Introduction of the Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus
MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said that he had reviewed a broad range of human rights concerns which had been brought to his attention. Those included the death penalty, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, harassment of imprisoned political opponents and human rights defenders, conditions in detention facilities, the use of torture and other cruel treatment, discrimination, restrictions on the freedom of expression and opinion, and infringements on the independence of the judiciary. Preparing the report had been a challenge because of the lack of access to the country and to State officials.
The few policy developments which had taken place did not appear to have had a direct impact on the improvement of the human rights situation, and human rights remained purposefully restricted by a governance system which was devoid of any checks and balances. Violations continued to be systematically carried out through different measures. Presidential decrees, in particular, had created a systemic conjunction between the arbitrary denial of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the punitive consequences for those who engaged in unauthorized civic activities. Journalists faced intimidation and punishment when attempting to report on unregistered activities.
The lack of rule of law in Belarus had a detrimental effect on the administration of justice, and the general population was affected by the lack of independence of the judiciary. Furthermore, Belarus was the only country in Europe which still used the death penalty, while also violating the right to the presumption of innocence and the right to a fair trial. The issue of imprisoned human rights activists and leading political opponents needed to be addressed. A sustainable improvement of the situation would necessitate wider measures guided by the international obligations of Belarus towards the advancement of human rights, which needed to be fully respected if true stability and economic prosperity were to prevail in the country.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Belarus, speaking as the concerned country, reiterated that it saw the mandate of the Special Rapporteur as a political instrument of the European Union. The European Union saw Belarus as an object of its own foreign policy with which it tried to force its own way of life on Belarus as if it were better than any other. Belarus, however, followed its own development model. Considerable thought was given by Belarus to cooperating with the Special Rapporteur. But the creation of his mandate was rejected because a minority on the Human Rights Council supported it, and, moreover Mr. Haraszti was a citizen of Hungary, that was to say a citizen of the European Union. Belarus did not need a Special Rapporteur on human rights to speak for it. Human rights should not be used as a cover for political projects. Conditions of trust must be built for Belarus to cooperate constructively with human rights processes and indeed it had done so on a number of issues such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and others. Belarus was fully committed in this respect to the mechanism of the Universal Periodic Review.
The European Union’s behaviour was illogical; it had already tabled a resolution on Belarus before the presentation of the Special Rapporteur’s report thus suggesting its mind was already made up on the matter. This bias undermined the credibility of the Human Rights Council. Meanwhile, there were urgent matters in the European Union to be considered by the Council. Belarus rejected the characterization of the Special Rapporteur of the human rights situation in Belarus and his biased report.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus
European Union said the report noted systemic violations in Belarus, and appreciated the Special Rapporteur’s efforts to gather impartial information. The European Union was concerned about the harassment of political opponents and human rights activists, as well as allegations of torture. The European Union deplored that Belarus continued to apply the death penalty and expressed additional concerns about the way in which it was implemented; it urged Belarus to implement the recommendations included in the report.
Russia, speaking on behalf of a number of Like-Minded Countries, said that the promotion and protection of human rights should be based on the principle of cooperation and strengthening the capacity of States to comply with their obligations. The report did not result from cooperation and dialogue with Belarus but was another compilation of unverified information from secondary sources. The situation of human rights in Belarus did not require the Council’s special attention and monitoring from the Council.
Turkmenistan thanked Belarus for its constructive cooperation with the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations. Belarus had successfully participated in the Universal Periodic Review process and accepted most of the recommendations, and it had also submitted its mid-term report on the implementation of recommendations in 2012, all of which demonstrated its openness towards additional steps for the protection of human rights. Country specific resolutions were generally counterproductive and did not improve the situation on the ground.
Germany said that the report on Belarus was objective and confirmed the human rights violations in the country. Germany urged Belarus to release all detained human rights defenders and political prisoners, to launch transparent investigations into all alleged cases of torture and enforced disappearance, to reform its judiciary in accordance with the rule of law, to take steps to prevent torture and degrading treatment, and to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur in a constructive way.
Poland said that it deeply regretted the non-cooperation of Belarus with the Special Rapporteur and the non-implementation of the recommendations which it had received from the High Commissioner. It was particularly alarming that basic human rights, such as the freedom of assembly and the freedom of expression, were being systematically violated. Poland hoped that the Belarusian Human Rights Institution, which was being established, would function in accordance with the Paris Principles.
Cuba said that it had always objected to the imposition of selective, country-specific mandates. The resolution which gave origin to the Belarus mandate was the result of political action instigated by specific countries. The report on Belarus was spurious and politically motivated, and did not have anything to do with the spirit of cooperation which should be central to the activities of the Council. Cooperation mechanisms such as the Universal Periodic Review were the best methods to analyze human rights situations in all countries.
