Repression in Belarus: Transfer of crowd-control weapons (mis)used to crack down on human rights

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FIDH releases a briefing paper analysing foreign-made less lethal weapons and firearms employed by the Belarusian security forces to crack down on peaceful protesters, provides an overview of their procurement and application, and outlines possible avenues for state and corporate accountability.

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Since August 2020, Belarusians have systematically taken to the streets throughout the country to protest election fraud. Although overwhelmingly peaceful, these public assemblies have been violently dispersed by the authorities. Law enforcement officials, equipped with shotguns and pistols, rubber bullets and batons, stun grenades and chemical irritants, among others, used deliberate, unnecessary and indiscriminate force against participants at rallies: women, minors, and even the elderly and persons with disabilities, resulting in injuries to hundreds of individuals and four confirmed deaths.

Civil society has documented the use of rubber bullets, light and sound cartridges, tear gas and other ammunition suggesting the use of weapons manufactured in Russia, Turkey, United States, and European Union (EU) countries. In addition, officers of special law enforcement units were equipped with foreign-made firearms which might have been exported to Belarus in violation of the 2011 EU arms embargo and other international regulations.

"Viasna Human Rights Center and other civil society organisations, have documented penetrating gunshot wounds, fractured bones, loss of eyesight and other serious injuries. The violent attacks against peaceful protestors are an unacceptable restriction of the right to peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of expression. It is important that the Lukashenko regime does not benefit from any direct or indirect support of violence from abroad, whether from states or private companies."

Pavel Sapelka, lawyer of Viasna HRC

The briefing paper analyses crowd-control weapons and firearms employed by the Belarusian security forces to crack down on peaceful protesters, as well as their origin and transfer, and briefly outlines possible avenues for state and corporate accountability. Specifically, it details the applicable legal framework for the use and transfer of crowd-control weapons and firearms, identifies the types of weapons used, including their manufacturer, country of origin and transfer state, provides a brief analysis of whether their transfer violates the applicable law, and points to potential state and corporate accountability.

 "Our report shows that states and corporations abuse the porous legal regime on the transfer of less lethal weapons to continue delivering tear gas, stun grenades, rubber bullets, and other equipment that is used to crack down on peaceful protesters in Belarus, despite knowing that these weapons will be used to crush dissent."

Ilya Nuzov, head of FIDH's Eastern Europe and Central Asia desk

A chilling recording of Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs Nikolai Karpenkov calling on security forces to "use your weapon and shoot [the protester] right in the forehead, right in the face", which has leaked to the press, confirms the deliberate, systematic character of police violence against peaceful protesters, coordinated at the highest political levels.

"Both states and corporations should cease delivery of the means for repression in Belarus or face consequences for facilitating repression to the extent they violate international law," concluded Ilya Nuzov.

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