19 January 2018, Friday, 6:42

Dmitry Makarov: Situation in Ukraine could be different if they had learnt Belarusian lessons of December 2010


The example of Belarus did not make the international community look for new approaches.

Pickets as part of the International Solidarity Day with civil society of Belarus were held in many countries around the world on August 4. The campaign was launched by human rights activists in 2012, one year after the arrest of Ales Bialiatski. The famous Belarusian human rights defender was released from prison on June 21 this year, but organisers of the Solidarity Day think the day didn't lose its importance. Why is solidarity never too much? What lessons should the international community have learnt from the Belarusian situation? Dmitry Makarov, one of the initiators of the Solidarity Day and a co-head of the International Youth Human Rights Movement, answers Zhurnal's questions.

– Dmitry, don't you think that the focus of the international attention is far from Belarus now? There is in fact a war in Ukraine, crackdown on civil society is toughening in Azerbaijan, Russia is tightening its grip on activism. Is there any sense to focus on Belarus?

– You are right, it may seem that the situation in Belarus is not the worst in comparison with other countries. But we see that no real changes take place in the country. We still find it necessary to raise questions about human rights in Belarus. The death penalty is still used, people are held in prisons for their political views, freedom to expression and association is restricted. One more reason is that there can never be too much solidarity.

Yes, there are more important challenges in the region right now. But it does not mean we should not speak about problems in Belarus. Moreover, it is the Belarusian situation that shows how wrong approaches of a number of international and intergovernmental institutions are. International institutions and states do not do enough and do not want to give priority to human rights issues in their relations with Belarus. The echo of such approaches can be heard in other countries.

– What institutions do you mean? What do you understand by “echo”?

– We can recall the OSCE that reacted to the situation in Belarus after the 2010 crackdown slowly and not decisively enough. We can recall the United Nations that did not take any effective steps except from appointing special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus.

We see on the example of Belarus that international institutions are not able to implement their functions effectively within the framework of the existing mechanisms. After the events in Minsk in December 2010, we organised the Committee on International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus, worked in your country with a special mission, tried to organise international public initiatives to influence the situation. We deluged international institutions with appeals urging for a principled reaction to the situation. Absolutely new reaction! But it did not happen. I cannot say that there was no reaction from international institutions, but the reaction was slow. They used old ineffective mechanisms and scenarios. That reaction did not have a significant influence on the situation.

The situation of Belarus gave us the lessons that should have been analysed and learnt. But the international community chose not to look for new approaches on the example of the Belarusian situation. No conclusions were made on the ineffectiveness of the current international mechanisms, first of all human rights defence in the countries with gross human rights violations. As a result, we see what is happening in Ukraine, Russia, Azerbaijan. We see that the same institutions have the same problems and cannot influence the situation because they didn't draw their conclusions from the situation in Belarus after 2010.

– Do you mean that if the OSCE or the UN had learnt lessons from the Belarusian situation in 2010, it would have been possible to avoid a war in Ukraine?

– To a certain extent, that's true. It is our biggest pain and biggest failure. We tried to change the situation through our civic campaigns in Belarus, but the results show it does not change globally. Nevertheless, we won't give up. We need to return to these issues, turning particular attention to the fact that the presidential election will be held next year. International institutions can again try to “forget the past and close their eyes”. This is the main “guarantee” that the 2010 scenario will repeat. So, we continue thinking what we as civil society can propose against repressions and their probability.

– But you say it's little that can be proposed, “judging by the results”.

– I do not want to cross out what have been done and say it was futile. We are looking for allies in other countries and civil institutions that are interested in new approaches. Symbolically, such campaigns as the International Solidarity Day are important. The main thing is that thousands of people all over the world will know about the situation in Belarus and the human rights situation in general. Many of those who took part in pickets on the Solidarity Days with Belarus are involved in work in Ukraine or Caucasian countries. It is a very important process of creating civil society able to answer real challenges. These forms of international solidarity are important.