Belarus' 2020 crackdown violated rights of tens of thousands: UN

Victims of government's rights violations unable to access justice system, says UN Human Rights Office report.

Belarus' 2020 crackdown violated rights of tens of thousands: UN

The Belarussian government's crackdown on opponents, civil society, journalists, and lawyers has violated the rights of tens of thousands, said a report by the UN Human Rights Office released on Wednesday. 

The report, mandated by the UN Human Rights Council, found that the perpetrators of these rights violations have not been held accountable.

"The examination not only lays bare the violations inflicted on people trying to exercise their fundamental human rights, but highlights the inability of victims to access justice," UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said in the report.

"The authorities' extensive and sustained actions to crush dissent and repress civil society, independent media, and opposition groups, while at the same time shielding perpetrators, points to a situation of complete impunity in Belarus," said Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights.

The report details the findings of an examination by Bachelet's office on human rights in Belarus.  

Runup to 2020 elections

The review covered the runup to the Aug. 9, 2020, elections and aftermath up to Dec. 31

It drew on 145 first-hand interviews and the analysis of a wide range of information and evidence.

When sitting President Alexander Lukashenko declared electoral victory on Aug. 9, hundreds of thousands rallied to voice their opposition peacefully, meeting a "massive and violent crackdown," said the report.

There were arrests and detentions "reaching a scale unprecedented in Belarus."

From the testimonies provided to UN examination, the arrests appeared to be essentially random, with security forces pursuing and subduing anyone within reach, it added.

In addition, unmarked men concealing their faces participated in the forced dispersal of protests, "creating a climate of fear and lawlessness," the report says.

Broad use of unnecessary and disproportionate force repeatedly violated people's rights, including freedom of expression, assembly, and association.

In total, between May 2020 and May 2021, at least 37,000 people were detained, many of them placed in administrative detention for up to 15 days.

Of this total, some 13,500 people were arbitrarily arrested and detained on Aug. 9-14 August alone.

"The information collected by the examination indicates that torture and ill-treatment were widespread and systematic, with individuals targeted for their real or perceived opposition to the government or the election results," says the Human Rights office.

Many victims feared filing a complaint, while those who did had their cases dismissed.

By the end of 2021, 969 people were in prison on what the rights office examination "had reasonable grounds" to believe were politically motivated charges, with several individuals given sentences of 10 years or more, said the report.

By March 4, this figure had risen to 1,084.

According to the document, civil society, human rights organizations, and independent media outlets continued to be targeted.

By October, 270 non-governmental organizations had been closed down, while by the end of the year, 32 journalists had been detained and 13 media outlets declared "extremist."

Lawyers who defended dissidents, spoke out about human rights violations, or brought cases to UN human rights mechanisms were detained, intimidated, faced disciplinary sanctions, or were even disbarred.

As of November 2021, 36 lawyers had lost their licenses, said the report.