Belarus: How human rights defenders are being silenced

© Shutterstock

In a new report, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders – a partnership between the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) – analyses, documents and presents its insights on the repressive policies implemented in Belarus to silence human rights defenders. These policies represent a calculated endeavor to eliminate organised civil society and human rights activism in the country since 2020.

Geneva, Paris, 8 August 2023. Since 2020, human rights defenders have been one of the most actively persecuted social groups in Belarus. This massive crackdown has made it impossible for activists to engage in human rights work without risking their dignity, freedom and even their lives. All human rights organisations, independent media and trade unions have been closed down, and their activities were deemed extremist and constituting criminal offences.

As of 1 August 2023, at least 93 human rights defenders, including members and employees of human rights organisations, trade unionists, lawyers and journalists, had been detained on fabricated charges. The 2022 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and a chairperson of Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’ Ales Bialiatski, his deputy Valiantsin Stefanovich, and Viasna activists Uladzimir Labkovich, Marfa Rabkova, Ales Chapuik, and human rights defender Nasta Loika are among those currently in detention.

“We observe that the Belarusian government uses a wide array of tools and policies to persecute human rights defenders in the country,” said Eugenia Andreyuk, the OMCT Regional Programme Coordinator. This ranges from changing legislation and labelling some human rights activities as extremism, to closing down organisations and prosecuting defenders. This is a systematic policy directed against a specific social group which amounts to crime against humanity.”

“The detention and forced exile of human rights defenders deprived victims of human rights violations and vulnerable groups of the much-needed assistance and remedies they so desperately require”, explains Ilya Nuzov, Director of FIDH’s office for Eastern Europe and Central Asia. “What’s more, this situation creates an obstacle for the international community to obtain credible information about human rights violations occurring in the country, including in places of detention.”

The report investigates the systematic repression of human rights defenders in Belarus before and after the 2020 mass protests, including by highlighting restrictive legislation and specific repressive tools deployed by the state. It also makes recommendations to the Belarusian government, other States and international organisations on how to restore and safeguard civic space and protect human rights defenders.

The full report is available in English.

Read more