NEW YORK - Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya appealed to the United Nations on Friday to stop human rights abuses in her country, a month after the results of a disputed presidential election have led to the arrests of thousands of peaceful protesters.
“The demands of the nation are simple,” Tsikhanouskaya told an informal meeting of the U.N. Security Council by video from Lithuania, to which she fled after the results of the August 9 election were published. “The immediate termination of violence and threats by the regime, immediate release of all political prisoners, and a free and fair election.”
Tsikhanouskaya also called on the United Nations to condemn the use of excessive force by the Belarusian security services against protesters; to convene a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council; and to send an international monitoring mission to Belarus to document the situation on the ground.
She said there is a single obstacle to the people’s demands being met.
“This obstacle is Mr. Lukashenko, a man desperately clinging onto power and refusing to listen to his people and his own state officials,” she said. “A nation cannot and should not be a hostage to one man's thirst for power. And it won't.”
President Alexander Lukashenko has kept a tight grip on Belarus for 26 years, and he was declared the winner with more than 80% of the votes. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya was his leading opponent in the race. She took the place of her husband, Sergei, a blogger and pro-democracy activist who had presidential aspirations. He was arrested in late May and a criminal case was opened against him, preventing his candidacy.
In the months leading up to the election, and escalating afterward, Lukashenko’s government cracked down on street protests, using excessive force on demonstrators. Thousands were arrested and many reported being tortured in custody. After the election, internet access was severely disrupted for three days and the websites of dozens of influential media and civil society groups were blocked. Foreign journalists could not obtain credentials to cover the vote and some were deported.
The election results have been widely viewed as rigged in Lukashenko’s favor and have been rejected by the European Union and the United States, among others. The EU will soon impose sanctions on those responsible for violence, repression and the falsification of election results.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Belarus is a member, has offered to send a high-level delegation to the capital, Minsk, to facilitate dialogue between the authorities and the opposition. Lukashenko and his supporters have refused to engage.
Russia backs Lukashenko, and its deputy U.N. envoy on Friday accused Western nations of seeking “regime change” in Belarus.
Belarus’ U.N. ambassador accused the Security Council of abusing its authority by discussing the issue, which he said does not threaten international peace and security.
“The future of Belarus will be decided by its own people,” Ambassador Valentin Rybakov said. “Outside interference will never be tolerated by the Belarusian authorities.”
The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Belarus argued that rights violations are of interest to the international community, especially when there is a risk of escalating violence.
“When a government announces its readiness to use the army against its own citizens in peacetime, when it baselessly accuses its neighbors of interference and aggression, and when it is prepared to sacrifice the sovereignty of the country and the independence of its institutions in order to stay in place at all costs, it is international peace and security that are threatened,” Anais Marin told the meeting.