New presidential decree in Belarus uses fines and imprisonment as a means to "stimulate" employment

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Human rights activists call on the Belarusian authorities to immediately annul the presidential decree on the "prevention of dependency on social aid" due to its non-compliance with the international human rights obligations of Belarus.

On 2 April 2015, President of Belarus Aliaksandr Lukashenko signed Decree №3 "On prevention of dependency on social aid," according to which citizens of Belarus who have not worked for at least 183 days in the last year, and thus have not paid labour taxes for the same period, are required to pay a special fee to finance government expenditures. As provided by Decree № 3, non-payment or partial payment of such a levy entails administrative responsibility in the form of a fine or administrative arrest.

The decree, aimed at stimulating employment, obligates citizens to work a specific number of days or pay a special duty to the State under threat of arrest. Thus, stimulation of employment is sought through forced employment and the threat of short-term imprisonment rather than through the implementation of competitive salaries, social benefits and guarantees.

This is contrary to Art. 41 of the Constitution, which establishes the civil right to work as the most worthy way of self-affirmation and provides a very limited number of cases where forced labour is allowed - following a court ruling or in accordance with a state of emergency or martial law.

The provisions of Decree № 3 are also contrary to international human rights law , in particular, point 1, Article 2 of the Convention № 29 of the International Organization (ILO), Art. 8 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Art. 6 (1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

It should be noted that the Belarusian authorities have been actively practicing forced labour, which has repeatedly provoked criticism from both Belarusian and international human rights organizations.

In December 2013, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended that the Government of the Republic of Belarus abolish forced labour for people with alcohol and drug addictions, who are currently kept in the so-called "activity therapy centers" against their will, and to abolish forced labour as a punishment for persons deprived of their parental rights.

The recommendations also mentioned the Presidential Decree № 9 of 7 December 2012 "On additional measures for the development of the wood industry," which deprives workers of the possibility of terminating their employment of their own initiative, threatening violators with fines and other financial sanctions. The Committee stressed that Belarus is obligated to provide employees with the right to terminate employment contracts on their own initiative.

Unfortunately, the government of Belarus did not heed the recommendations of the UN Committee. Decree № 3 creates an even more repressive legal framework and allows for more extensive use of forced labour in the country.

In this regard, the Human Rights Center "Viasna" and FIDH call the Belarusian authorities to Annul Decree № 3 and to bring the Belarusian legislation in the labour sphere into strict accordance with international human rights standards and the recommendations of the ILO and the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights so as to eliminate the practice of forced labour in all its forms.

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