Belarus: Justice Systematically Denied to Survivors of Human Rights Abuses, While Lawyers Risk Their Safety Pursuing Justice Domestically
A new briefing paper by a coalition of international and Belarusian NGOs highlights the myriad of challenges that prevent survivors of torture and other human rights violations from pursuing justice inside and outside Belarus.
On 8 February 2023, Belarus withdrew from the individual complaints’ procedure before the UN Human Rights Committee, by denouncing the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 30 years after its accession. The Committee was virtually the only UN treaty body for which Belarus had accepted an individual complaints procedure. This decision deprived victims of human rights violations, who had been denied justice domestically, of bringing their complaints before the Committee. In the last 30 years, the Committee had considered hundreds of complaints against Belarus on issues ranging from freedom of expression, the right to peaceful assembly to fair trials in death penalty cases.
The briefing, written by REDRESS in collaboration with Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House, the Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers, Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Danish Institute Against Torture, Human Constanta, International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, International Federation for Human Rights), Legal Initiative, Respect – Protect – Fulfil, Right to Defense, Viasna Human Rights Centre, and the World Organisation against Torture, describes the systemic problems that make it difficult, and in some cases impossible, for survivors to exhaust domestic avenues in their pursuit of justice or to provide information about their failed attempts a step that is typically required to be able to file case before the Committee.
Difficulties often include:
- The use of closed hearings and non-disclosure notices by authorities in politically-motivated cases, which bar lawyers from submitting supporting documents to the Committee.
- Retaliation against lawyers and victims who resort to international bodies.
- State-orchestrated impunity, which manifests itself in the authorities’ failure to prosecute and punish acts of torture and ill-treatment against protesters committed in the context of the 2020 presidential elections and its aftermath.
- Inability to access domestic remedies in cases of administrative detention.
The briefing also argues that hundreds of survivors of torture and other human rights violations have been denied their right to appeal or other remedies due to the failure by the Belarusian authorities to investigate hundreds of criminal complaints that have been filed domestically.
According to the International Accountability Platform for Belarus, which gathered over 2,300 interviews of survivors of torture and other serious human rights violations committed in Belarus in the context of the August 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, there is not a single case where survivors have successfully achieved justice in Belarus.
Since the 2020 presidential election, the human rights situation has significantly worsened, with the UN High Commission for Human Rights finding in his report to the UN Human Rights Council in May that some human rights violations “may amount to crimes against humanity.”
The High Commissioner also found that there is rampant impunity and a lack of effective remedies available in Belarus, a finding that was reiterated in its update to the Human Rights Council in September on the human rights situation in Belarus. Due to the ongoing human rights crisis in Belarus, it is crucial for survivors to be able to access justice outside Belarus and that the Committee considered complaints submitted to this body before 8 February 2023.
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