirement 1. Aleh Hulak, chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee
- Demand of free and fair elections, democratization of the legislation and its enforcement practice, a possibility to observe elections is one of the conditions of improving relations between Belarus and the European Union. We can state that so far the Belarusian laws haven’t changed. The practice of the last elections, elections to the “parliament” in 2008 has demonstrated that even with this law when they have a desire the authorities can hold a little better campaign. We can note that there was in fact no persecution of observers, possibilities for campaign were extended, but unfortunately, until now the authorities do not keep their promises to make democratic changes in the electoral legislation, which had been discussed with the ODIHR/OSCE, together with the OSCE structures. This issue was to be brought up for discussion by the Public Consultative Council by the presidential administration back in April, and then there were promises to consider this issue in September. It is October now, and there is no progress in this direction in reality unfortunately. Let’s wait and hope for the better.
Requirement 2. Zhana Litvina, chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists
- The sphere of the media, unfortunately, is the sphere where democratization and liberalization processes are observed least by us. Fundamental problems remain unsolved and unchanged. Primarily, I mean the monopoly of the executive power on mass media, on printing houses, on distribution system. There s one more circumstance. State mass media receive governmental grants. So we cannot say there is freedom of information, freedom of expression, about the regime’s respect to freedom of expression today. Unfortunately, our fundamental and professional problems remain unsolved. And there is no political decision on the problem of distribution of independent socio-political newspapers. This problem exits in out country since late 2005. It is not resolved until now. I am not entirely a pessimist, but I have an impression that in the near future, in the period connected with preparation for the presidential campaign, this problem wouldn’t be resolved either. As for the work of journalists without hindrances and harassment, there are again little positive arguments. Recently my colleagues, journalists, came up against “know-how” of special services when during demonstrations and rallies they are not allowed to perform their professional duty in most cynical and rude manner. Some positive changes arte possible in our country, when mass media would be able to follow their constitutional mission: to collect and disseminate information freely and without hindrances.
Requirement 3. Yury Chavusau, NGO Assembly of Non-governmental organizations
- The EU policy of bringing forward conditions and the regime of sanctions’ suspension have showed some efficiency in the sphere of freedom of associations and activities of non-governmental organisations. We see that over the recent years the regime gave up most brutal repressive methods against NGOs. But in the other hand, we see no system-level changes which would be irreversible, and were not depending on the current political moment. As before, the problem of registration of new organisations remains burning for Belarus. The authorities do not register most well-known and influential organisations, for instance, human rights organisations. The order of registration in general is not facilitated, no amendments to the laws are made. Another extremely important serious problem for Belarus is the problem of criminal responsibility for activities on behalf of unregistered organisations under Article 193.1. This article hasn’t been abolished, and even if it is not applied now, it remains a serious threat for all independent organisations of Belarus, it makes normal development of the civil society of Belarus impossible. Undoubtedly, this article must be reversed, and it should be a special concern of the European Union.
Requirement 4. Anastasiya Palazhanka, “Young Front” leader
- I believe that democratic changes won’t take place in Belarus until political prisoners remain behind the bars. We cannot speak about any political liberalization until Article 193.1 exists, according to which a person could be imprisoned for personal convictions. I think that we cannot speak about democratic changes until Lukashenka offers apology or at least admits a judicial error against all those prisoners who were placed behind the bars for any political reasons. Unless all these people are announced innocent publicly, nobody would guarantee new political opponents of the authorities won’t be imprisoned.
Requirement 5. Tatsyana Ravyaka, “Vyasna” human rights centre
- One of the requirements of the European Union formulated in 2006 is holding independent and accurate investigation of the cases of disappearances of well-known persons in Belarus: Yury Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, Anatol Krasouski and journalist Zmitser Zavadski. Unfortunately, these cases haven’t been investigated yet. The investigation is carried out formally, and the case of Zmitser Zavadski has been suspended. Neither the society nor the families of the abducted have information about the fate of their loved ones. Besides, investigation authorities ignore information about possible involvement of high-ranking state officials (a former Interior Minister Yury Sivakou and Uladzimir Navumau, former commander of the special purpose squad Dzmitry Paulichenka and former Security Council state secretary Viktar Sheiman.) in these cases in these crimes, in kidnapping and possible extrajudicial executions. These people are on the list of persons against which the European Union prolonged sanctions and ban on entering the EU countries.
Requirement 6. Harry Pahanyajla, “Belarusian Helsinki Committee” lawyer
- Courts of Belarus turned out to be very dependent on the executive power. Over the last 15 years they demonstrate absolute contempt to public interests, interests of the civil society and fulfil the will of the president and his officials. They often try to struggle with civil activists with the help of criminal justice. In a number of cases citizens are simply denied justice when the issue concerns disputes between the state, officials and citizens, in the case when the state violates human rights grossly. We know 20 positive decisions issued by the Human Rights Committee in favour of our citizens, however none of them is implemented by the courts to restore the violated rights of citizens. There are many cases when high-profile cases which caused great interest of the public were held behind the closed doors. It is done on purpose, to conceal the facts of falsifications in criminal cases from the society, as well as facts of flagrant corruption in the top echelons of power. A law has been adopted according to which mass media can distribute information about work of courts, about concrete cases only on authorisation of judges.