Kazakhstan said the official position of the Belarus Government was not stated in the report and that the report was based on second-hand sources. Kazakhstan urged Belarus to strengthen its relationship to the Human Rights Council and the Universal Periodic Review, particularly over the issue of the death penalty. Belarus was willing to enter into a dialogue with the human rights instruments of the United Nations system. Kazakhstan warned against using human rights for political ends.
Bahrain welcomed the cooperation of Belarus with the Special Procedures, the Human Rights Council and other human rights mechanisms and Belarus was commended for that. It also supported the position of Belarus about creating a parliamentary committee to consider the death penalty and setting up a national human rights institute based on the Paris Principles.
Russian Federation said it did not recognize the mandate of the Special Rapporteur or the way it was created. It was a planned political act and its report catalogued the usual false claims against Belarus. The fact that Belarus did not cooperate with the Special Rapporteur in this case did not mean it was unable to cooperate with other United Nations human rights mechanisms. Russia rejected the use of human rights mechanisms to carry out blatantly political initiatives against States.
Azerbaijan said that Belarus had always cooperated with existing human rights mechanisms, including the Universal Periodic Review, and regularly took part in the seminars and workshops organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Belarus had recently taken measures to promote and protect human rights. All outstanding issues should be considered in the spirit of cooperation and collaboration between Belarus and the human rights mechanisms of the Council.
Estonia said that it regretted the non-cooperation of Belarus with the Special Rapporteur and was concerned about the systemic and systematic violation of human rights in the country. Estonia called on Belarus to take all necessary measures to improve the human rights situation and to implement all the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur in his report, including the immediate release of all political prisoners and imposing a moratorium on the death penalty.
France said that there were clear signs of the reluctance of Belarus to provide solutions to human rights issues in the country. The human rights situation in Belarus remained a matter of grave concern, particularly the violation of the right to freedom of expression and the detention of political prisoners in degrading conditions. France remained deeply concerned about the capital punishment used in Belarus and called on the country to abolish it and to free immediately all political prisoners.
Spain said it was very concerned about the use of the death penalty in Belarus, not only in principle but in the way it was practiced. There were complaints against Belarus that it carried out torture and unfair forms of imprisonment. The minimal gestures that Belarus made in the spirit of reform had been vague.
Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea said it was deeply concerned that the discussion of politicized country-specific reports was ongoing and this did not contribute to the genuine promotion and protection of human rights. The Special Rapporteur’s report was full of distorted information. The anachronistic adoption of country-specific reports should be ended.
Hungary said it supported the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and was deeply concerned about the list of abuses he reported. It also recognized that the report mentioned a number of recent accomplishments by Belarus and encouraged it to enter into constructive dialogue with civil society. Hungary supported the extension of the mandate.
United States was gravely concerned with the human rights situation in Belarus and the lack of progress made on many recommendations of the High Commissioner. What advice did the Special Rapporteur have for increasing the capacity of Belarus to achieve his recommendation on promptly investigating allegations of violent incidents occurring due to actual or perceived sexual orientation?
Indonesia said that it recognised progress in Belarus and maintained its view that the engagement with and the consent and cooperation of the country concerned in dealing with any initiatives was indeed essential and it believed that mutual trust was key to promote genuine dialogues and to bring tangible progress on the human rights situation on the ground.
Venezuela said that if they bore in mind the politicised origin of this mandate, they would be able to understand the entirely biased nature of the report. Venezuela deplored attempts of Western powers that continued to attack the free exercise of sovereignty and tried to force change of a political system that the people themselves had elected.
Czech Republic thanked the Special Rapporteur for his report but noted little progress had been made when compared to earlier reports. The treatment of political prisoners in Belarus was “disgusting”. The Czech Republic called for the extension of the mandate.
Zimbabwe said that the promotion and protection of human rights must be based on cooperation and it supported the Universal Periodic Review as the most appropriate mechanism for the pursuit of the human rights agenda in Belarus. Zimbabwe called for the termination of the mandate.
Romania said the persecution of journalists, online and offline, and other actors which the report had identified as suffering from a restriction of various human rights in Belarus was of particular concern and it could not do anything but recommend the extension of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
China welcomed the achievements made by Belarus in promoting and protecting human rights and commended its active participation in the Universal Periodic Review. In the human rights area, naming and shaming and pressure could only lead to confrontation and harm the international cause of human rights. China expected the Council to be impartial and objective in looking at the situation of human rights in Belarus.
