The decree on "parasites" violates the Constitution and international commitments of Belarus.
A pensioner from Vitsebsk received a "letter of happiness" from the "parasite commission." He is informed that an unemployed is registered in his apartment. The pensioner is hinted at the increase of utility charges, although the law requires 100% payment only to an owner.
How legal are actions of the commission? The Chairman of the Legal Commission of the Republican Public Association "Belarusian Helsinki Committee" (BHC) Harry Pogonyaylo answers questions of Charter97.org:
- I believe that the content of this decree is of unconstitutional nature.
It has not changed the situation in any way against the original decree of 2 April 2015. The only difference is that 20 basic units are replaced with increased payment of housing and utility tariffs. But here, as they say, there is small choice in rotten apples.
- And what constitutional principles and Belarusian laws does this decree violate?
- First, the very division into "involved in the economy" and "not involved in the economy" is illegal. Our legislation has not had such legal definitions before introduction of these decrees.
They're hard to find in other countries. Yes, conditionally speaking, we can divide the population into formal groups for some economic or sociological researches, involve statistics to carry out only theoretical analysis of those involved and not involved in the economy.
But decrees aim to force "not involved in the economy" to be onvolved one way or another. This position of the state - a forced one - is unconstitutional. It's not based on the Belarusian laws, our Constitution, traditions or international norms of a normal, legal and democratic state.
The third point: why is the state so concerned that someone is dependent on someone? The issue of dependency is a personal issue of citizens. Someone wants to support their adult child and someone says: let's make a living on our own.
It's the matter of families. Among those who are labeled as "parasites", there are citizens who officially, according to the law, carry out socially useful activities. For example, parents of children over seven years old. And according to the decree, if a child is over seven years old and you do not go to work, you are already a "parasite".
Why? If a woman wants to raise her children and her husband earns enough to support his family, the state has no right to bother and say: a woman should find a job. Such women receive "letters of happiness" inviting to "parasite" commissions.
The state should be busy with creation of real jobs that provide sufficient income, with economic reforms to improve the situation in the country. But it engages in this kind of "administration" using forceful, sanctioning approaches towards citizens.
In addition, such actions of the State are, in fact, a form of forced labour, which is prohibited by the Constitution, the laws in force and international commitments of Belarus, including the ILO treaties signed by our country.
Finally, there is another aspect that is the "weak point" of the decree. This is discrimination. The state ignores it, but, meanwhile, it discriminates against certain categories of citizens, some of them are socially vulnerable: women caring for children, and people who take care of elderly people. They are not employed, but perform certain functions, which are both legal and approved by the state and society.
I'd like to stress out such violation as the database of "parasites". This database does not provide at all safety of personal data it contains. Thousands of officials have access to it, and none of them is responsible for disclosure of this personal information. Officials send out "letters of happiness" not worrying about safety of personal data of citizens.
As a lawyer, I have enough to call the decree on "parasites" illegal. And I personally advise citizens to boycott the decree, to ignore these "meetings", not to pay anything, but to challenge actions of the state according to established procedure.
- Is it possible to prove the illegality of the decree at the level of international institutions - with all the consequences for the Belarusian authorities?
- There are certain problems, but solutions may be found.
If, for example, independent trade unions are concerned about the decree, they can provide information to the ILO and directly raise the issue of whether Belarus complies with its obligations on prevention and non-use of forced labour.
In addition, there are international tools to address issues of equality and non-discrimination, including with regard to women. We are currently doing this and we want to raise the issue in international institutions.
There is a legal mechanism such as the Venice Commission (European Commission for Democracy through Law). If the political council of PACE or some European organization addresses the Venice Commission in order to assess the constitutionality of Decree No. 1 in the light of the commitments undertaken by Belarus, it will have to consider this issue according to the procedure.
But it's necessary for opposition parties, movements, human rights activists to address and convince the European structures to launch the procedure of initiating this issue for the Venice Commission.
The mass character of this illegal act adds to the "vulnerabilities" of the decree. Think about it: it already affects 500 thousand of our citizens!
And it is likely to be expanded in terms of both the number of citizens it covers and the scope of obligations it will impose on them.
If today it means payment for HCS, tomorrow it can be payment for medical services, and paid education after secondary school (which is guaranteed by the state). Children of "parasites" may be subject to tuition fees after the secondary school - the list of paid services in Decree No. 1 is open and the authorities can develop it.
But there are many aspects serving as a ground for fighting for the constitutional order in our country and influencing the state to repeal the decree on "parasites".