John Kerry, United States Secretary of State, has presented 2013 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.
‘The country’s constitution provides for a directly elected president, who is head of state, and a bicameral parliament, the national assembly. A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government, but power is concentrated in the presidency, both de jure and de facto. Since his election as president in 1994, Aliaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his rule over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. All subsequent presidential elections, including the one held in 2010, were neither free nor fair and fell well short of international standards. The September 2012 parliamentary elections also failed to meet international standards. Civilian authorities, Lukashenka in particular, maintained effective control over the security forces. Security forces committed human rights abuses,’ the report introduces the situation in Belarus.
The report outlines the most significant human rights problems in Belarus, i.e. citizens were unable to change their government through elections; in a system bereft of checks and balances, authorities committed frequent, serious abuses; and persons remained imprisoned on politically motivated charges, while the government failed to account for longstanding cases of politically motivated disappearances.
According to the report, other human rights problems in Belarus included abuses by security forces, which beat detainees and protesters and reportedly used torture or mistreatment during investigations and in prisons. Prison conditions remained extremely poor. Authorities arbitrarily arrested, detained, and imprisoned citizens for criticizing officials, participating in demonstrations, and other political reasons. The judiciary suffered from a lack of independence and political interference; trial outcomes often appeared predetermined, and trials frequently were conducted behind closed doors or in absentia. Authorities continued to infringe on the right of privacy. The government restricted civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement. The government seized printed materials from civil society activists and prevented independent media from disseminating information and materials. The government continued to hinder or prevent the activities of some religious groups, at times fining them or restricting their services. Official corruption in all branches of government remained a problem. Authorities harassed human rights groups, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and political parties, refusing to register many and then threatening them with criminal prosecution for operating without registration. Violence and discrimination against women were problems, as was violence against children. Trafficking in persons remained a significant problem. There was discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) persons, persons with disabilities, Roma, ethnic minorities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and those who sought to use the Belarusian language. Authorities harassed and at times dismissed members of independent unions from employment in state-owned enterprises, severely limiting the ability of workers to form and join independent trade unions and to organize and bargain collectively.
Authorities at all levels operated with impunity and failed to take steps to prosecute or punish officials in the government or security forces who committed human rights abuses.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
Local and international human rights organizations reported several different lists of political prisoners in the country. These included individuals serving prison time or partial house arrest at the year’s end. The independent human rights monitoring NGO “Vyasna” reported that there were 11 political prisoners in the country. Government officials referenced “so-called political prisoners” but denied that they received harsher treatment in detention facilities. Many of those pardoned reported pressure to sign pardon requests, and most were subsequently still unable to exercise some civil and political rights, the report says.
Prominent prisoners, including former presidential candidate Mikalai Statkevich and Malady Front leader Eduard Lobau, reportedly faced mistreatment and severe pressure in jail; Ales Bialiatski, chairman of Viasna, remained imprisoned on politically motivated tax evasion charges related to his human rights activities, it stresses.
‘Two other individuals whom prosecutors called “anarchists” remained in prison at year’s end. During their court hearings, the defendants reported threats against associates and family members to compel them to testify against them, as well as pressure to sign confessions. Leading local human rights groups, including Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), either recognized these individuals as prisoners of conscience or noted serious due process violations that required at the very least a retrial.
Authorities also maintained control over some of those prisoners who already had been released. For example, on August 20 authorities sentenced Uladzimir Yaromenak, an activist of the Young Front opposition movement and former political prisoner, to three months in jail on charges of violating preventive supervision restrictions,’ the report says.
The document concerns various fields, i.e. academic freedom and cultural events, human trafficking, abuse, fundamental freedoms, etc. To read the full version of the report on our country click here.