UN rights chief urges Belarus to release political prisoners

[JURIST] UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] on Tuesday suggested a need for UN intervention [report text, PDF] in Belarus and demanded the nation free non-violent political prisoners. Although Belarus is an active member of the UN and has ratified many of its human rights policies, Pillay noted a sharp deterioration in human rights since the 2010 disputed re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] who has been in power for 17 years since his 1994 election. Pillay said that citizens have been discouraged from protesting and have not received fair trials, and she referenced the administration enforcing "a policy of harassment against non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and human rights defenders." The report also cited Belarus as the only European nation to still enforce the death penalty. Pillay recommended the immediate release of political prisoners, an end to harassment of human rights and NGOs, an investigation into alleged abuses of the judicial system and the acceptance of an Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) [official website] mission to the country. In response, ambassador Mikhail Khvostov for Belarus said his country disagrees on what constitutes a peaceful demonstration [UN News Centre report] and that Belarus is committed to human rights.

Last month, members of the Belarus Parliament introduced a bill that would ban so-called "silent protests" [JURIST report], including those involving large groups of people basically doing nothing. Nonetheless, silent protests continue [RT report], largely in defiance of Lukashenko. Earlier this year, Belarus' Minsk City Court delivered suspended sentences for two former presidential candidates, Uladzimer Nyaklyaeu and Vital Rymasheuski, convicted of organizing protests following the re-election [JURIST reports] of Lukashenko. The two-year suspended sentences were handed down days after former presidential candidate Andrey Sannikau [Free Belarus Now profile] was sentenced to five years [JURIST report]. Hundreds of activists were arrested after protesting Lukashenko's 2006 presidential win, including opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich [JURIST reports]. While Lukashenko has since sought to improve his country's ties with western nations, the US State Department has historically criticized Belarus' human rights record [JURIST report]. The UN General Assembly Third Committee and the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights [JURIST reports] have similarly denounced Belarus for human rights abuses.

 

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