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Massive Violations Against Government Opponents in Belarus Continue Unabated

Belarusian journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, right, and Dr. Artom Sorokin attend a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 19, 2021.
Belarusian journalist Katsiaryna Barysevich, right, and Dr. Artom Sorokin attend a court hearing in Minsk, Belarus, Feb. 19, 2021.

A report submitted Thursday to the U.N. Human Rights Council finds massive violations against anti-government protesters in the run-up to the August presidential elections in Belarus and its aftermath. The report covers serious violations between May 1 and December 20, 2020.

The report presents a bleak picture of a country that has a longstanding and chronic pattern of systemic violations of human rights and impunity. It documents numerous and widespread violations in the context of the election, violations that continue to this day.

They include the systematic denial of fundamental freedoms, arbitrary arrests, hundreds of allegations of torture, harassment and intimidation targeting opposition members, journalists and human rights defenders.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet says there is no accountability for all these violations, which are committed with impunity to create an atmosphere of fear.

"We understand that not one of the hundreds of complaints for acts of torture and ill-treatment, which the report mentions, had led to the opening of a criminal case, prior to our cut-off date of 20 December…(CUT)…Since completion of our report, the human rights situation has further deteriorated, Bachelet said. "The Government’s systematic crackdown against protestors continues.”

As of February 9, Bachelet says some 246 people have been sentenced to prison terms on allegedly politically motivated charges.

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko’s controversial re-election for a sixth term on August 9, triggered international protests, a special session at the council and numerous critical reports on the unfolding crisis. The ongoing condemnation has not fazed Lukashenko, who continues to use an iron fist to keep his grip on power.

Bachelet says it is essential for the future of the country that human rights be respected, and fundamental freedoms and rights guaranteed. She is calling for an immediate end to the policy of harassment and intimidation of civil society and media workers.

"All those who have been detained for peacefully exercising their rights should be released, Bachelet said. "Thorough, effective, credible and transparent investigations should be conducted into all allegations of serious human rights violations, with perpetrators brought to justice.”

Belarus Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva Yury Ambrazevich calls the report subjective, simplistic and lacking in objectivity. He says the report does not contain important information on government policy that was provided to the authors.

For example, the says the report does not contain many witness accounts of deliberate acts of violence by protesters against law enforcement officers. Nor, he says, does it report on the use of social media by opponents to disseminate false information against the government and to discredit law enforcement.