Switzerland said that on many occasions Switzerland had set out its concern regarding the situation of human rights in Belarus. It was crucial that the issue of the application of the death penalty continued to be addressed as part of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate. Switzerland called on Belarus to call a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its abolition. It strongly supported the renewal of the Special Rapporteur’s mandate.
United Kingdom said that it was clear that there were serious problems in Belarus and it believed that it was important to renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur. The report underlined the systematic nature of restrictions placed on human rights in Belarus and it urged the authorities to act in accordance with the country’s international obligations.
Lebanon said that it was important to defend human rights throughout the world and it welcomed progress made in Belarus and its ongoing cooperation with human rights mechanisms. Belarus should take a positive stance toward recommendations made to it.
Morocco said it recognized the progress that Belarus had achieved in fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals and also against trafficking, showing that cooperation could yield results. The Special Rapporteur’s report underscored that Belarus had a good relationship with the treaty bodies. There were important challenges ahead but progress could only be made in a spirit of cooperation.
Myanmar said country-specific mandates extended by the Human Rights Council were counterproductive and that the Universal Periodic Review was the best mechanism by which furtherance of the human rights agenda in Belarus could be achieved.
Lao People’s Democratic Republic said that it shared the common position of the Non-Aligned Movement that a country-specific resolution would not help to address human rights issues. It believed that the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism was the only appropriate forum to discuss or to review a situation of human rights in any country on an equal basis.
Montenegro said that it acknowledged the beneficial steps that Belarus had taken to advance work on the Millennium Development Goals, particularly its positive action to reduce the share of the population living below the national poverty line and to reduce the mortality rate for children less than five years of age. Nonetheless it shared concern regarding the human rights situation in Belarus and encouraged it to fulfill its obligations under the Convention against Torture, to which Belarus was party.
Slovakia said that no tangible shift in the human rights situation had been witnessed in Belarus and systemic restriction on the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of association, of assembly, of expression and opinion continued. Slovakia subscribed to and supported the recommendations made in the report and called on the Government of Belarus to ensure their proper implementation as well as of those submitted by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, including the establishment of an immediate moratorium on the death penalty.
Sri Lanka said that Belarus had remained engaged with mechanisms of the Council. Sri Lanka was disturbed that the report of the Special Rapporteur emerged from a politicized process and not from cooperation. Country-specific reports should be dropped in favour of a more constructive approach.
Sweden said that it was deeply concerned about the situation of detained political prisoners in Belarus, whose conditions of detention combined with the allegations of physical and psychological pressure exercised on them amounted to torture. Sweden called for the establishment of a moratorium on all executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.
Viet Nam said that it supported the spirit of dialogue and cooperation which was based on mutual understanding in international affairs. Viet Nam was pleased to see Belarus’ serious engagement and openness demonstrated during the country’s Universal Periodic Review in 2010 and by the submission of its mid-term progress report. Belarus was making efforts to fight trafficking in persons, to ensure economic growth and to cooperate with United Nations human rights mechanisms.
Lithuania said that it was regrettable that Belarus had not cooperated with the Special Rapporteur; an open and frank dialogue with United Nations human rights mechanisms could contribute to the promotion and protection of human rights. Lithuania fully supported the conclusions and recommendations contained in the report, and called upon Belarus to cooperate fully with the Special Rapporteur and other Special Procedures.
Norway urged the Government of Belarus to address the concerns raised in the report and to follow up its recommendations. It welcomed the initiatives to re-establish a parliamentary working group on the death penalty and to set up a national human rights institution in line with the Paris Principles and these should be recognised. Norway reiterated its call for the unconditional and immediate release of all political prisoners, human rights defenders and activists, and shared the concern expressed by the Special Rapporteur over their conditions of detention.
Uzbekistan said that it noted that the report was basically a collection of negative appraisals of the human rights situation in Belarus. The report did not accurately reflect the achievements made by Belarus. There were recommendations made which it found were unacceptable, such as the appeal to free convicted persons, without further investigation. There was a necessity to provide impartiality, objectivity, fairness and equality in the work of the Special Procedures.
Belgium said that it regretted that the Special Rapporteur was unable to visit the country and shared the analysis that human rights continued to be limited in a systematic fashion in Belarus, especially freedom of association, assembly and expression. Belgium underscored its deep concern with regards to the situation of political prisoners and insisted that the authorities effectively guarantee the protection of human rights defenders and also journalists.
Palestine said that it supported dialogue, cooperation and impartiality, and stressed that this mandate should not be subjected to politicization and double standards. The Universal Periodic Review was an important mechanism which promoted cooperation in the field of human rights. It was therefore preferable to focus on cooperation, and members of the Council should take confidence-building measures in order to promote human rights internationally.
