Two more Human Rights NGOs targeted by the authorities

Press release

Paris- Geneva

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), in the framework of their joint programme, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, express their deepest concern at the impending opening of a liquidation suit against the Belarus Human Rights NGO Viasna, and at the liquidation of Legal Assistance to Population.

The liquidation suit against Viasna, which is to start on 23 September, follows the check-ups of five of Viasna offices, that occurred between March and June 2003 .

According to the Ministry of Justice, Viasna would have violated accountancy rules, by presenting reportedly forged document during its registration in 1999. Moreover, the non-payment of membership fees is considered as a violation of the organisation’s statutes.

The request of the Ministry mentions that Viasna has violated the Ruling of the Central Electoral Commission on Elections and Holding of Republican Referenda of 8 September 2001, by participating in independent monitoring of the last presidential election. By doing so, Viasna drew the attention of the international community to the numerous violations of the election legislation. Viasna is also accused of having requested to the Supreme Court the right to defend and represent the interests of individuals who are not members of the organisation. This allegedly constitutes a breach of Article 72 of the Civil Process Code, and of article 22 of the Law « about public associations ». The Observatory therefore considers that the real motives of the Ministry of Justice are linked with the organisation’s activities. This restricts freedoms of expression and of association, and constitutes arbitrary judicial harassment.

The Observatory is also concerned by the liquidation of Legal Assistance to Population, another Human Rights NGO. The liquidation suit had started on 2 August. According to the Civil Process Code and to the Law « about public associations », legal advice requires a specific license, which the organisation did not have, because it had previously been deprived of it by the Ministry of Justice.

The Observatory had already denounced the increasing harassment campaign against NGOs. In the last few months, many organisations have been liquidated for alleged administrative irregularities, such as Ratusha,

Varuta, the Youth Christian Union, Civil Initiatives, Kontur, etc (see Observatory open letter to Mr Aleksander Lukashenko, 8 August 2003, and Information Document received from Viasna attached, entitled: "Interdiction ("liquidation") of non-governmental organisations"). The Observatory is all the more concerned by the situation of Viasna for all these recent examples show that most liquidation suits result in the liquidation of the NGO.

The Observatory notes that these events represent a new and unacceptable step in state repression of human rights defenders in Belarus. The Observatory therefore urges the Belarus authorities to cease harassment of Human Rights defenders, to implement international and regional instruments for the protection of human rights. In particular, the Observatory calls the authorities to comply with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the OSCE Copenhagen Document, as well as with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the Resolution on the situation of Human Rights in Belarus, adopted by the UN Commission on Human Rights on 17 April 2003.

The Observatory will refer this situation to Mrs. Hina Jilani, Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on Human Rights Defenders.

Press contact : OMCT : 00 41 22 809 49 39
FIDH : 00 33 1 43 55 14 12

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