KCL MUN Study Guide - Human rights violations in Belarus (24/01)


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KCL MUN Study Guide - Human rights violations in Belarus (24/01)

  1. 1. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATI ONS IN BELARUS STUDY GUIDE FOR THE SIMULATION OF THE UN HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCILOriginally created for the 5th annual session of the Warsaw Model United Nations October 2011, Warsaw Authors: Piotr Gałązka, Katarzyna Bużańska Adapted by: Adam Malczak 1
  2. 2. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012UN Human Rights CouncilThe United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC, HRC) is a subsidiary body of theUN General Assembly, designed to act withing the UN system in order to promote andprotect human rights principles in all Member States. The seat of the Council is in Geneva,Switzerland.It was established by the General Assembly in 2006, replacing the former United NationsCommission on Human Rights. This change in the UN system was enforced by some of theMember States, chiefly the US, European Union and members of the UN Secretariat, seeingthe Commission more of a farce, where countries repeateadly violating Human Rights wereallowed to join due to the confusing regional seat allocation procedures. Such countries couldtherefore block the resolutions unfavourable towards their own policies or the policies of theallies, hence distorting the very idea of the Human Rights protection.The Council composes of 47 members (states), elected for a three-year term by the GeneralAssembly. Membership of the Council is divided amongts the UN regional groups (similarlyto the ECOSOC or the Security Council to some extent).The General Assembly is entitled to suspend any member of the Council which persistentlyabuses Human Rights and violates the very principles and standard of the Council. Recentexample of such actions is the suspension of Libya following Col. Gaddafi’s fiercefulresponse to the 2011 uprising. 2
  3. 3. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012Post-Soviet Belarus– a brief introductionBelarus proclaimed its sovereignty from the Soviet Union on the 27th July 1990. The politicalsystem was transformed into a democratic, presidential system, however allowing for someauthoritarian characteristics to develop.Belarus was the founding member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), whichwas created to fill the geopolitical vacuum that appeared after the dissolution of the SovietUnion. The CIS composes chiefly of the former Soviet republics in Asia, Belarus and theRussian Federation as a major partner. Moreover, in 1996, Russia and Belarus formed what iscalled the Union State – a supranational legal entity that binds these two states together.Although the Union has its own intergovernmental bodies, they have shown little influence onthe relations between the countries, which is rather based on the personal relations betweenthe heads of state of Belarus and Russia. Yet, it was recently announced that both countriesseek the deepening of the Union, joint Constitutional Act and the possible extension in thefuture (to include more CIS countries). Since his election as the countrys first president in July 1994, Alexander Lukashenko has steadily consolidated his power through authoritarian means. Only in 1996 he enforced a change to the constitution that extended his term in office to 7 years without new elections. Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful assembly, and religion remain in place. Belarus, republic in name, although in fact a dictatorship, as some say, is viewed as a rogue state by the United States andEuropean democracies, i.e. the one whose conduct is out of line with international norms ofbehaviour and whose regime is considered to grossly violate human rights.Some of the most notable recent examples were the harassment of the Union of Poles inBelarus which represents ethnic Poles in the region; and abduction, unlawful detainment andtorture of a prominent American lawyer Emanuel Zeltser as well as his assistant, and free-lance journalist, Vladlena Funk during the US - Belarus hostage crisis in 2008-2009. 3
  4. 4. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012Religious, political and journalistic activity is tightly controlled. Other alleged human rightsviolations have included the digging up of a Jewish cemetery in order to build a sportsstadium. Concerns have also been raised by the UCSJ (Union of Councils for Soviet Jews)among others, of Lukashenka’s alleged use of Neo-Nazi thugs in intimidating oppositionsupporters during general elections. There have also been accusations ofwidespread spying on ordinary people and minority groups, in what commentators have calleda manner reminiscent of the Soviet Union.The US Department of State repeatedly criticised Lukashenka’s totalitarian regime, describingit as a brutal, authoritarian dictatorship that blatantly ignores human rights and fundamentalfreedoms. Numerous assessments of the United Nations, United States and European andEuro-Atlantic organisations demonstrate Belarus’s disregard for human rights, lack ofindependent judiciary, subservience of Belarusian courts to Lukashenka’s administration andmembers of Lukashenka’s corrupt inner-circle; routine use of Belarusian judiciary as anartifice for accomplishing improper political objectives and accommodating the privateinterests of the powers that be.United Nations Human Rights Council noted that Belarusian political system is incompatiblewith the concept of human rights. Belarus has been dabbed the last true remaining dictatorshipin the heart of Europe by the US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.Belarus is subject of US sanctions for “undermining democratic process and constituting anunusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the UnitedStates”. It is also subject of the sanctions imposed by the European Union for egregioushuman rights violations. Although the popularity of A. Lukashenko is still visible amongst thepoorest classes of the society, all his bids for reelection (in 2001, 2006 and 2011) were dubbedus unlawful and the elections labelled “entirely undemocratic”.Belarus has been repeatedly determined to be a habitual violator of international laws ofhuman rights and universally accepted norms of international behaviour by the UN, US, theOrganization of Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the OSCE ParliamentaryAssembly, the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, theEuropean Council, the European Parliament, the European Commission, and the NATOParliamentary Assembly. As stated by the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus “it is impossible 4
