International Scrutiny Increases for Belarus

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OSCE, UN Human Rights Council Launch Inquiries

Rachel Denber
Deputy Director, Europe and Central Asia Division

Internationally, pressure is increasing on Belarus, where for the past 41 days, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest alleged election fraud in the presidential vote and the ensuing violence against demonstrators by law enforcement.

On September 17, 17 participating countries of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) announced an independent expert investigation into torture and repression in Belarus. On September 18, the UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution that sets in motion close UN human rights monitoring of the situation by the UN’s human rights chief, requesting that she provide an oral update by the end of 2020 and a report to the Human Rights Council by March 2021.

The outpouring started the night of the August 9 presidential election. In the first few days after the vote, riot police arrested nearly 7,000 protesters and bystanders and systematically beat and committed acts of torture against hundreds. Authorities arrested and deported dozens of journalists. They arrested or forced into exile most of the country’s political opposition leaders. They have also threatened to fire people from their jobs for protesting.

For a time, the number of arrests dropped, but now they are ticking up again. Police are detaining hundreds of people throughout the country, including students and prominent rights activists, grabbing them from home and work, accusing them of participating in past protests. On September 17, they arrested Maria Ryabkova, a human rights defender with Viasna, one of Belarus’s top human rights groups, who documented police torture in recent weeks.

In contrast, authorities have yet to launch a single criminal investigation into the well-documented cases of torture.

For weeks, the protests and crackdown have made headlines, with the latter drawing international condemnation. Hopefully, the recent moves by both the OSCE and the UN Human Rights Council show that international attention on Belarus will not only be sustained but increase.

These inquiries do not eliminate, but rather underscore Belarus’ own obligations to hold police accountable for beating, sexually abusing, and humiliating detained protesters and others. The inquiries will also help establish an authoritative, independent record of the abuses, and maintain the spotlight on Belarusian authorities’ conduct for months to come.

Importantly, the inquiries will also signal to those fighting for their rights in Belarus that they are not alone.

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