UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk Thursday said Belarus must end human rights abuses taking place within the country. In his statement, Türk called for the cessation of “systemic repression of perceived critics,” and the immediate release of “all detainees held on political grounds.”
Türk’s statement comes in response to a report detailing alleged incidents of abuse in Belarus from May 2020 through December 2022. The report, collected from 207 witnesses, detailed graphic allegations of abuse by state authorities. In it, witnesses recount incidents of arbitrary detention in which they were deprived of sleep, exposed to high concentrations of chlorine and faced severe physical, verbal and sexual abuse. The majority of those facing detention claimed they were targeted due to their political opposition to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Numerous other witnesses stated their alleged abuse stemmed from engaging with non-governmental organizations labeled by the state as “extremist.”
The report further detailed state oppression of institutions designed to protect citizens. Witnesses claimed trials in Belarus are conducted in an unfair manner. During trials, testimony is collected primarily from law enforcement or security persons accused of the abuse. Anonymous testimony is also allowed. Lawyers representing detained clients face potential disbarment or imprisonment for performing their duties.
The UN High Commission for Human Rights previously called on Belarus to release political prisoners. However, the government under Lukashenko has moved to halt all opposition activity in the country. This includes the passage of a law that will allow the government to strip Belarusians of their citizenship.