Belarusian state refuses cooperation with the UN Human Rights Committee in Bialiatski case as his detention conditions worsen

Press release
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The Government of Belarus has responded to a complaint to the Human Rights Committee in the case of Ales Bialiatski, filed on his behalf by his wife, Natalia Pinchuk, and signed by Antoine Bernard, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), of which Mr. Bialiatski is vice-president.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has sent the applicants a copy of the communiqué from the Republic of Belarus’ Permanent Mission to the United Nations and other international organisations in Geneva. The document states that Belarus has ended its cooperation regarding this case, and will not agree to be bound by any decision handed down by the Committee. The Government claims that the complaint has no legal grounds. The Government further restates its responses to the complaints against Belarus of 2010 and 2011: the Belarusian Government does not recognize the rules governing the Human Rights Committee’s procedures and therefore the Committee’s decisions will not be considered valid.

Valentin Stefanovic, Vice-President of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, commented on this position:

“This response from the Government constitutes a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its Optional Protocol both, of which have been signed and ratified by Belarus.

The Committee has repeatedly explained in its decisions that signing the Optional Protocol to the Covenant and recognising the authority of the Committee to review individual complaints, entails accepting the obligation to cooperate with the Committee. If a government undertakes any action that hinders or interferes with the Committee’s review of a complaint or the acceptance of its Conclusion, this constitutes non-compliance with its obligations. As a result, the government does not have the authority to prevent the review of a complaint registered with the Committee. A government cannot base its actions on not recognizing the legitimacy of the rules governing the Committee’s procedures, since the authority of this entity to establish its own procedural rules is embedded in the Covenant itself.

If the Government indicates that it believes there is a lack of legal basis for the complaint in the case of A. Bialiatski, it must present its objections within the scope of the review, and not cease all communication. The refusal by the Government to communicate regarding the case of A. Bialiatski clearly demonstrates that the Government is not attempting to argue against the complaint on its substance.”

The complaint on behalf of A. Bialiatski will be reviewed in accordance with the Optional Protocol and the Committee’s practices, the Committee will take into account the points raised in the complaint to which the Government has brought no objection, as appropriate.

Antoine Bernard, Chief Executive Officer of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and an associated professor of international law at the Paris universities, noted that:

“The refusal to cooperate with the procedure regarding a complaint to the Human Rights Committee is a blatant violation of its core obligations under the international law of treaties, stipulated namely in the article 26 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, to which Belarus cannot be a party if it violates its obligation towards the Optional Protocol of the ICCPR.

Also, by signing and ratifying the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Republic of Belarus has bound itself to respect the rights stated in the Covenant and to ensure their legal protection. Belarus has on numerous occasions carried out grave violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and of its Optional Protocol. For instance, it has ignored the demand of the UN Human Rights Committee to suspend the implementation of the death penalty while the Committee was examining the applications of those condemned. There are also other complaints. The attitude adopted toward Ales Bialiatski’s case, unfortunately confirms this same trend. Such lack of respect for international treaties is unacceptable and means a de facto refusal to cooperate with the United Nations. This totally undermines the credibility of the Belarusian state, not only in violating the rights of its citizens on the local level, but also in violating its international obligations."

It is clear that the attitude of the Belarusian state towards consideration of Bialiatski’s complaint by an international organ, is a continuation of the political persecution perpetrated by the State against the country’s human rights community. Most brutally, it is a continuation of the persecution of this famous human rights defender, who has been awarded a number of international prizes for his principled and continuous fight for human rights in his country. Condemned to four and a half years in a high security penitential working facility, Bialiatski is subject to continuous pressure and repression in this facility.

From March through June 2012, the administration of the detention facility in which Ales Bialiatski is held brought 3 disciplinary actions against him, including depriving him of an extended visit from his wife (of 2 allowed annually). These three actions have meant that at the end of June 2012 Ales was found to be willfully delinquent against the established rules of his detention. This finding rendered Ales excluded from Belarus’ Law “On Amnesty” adopted few weeks later, as well as leading to a reduction in the monthly allowance to his personal account, used to purchase food and basic necessities in detention, from 5 base units to 1 base unit – that is, from 500,000 to 100,000 Belarus rubles (c.45 to 9 €).

In August 2012, Bialiatski was subjected to two more sanctions. He was denied the right to receive a food package (of 2 allotted annually) and denied a short term visit (also of 2 allotted annually). Ales will not therefore be able to receive either a visit nor a care package for the rest of the year. The funds in his personal account for use in detention can only be restored if his status as willfully delinquent against the established rules of his detention is removed.

Ales is working in shifts 6 days a week in the sewing department. His monthly salary amounts to no more than 100,000 Belarusian rubles (c.10-14 €). After withholdings from his salary, he receives 17,000 to 45,000 Belarusian rubles (c.1,5 to 4 €) .

Another matter of particular concern, according to evidence from other detainees who spent time in the same detention facility as Ales Bialiatski, is that the administration has effectively maintained a ban on all communication with him. Detainees with whom Bialiatski enters into communication are summoned to the head office for preventative discussions, during which the administration informs the detainee of the “consequences” of violating the ban.

In this way, the state has further elevated the level of isolation and psychological pressure put on Ales Bialiatski. Whilst in the already highly restrictive conditions of a Belarusian prison, Bialiatski is left without visits from his wife, has limited access to food and his prison personal money account, and is prevented from communicating with others.

On the eve of Ales’s 50th birthday, which our colleague will celebrate on 25 September behind barbed wire, we want to underline once again the unambiguous political character of the persecution of which Ales is a victim. Both the refusal of the Republic of Belarus to cooperate with the UN treaty body on Ales’ case, and the systematic repression and isolation to which he has been subjected, are yet further proof of this declared Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

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