Iran said that the findings of a biased, non-objective and selective report such as the report on Belarus were counter-productive and would not benefit the situation on the ground. On the other hand, the Universal Periodic Review was an important mechanism based on international cooperation. Sanctions imposed by the European Union on Belarus and other countries were in flagrant violation of international human rights law. Iran encouraged Belarus fully to implement its commitments.
Syria said that a country was once again being singled out and targeted by the European Union, which was now becoming common practice. The Special Rapporteur’s report was unbalanced and biased, and the Special Rapporteur had been appointed on the basis of a mandate which had not received unanimous support but had been instigated by countries which had a politicized approach to human rights and financed terrorist groups. The Council should stop targeting countries like Belarus.
Amnesty International was very concerned about the retention and application of the death penalty by Belarus. The Human Rights Council should address this egregious violation in Belarus where not even the most fundamental internationally recognised safeguards pertaining to the death penalty were respected.
Human Rights House Foundation said that the human rights situation in Belarus was such that it required the closest attention of the Human Rights Council. Over the years, Belarus had demonstrated unwillingness to reform its legal system, ensure checks and balances in its political system, and guarantee the respect of the rule of law in the country, leading to systematic human rights abuses.
Human Rights Watch said that the Belarusian Government continued to severely curtail freedoms of association, assembly, expression, and the right to fair trial. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur had helped maintain the much needed international attention on the ongoing repression in Belarus, two years after the beginning of the December 2010 post-electoral crackdown.
United Nations Watch said that it regretted the unjust attacks on the Special Rapporteur which had just been heard. United Nations Watch was concerned about the maltreatment of political opponents and human rights defenders in Belarus, the restrictions imposed on freedom of political opinion and expression, and the widespread discrimination.
International Federation for Human Rights Leagues said that it welcomed the Special Rapporteur’s report on Belarus, where the human rights situation remained poor and there were still political prisoners. Death sentences were still carried out in the country and civil society organizations receiving foreign funding were criminalized.
International Fellowship of Reconciliation said that the report did not specifically address the issue of freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Belarus, which was not respected in the country. The Special Rapporteur should monitor the situation of conscientious objectors and the contents of the proposed legislation to institute alternative civilian service.
Freedom House urged the extension of the mandate as one of the few actions taken by the international community in support of civil society in Belarus. The persecution of political prisoners, human rights defenders and the press was codified in Belarus. There were no legitimate elections in Belarus. The human rights situation in Belarus was grim.
CIVICUS welcomed the report of the Special Rapporteur which it said had nothing to do with political pressure and only the obligations of Belarus under its international human rights obligations. Numerous abuses had been noted on the ground in Belarus. The extension of the mandate was necessary to act as a roadmap for future cooperation with Belarus.
Belarus said in concluding remarks that it had taken note of the constructive contributions from certain speakers. It welcomed dialogue, not monologue, on this matter. Against a background of mass police crushing of demonstrations in the European Union there seemed to be a tactic on the part of the European Union of turning the world’s focus away from abuses at home to get out of the line of fire. Belarus refuted a number of the statements made by delegates in this debate but remained open to cooperation with human rights mechanisms. However such mechanisms that were artificially created to further political aims would always be rejected by Belarus.
MIKLOS HARASZTI, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, in response to criticism received from the group of like-minded countries that his report on Belarus was biased, said that his report included two whole chapters containing all the positive elements relating to the human rights situation in Belarus. Concerning the Universal Periodic Review, he clarified that all countries participated in that process, and all countries had accepted and implemented several of the recommendations made. Belarus should consider accepting and implementing more of its Universal Periodic Review recommendations, particularly in relation to the establishment of a national human rights institute in accordance with the Paris Principles. He explained that according to the legal definition of a “systemic violation” of human rights, a country remained systematically non-responsive to repeated violations over a long time without addressing the deeper reasons for those violations. That was the case in Belarus, where many of its obligations under international law were systematically violated. Mr. Haraszti said that he had been pleased to hear that Belarus had started discussing the possibility of cooperation for the enjoyment of human rights in the country, which he was prepared to serve further with practical and feasible reforms. He also said that the proposal made by CIVICUS and the question about conscientious objectors to military service were very good and would be taken into consideration.
The Council has before it the report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea (A/HRC/23/53).
