UN High Commissioner calls on Belarus to release political prisoners News
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UN High Commissioner calls on Belarus to release political prisoners

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in an address Thursday to the UN Human Rights Council, called upon the Belarusian government to release more than 1000 activists, opposition members, journalists, and dissenting citizens detained on “politically motivated charges.” She stated that the Belarusian security forces had arrested more than 13,500 people, including 700 children, in the days following the contested 2020 presidential elections when large-scale protests took place against the electoral victory of President Alexander Lukashenko.

The High Commissioner submitted her investigative report on Belarus to the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday, detailing human rights violations of a “widespread and systematic nature” carried out by the Belarusian government in the lead up to the presidential election and its aftermath.

She said that Belarusian authorities had used excessive force against peaceful protesters, resulting in the deaths of at least three people left uninvestigated. Both male and female detainees were subject to sexual and psychological violence. Around 1000 detainees were convicted after several closed and summary trials. She also stated that there was a “massive crackdown” against independent media and civil society groups, resulting in the closure of 344 organizations. The Belarusian government has also recently amended the Criminal Code to criminalize participation in such closed or unregistered organizations. The report found the activities of the Belarusian government to suppress all forms of criticism and prevent accountability for the violations committed.

Noting the inaction of Belarusian national systems in addressing these violations, the High Commissioner stated that State organs warranted further assessment from the perspective of relevant international criminal law. In addition to the recommendations made in her March 2021 report, the High Commissioner urged the Member States to hold Belarusian government authorities accountable through national proceedings based on principles of both extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction. In November 2021, human rights watchdogs had initiated such action against Belarusian security authorities in Germany because of its universal jurisdiction.

Belarusian diplomat Andrei Taranda dismissed the report’s findings, calling them “false allegations and false accusations” supporting organizations working against Belarus.