Ales Bialiatski’s statement at Human Rights Council - 28th Session

05/03/2015
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Human Rights Council - 28th session

General Segment - 5 March 2015
Oral statement by Aliaksandr Bialiatski

Mr. President, Mr. High Commissioner,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

My name is Ales Bialiatski. I am the President of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” in Belarus and the Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH).

For three years, as recognized by the UN Working Group on arbitrary detention and the UN Human Rights Committee, I was arbitrarily detained in my country for my human rights activities. International public opinion, as well as the multiple calls for my release that resonated in this room, built the pressure that ultimately enabled me to be free.

In many countries, human rights defenders do not have the opportunity to act or speak openly. Their voices are stifled and go unheard. The Human Rights Council is unique in the space it provides to civil society, allowing it to make public statements about the problems in our regions. Human rights defenders and NGOs that participate in the work of the Council are actors of change and progress in their own societies.

Beyond the voices of civil society, UN statements and resolutions on human rights in country-specific situations provide the political impetus which is necessary to support citizens in countries where they may be persecuted for exercising their rights and freedoms. Country-specific mandates have demonstrated their usefulness in situations of gross and systematic human rights violations. That space, and the work of UN Special Rapporteurs, must be protected and fostered.

Mr. President,

Human rights defenders face multiple obstacles and risks, from threats to their physical integrity, attacks, ill-treatment, killings and enforced disappearances to slander, illegal surveillance and arbitrary detention. They are targeted by laws defining their legitimate activities as “anti-state” and given the humiliating and spurious label of “foreign agent”, which is what happens in Russia; or they are criminally prosecuted for their activities within non-registered organisations, which is what happens in Belarus. Their access to funding is restricted or blocked; and their permitted activities are criminalized. Despite resolution 22/6, which was adopted by this Council two years ago, international standards and growing jurisprudence, the space for civil society and human rights defenders is under threat or shrinking globally.

Repressive regimes imprison peaceful activists on trumped-up charges in order to silence them. In my own case, the Human Rights Committee recognized that my detention was the direct consequence of the violation of my right to freedom of association. By doing this, the Committee made it clear that no manipulation of internal legislation by states can hide gross human rights violations from the international community.

In many parts of the world, land and environmental rights defenders also pay a high price – sometimes, the ultimate price – for confronting unbridled development and land use, which are detrimental to livelihoods and violate human rights.

Mr. President,

Attacks on civil society go hand in hand with attacks on the universality of human rights carried out under the pretext of “tradition”, “religion” or “values”. In supporting the right that unique human cultures have to development, we also speak out against the use of these concepts as instruments of social control and repression and as weapons to undermine international standards on freedom of expression, freedom of religion, women’s rights, gender equality, and non-discrimination of persons on grounds of their sexual orientation and gender identity.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Within this Council, the multiple points of order raised against accredited NGOs echo the persecution of civil society at the domestic level. This must not be allowed to continue. The Council must defend civil society space and, through the various tools at its disposal, it must exert all the pressure it can to curb abuses of power and call for accountability. It is not only the Council’s mandate (as per paragraph 3 of UN General Assembly resolution 60/251), but also its moral obligation.

We are shocked by the killing of Boris Nemtsov, the famous Russian public figure, and demand a thorough and independent investigation into this crime. In closing, I would like to make a simple wish: that human rights defenders who are currently impeded to come to this assembly, such as Nabeel Rajab,Mazen Darwish, Hani Al-Zitani, Hussein Gharir, Razan Zeitouneh, Yara Sallam, Mahienour El-Massry, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Raif Badawi, Waleed Abu Al-Khair, Nasrin Sotoudeh, Nargess Mohammadi, Leyla and Arif Yunus, Rasul Jafarov, Intigam Aliyev, Hilal Mammadov, Azimjan Askarov, and many others who have been subjected to spurious charges, imprisoned or kidnapped, be able to give their testimonies in this very room.

Thank you for your attention.

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