  5. 5. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012to believe that all these people are wrong or biased”.Insight into the Human Rights SituationLukashenka’s regimes recent violent break-up of peaceful demonstration of tens of thousandsof people, following fraudulent December 2010 election has stunned people around the world.On 31 January 2011 the European Union and the United States announced continuation of theprevious sanctions and imposition of new sanctions against Lukashenka and his inner circle.Resolution of the EU Parliament provides that EU Parliamentary Assembly “is dismayed bythe unprecedented wave of violence, intimidation, mass arrests and prosecution of politicalopponents, human rights defenders, media workers, students and citizens of Belarus thatfollowed the announcement of the results of the presidential election that took place inBelarus on 19 December 2010. Over 600 people were arrested, including presidentialcandidates, whereas assaults and searches were carried out in the homes of opposition leaders,human rights defenders and journalists as well as on the premises of several non-governmental organisations and media outlets. In the month that followed the election, thecrackdown continued in a more targeted way and today still shows no signs of relenting.One of the more notable recent examples of Belarusian government’s violation of humanrights and international norms is abduction, unlawful detainment and torture of a prominentAmerican lawyer Emanuel Zeltser and his assistant and free-lance journalist Vladlena Funk.As was widely reported, on 11 March 2008, Mr. Zeltser and Mrs. Funk had been abducted inLondon UK by the Belarusian KGB operatives. Both were drugged and secretly andtransported to Belarus aboard a private jet belonging to Boris Berezovsky, a notorious Russian“oligarch” and close friend of Lukashenka - wanted by the Interpol for fraud, moneylaundering, participation in organised crime and transnational financial crimes. Upon landingin Minsk, Belarus, Mr Zeltser and Ms Funk had been detained by the personal guard ofAlexander Lukashenka according to the US Department of State. Mr Zeltser and Mrs. Funkwere transported to “Amerikanka”, the Belarusian dreaded KGB detention facility of theStalin era. There both had been repeatedly tortured, denied critical medications and told thatthey would remain in captivity indefinitely unless the United States lifts sanctions against Mr.Lukashenka and Belneftekhim. Mr. Zeltser and Mrs. Funk had been held hostage by the 5
  6. 6. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012Belarusian KGB for 473 days and 373 days respectively.According to the Belarusian Criminal Code it is illegal to act in the name of an unregisteredorganization. Most human rights organizations find it difficult to register with the Ministry ofJustice. On 4th of August 2011 the arrest of the Chair of a non-governmental human rightsorganization Viasna, Ales Bialatsky, charged with tax evasion took place. The arrest wassupposedly a result of information obtained from Lithuanian and Polish authorities aboutBialatsky’s bank accounts opened in these countries to fund his organization. The arrestthough seems connected to the resent unrest in Belarus after the December elections and is ameans of preventing Viasna from actions against the government.Preoccupied by the recent “silent protests” against the state on July 29th 2011 the authorityissued a new law that requires permission from the government in order to carry outgatherings with a political context whether active or inactive. The right to arrest citizens oncharge of standing is incomprehensible. 6
  7. 7. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012 UN viewThe UN Human Rights Council 2007 Report notes that the Special Rapporteur hasencountered, for the third consecutive year, an absolute refusal to cooperate on the part of theGovernment of Belarus. The situation of human rights in Belarus is constantly deteriorating.The Government of Belarus did not consider any of the recommendations made by theSpecial Rapporteur and treaty bodies such as the Human Rights Committee.Remarkably, the UN Special Rapporteur noted that “the political system of Belarus seems tobe incompatible with the concept of human rights” and that “the Human Rights Councilshould either call for the democratization of the political regime and a change in the politicalbehaviour of the Government [of Belarus] or admit that Belarus’ human rights record cannotbe improved because the human rights violations are consistent with the political nature of theregime.” The UN Special Rapporteur states that “Belarus does not respect its obligationsunder the international human rights instruments to which it has adhered” and reiterates hisrecommendation “that the Security Council should adopt appropriate measures to ensure therespect by the Republic of Belarus of its legal obligations”. 7
  8. 8. KCL Model United Nations Society 2011/2012EU viewIn March 2006 the European Council imposed sanctions on Lukashenka and other membersof Belarusian government and condemned the action of the Belarus authorities in arrestingpeaceful demonstrators exercising their legitimate right of free assembly to protest at theconduct of the Presidential elections.On 10 April 2006, the Council decided to adopt restrictive measures against PresidentLukashenka, the Belarusian leadership and officials responsible for the violations ofinternational electoral standards and international human rights law, as well as for thecrackdown on civil society and democratic opposition. These individuals should be subjectedto a visa ban and possible further targeted measures.In its subsequent 8 November 2006 Declaration, the Council stated that the European Union is“deeply concerned” about imprisonment of political leaders which show the “Belarusianauthorities’ repeated unwillingness to respect international human rights standards, especiallythe right to a fair trial. The European Union also expresses its concern about the denial ofaccess of observers to the trial.” 8