Tens of thousands of people—many of them peaceful protesters—have been arbitrarily arrested and detained in Belarus over the past two and a half years, UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said Tuesday.
The comments came as Al-Nashif presented a report outlining human rights violations in Belarus to the UN’s Human Rights Council. The report focuses on events leading up to and following the 2020 Belarusian presidential election and the protests that occurred during that time.
The report, published in February, analyzes information collected during interviews with witnesses and victims. It presents evidence of the unlawful deaths of at least five people, 100 or more cases of sexual and gender-based violence, unnecessary use of force against individuals believed to oppose the government, attacks on independent media channels, and arbitrary arrests marked by unfair sentences that the High Commissioner calls “politically motivated.”
The report also urges the revocation of several oppressive legislative amendments, including one that allows the termination of citizenship of people who “participat[e] in extremist activities or caus[e] serious harm to the interests of the Republic of Belarus.”Al-Nashif said during her presentation that:
The notion of “extremism” is defined too broadly in national legislation… there were many criminal cases in 2022 by the [Belarusian] Prosecutor General’s Office based on allegations of “extremism”. These amendments, which provide broad license for abusive repression and open the door to statelessness, should be revoked.
Another concern raised in the report is the broadened scope of the death penalty to include offenses that would not qualify under international standards.
Ultimately, the High Commissioner’s office seeks to use the information in the report to challenge authoritarian threats to the rule of law in Belarus. Al-Nashif also called on other Member States to use national proceedings to hold Belarus accountable for its repressive tactics. She asserted that:
Prompt, effective, transparent and independent investigations must be launched into all past human rights violations, with provision of adequate remedies, including due accountability for perpetrators. Given the current circumstances of limited accountability prospects in Belarus, other Member States should also consider working towards accountability through national proceedings, based on accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction, consistent with international due process and fair trial standards.
The February report is not the first of its kind. In March 2022, the High Commissioner’s office released its first report investigating the human rights situation related to the 2020 presidential election. That report documented the use of unnecessary crowd control weapons on protestors, around 5,000 complaints of ill-treatment of detainees, and trials that failed to uphold basic procedural guarantees. In a way, the most recent report only expands on these earlier findings, raising increased concern over the systemic abuse of power in Belarus.
Wednesday’s presentation follows a statement from High Commissioner Volker Türk last week calling for the end of human rights abuses in Belarus.