Introduction of the Report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea
SHEILA KEETHARUTH, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, introducing her report, recalled that a year ago the Council, at its twentieth session, had condemned the continued widespread and systematic violations of human rights committed by Eritrean authorities and decided to create the mandate; the main objective had been to strengthen the human rights situation in Eritrea. The Special Rapporteur regretted the rejection of the mandate and the fact that she had not been invited to Eritrea. Ms. Keetharuth was also extremely concerned about the human rights situation in Eritrea based on her findings. The prevailing situation in the country was characterised by extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearance and incommunicado detention, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture and inhumane conditions. The situation was also alarming with regard to mass round-ups, forced conscription and the indefinite national service, as well as the country wide arming and military training of the civilian population. Severe curtailment of freedom of movement, opinion, expression, assembly, association and the right to freedom of religion warranted serious concern.
The arbitrary use of power by the State was violating the most fundamental principles of the rule of law. This was coupled with a complete absence of accountability mechanisms to bring those responsible for violations to justice. The alarming situation in Eritrea was triggering a constant stream of refugees to neighbouring countries, despite a shoot-to-kill policy targeting those fleeing; thousands of Eritrean citizens had fled over the past decade. In 2012, the total Eritrean population of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees amounted to 305,808 persons. The Special Rapporteur identified as priority areas and related actions in the medium term, to respect, protect and fulfil internationally recognised standards, to restore and respect the rule of law, to ratify human rights standards, and to cooperate with the United Nations and regional human rights mechanisms. Ms. Keetharuth asked Eritrea to grant her access in order to assess the situation on the ground and to engage in a frank dialogue to discuss the recommendations in the report and other challenges for the realisation of rights in Eritrea.
Statement by the Concerned Country
Eritrea, speaking as the concerned country, said that it was faced with another unfair report which had less to do with the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but was more so a tool for political pressure for extraneous objectives. Acknowledgment of the occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories and the environment of hostility as a hindrance to Eritrea’s efforts in protecting and promoting human rights issues was of critical importance and required the urgent consideration of the Council. Contrary to what had been alleged, Eritrea had been developing integrated institutional mechanisms within the Government bodies, the wider community structure and organizations to promote the ideals and practices which had positive effects on development and human rights. Extensive dialogue and engagement had been going on at bilateral levels as a way of building up the necessary preparation for the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. Eritrea strongly called upon the Council and other partners to support these genuine ongoing efforts.
Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea
Slovakia said that the human rights situation in Eritrea continued to be of concern and regretted Eritrea’s lack of cooperation with the Special Rapporteur. Slovakia agreed on the need for reforms, including a transformation of the culture of impunity in order to establish the rule of law. Slovakia took note of the pernicious issues highlighted in the report and called on Eritrea to implement the recommendations of the human rights expert. How would the Special Rapporteur address the situation of the most vulnerable?
Cuba believed that punitive approaches precipitated a spiral of confrontation, rather than the dialogue and transparency needed for true international cooperation. International cooperation required a profound understanding of the different problems affecting societies as well as the different levels of development and cultural and historical specificities. The universal periodic review provided an opportunity for genuine cooperation, as well as the exchange of good practices and assistance.
Austria said that a year ago the Council had heeded the call of the African Union concerning the situation in Eritrea and commended the Special Rapporteur for the way in which the mandate had been carried out. The report documented a number of alarming human rights violations, including the lack of freedom of expression, arbitrary arrests and incommunicado detentions. Austria called on Eritrea to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur and to engage in a frank dialogue on these issues.
Norway said that it was disturbed by the seriousness of the information in the report. The excessive militarization of the Eritrean society and its reported effect on the daily lives of the Eritrean population was of great concern. Norway urged the Eritrean authorities to respect international human rights law and implement its international obligations as well as the Eritrean Constitution and its provisions. Eritrea was also urged to cooperate with the international community, including by providing access to the Special Rapporteur.
Czech Republic said that despite the fact that Eritrea was party to a number of core international human rights instruments, it systematically violated most of the rights enshrined in them. The Czech Republic regretted the lack of cooperation of the Government of Eritrea with international and regional human rights mechanisms, and urged the Government to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur and to fully cooperate with her, including by providing her access to the country.
United Kingdom called on the Government of Eritrea to cooperate with the United Nations human rights system and support the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur and to implement the Universal Periodic Review recommendations, including acceding to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance. Were there priority areas which the Government of Eritrea should address immediately?
Ethiopia said that it was deplorable that the Government of Eritrea had not extended cooperation to the Special Rapporteur. The Special Rapporteur’s focus on Eritrea’s troubled relationship with its neighbours could have been avoided. It was important that the Special Rapporteur made clear that Eritrea could not use border disputes to continue to violate its human rights obligations. It was deplorable that Eritrea continued to commit systematic human rights violations against its people and Ethiopia was very concerned.
For use of the information media; not an official record