Requirement 7. Enira Bronitskaya, “Solidarity” human rights organization
- Activists lodge justified complaint relating the facts of beating them at demonstrations, and arbitrary detentions. However these complaints are satisfied in isolated cases. And there are no cases at all opened against policemen and bringing them to criminal responsibility for actions committed. Over the last year we have recorded some administrative arrests, however the problem of arbitrary detentions is still relevant. And even despite of the fact that a decision on extending or non-extending sanctions against Belarus is to be adopted in a month, the recent oppositional rallies held in September were disbanded most brutally. Another problem we think needs international attention is prisons conditions in Belarus. Actually not a single public association has access to prisons, and this sphere remains outside any public control. We find it very important to create observational structures with participation of members of the society who would be able to control incarceration conditions in Belarusian prisons.
Requirement 8. Andrzej Poczobutt, the Union of Poles in Belarus
- Recently the situation for the Union of Poles, for the Polish national minority hasn’t changed. Despite of the fact that the Belarusian side stopped the campaign in mass media against the Poles living in Belarus (negative campaign in mass media in 2005, 2006, 2007 is meant), though there is less information about the situation with the Union of Poles in mass media, there are no changes. From the point of view of the Belarusian authorities the Union of Poles as before remains illegal organisation; its activists are harassed. The situation of the Polish minority is not restricted to that the largest Polish organisation is de-legalized by the authorities and deprived of property. Besides, obstacles for studying Polish language are created. By any means pressure is put on people who want their children to study Polish, and the aim is to make them study it as an elective course, not a compulsory subject. Thus the right of the national minority to study in Polish is limited.
Requirement 9. Alyaksandr Yarashuk, leader of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions
- The situation with trade unions in the country remains tense. It must be known that two years ago the EU deprived Belarus of trade preferences. It is an unprecedented occurrence. Only Burma was subject to such a punishment once, 10 years ago, and only after that the Belarusian authorities were pushed to make some steps in order to return trade unions’ rights.
Unfortunately, they haven’t succeeded in this work, and possible decided that the efforts done by them are enough to offer the issue of trade preferences return for the world community, the ILO and the EU. At the same time, today we can state that against the background of declarative statements about the desire to develop the dialogue with the EU, a new wave of pressure and repressions against independent trade unions becomes absolutely obvious. For today the situation has become even more difficult for us in many aspects, then it was half a year ago, and we have to note that the Belarusian authorities do not have an obvious desire to restore trade unions’ rights and develop the dialogue with the ILO and the EU in this problem.
Requirement 10. Viktar Harbachou, one of the leaders of businessmen’s movement
- The problems entrepreneurs had before, in 2009, are in the same state, but they are more veiled. The regime adopts decrees and enactments, but in reality everything happens in a different way. We are speaking about moratorium on checks, while they are held across the country at a large scale; businessmen are fined from $60 to $100,000, they are ruined and get into the bondage to the authorities. Today we say that we can sell the goods which are advantageous for a client, while at the same time the authorities adopt decisions on limiting import and its sales at the territory of Belarus. Imposing Belarusian goods makes businessmen stop their activities at the territory of Belarus and bring out their business outside the country.
Requirement 11. Valyantsin Stefanovich, “Viasna” human rights centre
- Today Belarus remains the only country in Europe and the former Soviet Union which uses capital punishment. We, human rights activists, stand for imposing moratorium and total abolishment of the capital punishment in Belarus, as we believe that in the 21st century there is no place for death punishment and murder of a person by a person in Europe, even if it is made on behalf of the state. It should be noted that over the recent years the tendency is that the number of death penalties in Belarus is decreasing as compared to the early 1990ies and mid 1990ies.
However in the conditions of insufficiently independent judicial system, there are facts of tortures used during preliminary investigation, and a judicial error could happen. In the case when a person is killed, it would be impossible to correct this mistake. So we, human rights activists, hope that Belarus would join the capital punishment-free territory.
Requirement 12. Ales Byalatski, “Viasna” human rights centre
- I am convinced that qualitative changes in the democracy and human rights situation in Belarus are possible with a firm, definite and clear position of the international structures in the relations with Belarusian authorities. For the moment the Belarusian authorities are demanding contracts, increase of economic cooperation with the EU, with the whole world. The Belarusian economy needs that, and it seems to me that the position of international structures in this situation could be more pronounced, more firm, and any economic contacts could develop against the background of improvements in the situation with human rights and democracy inside Belarus. The stand the European Union, the Council of Europe, the OSCE had been taking towards Belarus for the last 15 years is rather important for the rest of the civil society institutions in Belarus which are still surviving, trying t develop and influence the Belarusian society, would be able to continue this positive work in the future.
The evaluation of the situation with human rights, with elections, other estimations of what is going on in Belarus, are vital, and it is important to give this message to Belarusian authorities and the Belarusian nation.
It is also important for the international community not to lower standards on the human rights and democracy situation in Belarus. These standards should be universal. Belarus has signed a number of international agreements on human rights, development of democracy, respect to freedoms and citizens’ rights in Belarus, and the European community should press for fulfillment of these agreements.