International experts have assessed the response of the Belarusian authorities to the events of 19 December 2010

The “Final Human Rights Assessment of the Events of 19 December 2010 in Minsk, Belarus” has been issued for the anniversary of the events in the aftermath of the Presidential elections on 19 December. The advance version of this document in English was published on the website of the Committee on International Control over the Human Rights Situation in Belarus.

On 22 February 2011 the Committee on International Control (a coalition of more than 40 NGOs from the OSCE region) appointed a Special Rapporteur to investigate the events of 19 December 2010 as an attempt to provide an independent legal assessment of the events of 19 December in Belarus. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur was to carry out an independent expert evaluation of the events of 19 December 2010 as well as the response of Belarusian authorities to these events from the perspective of the relevant domestic legislation and the international human rights standards. Dr. Neil Jarman, Director of the UK-based Institute for Conflict Research, Head of the OSCE Panel of experts on freedom of assembly, was appointed as the Special Rapporteur.

By May 2011 the Special Rapporteur, assisted by a group of experts on freedom of assembly, published the “Interim Human Rights Assessment of the Events of 19 December 2010 in Minsk, Belarus”, the text of which is available on the website of the Committee on International Control. This report has been utterly popular and received recognition at the highest level: the official documents of the key intergovernmental organizations quoted and referenced it (including the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report). The Interim Report has been presented and discussed at a number of international meetings of the UN, OSCE, Council of Europe and European Union. The findings of the Report were used by Belarusian lawyers as evidence in court proceedings on the criminal cases of the participants of the 19 December 2010 events. It should also be noted that the attempt to present the assessment of the events of 19 December 2010 in Minsk was prevented from taking place, and six report experts and representatives of the Committee on International Control were expelled from the country.

The “Final Human Rights Assessment of the Events of 19 December 2010 in Minsk, Belarus” is an attempt to answer the questions posed by the Interim Report by means of analysis of court sentences on criminal cases, statements of the Belarusian officials in the media, as well as responses of the Belarusian authorities to requests of intergovernmental institutions.

The Report notes that the Belarusian government’s justification for the police intervention, the arrests and administrative detention of demonstrators, and the criminal charges and prosecutions which have followed, all flow from the government’s flawed and misleading characterization of the main protest on 19 December as non-peaceful. At the same time, to date the Belarusian authorities have presented no convincing evidence that challenges our assessment that the main demonstration on 19 December 2010 was peaceful. Respective questions by the Special Rapporteur, aimed at clarifying the situation, were also ignored by the Belarusian authorities.

As the Special Rapporteur pointed out, given the numerous allegations of the use of force against peaceful demonstrators, it would have been reasonable to expect the Belarusian authorities to investigate complaints against the actions of the law enforcement. However, the Belarusian authorities have apparently made no attempt to conduct an independent investigation into the legitimacy, necessity and proportionality of the use of force by the law enforcement on 19 December 2010 when dispersing the demonstration, as well as the attack against Vladimir Nekliaev prior to the main assembly. Neither have the authorities investigated numerous complaints of detainees to physical violence and inhumane treatment.

The analysis of the court cases indicates that the court differentiated between those prosecuted depending on where they were detained and whether they were labeled as “organizers” or “participants” of the events. Thus, those who were detained at Independence Square got more severe sentences (compared to those who were detained in other places), and so did those recognized as “organizers” (compared to “participants”). However, the court has accepted that mere presence at Independence Square was sufficient to accuse people of participation in “mass riots”. At the same time, none of those convicted was personally charged with or convicted of committing any act of violence at the Government House.

Special Rapporteur draws attention to the fact that approximately half of those who faced charges or were convicted for the events of 19 December were part of the organised opposition to President Lukashenko. In general, the reaction of the authorities, including the detentions and prosecutions, and the ongoing harassment of Belarusian civil society appears to be an attempt to repress and deter those who might protest against the regime. However, there continues to be widespread use of imaginative forms of protest and civic mobilization in Belarus, which suggests that the attempts to silence the independent civil society and opposition will not be successful.

In 2012, the Special Rapporteur also plans to analyze the development of the situation with freedom of assembly in Belarus after 19 December 2010, including the amendments to the legislation on mass events adopted in autumn.

The Report is currently being translated into Russian.

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News of Belarus

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For the pardoned, all serving multi-year prison terms for challenging Belarus’ autocracy, this is, to say the least, a relief, and has been welcomed by local democrats and the international community.

Lukashenko has declared his decision an act of “humanity”. But is, in fact, a carefully timed tactical move to sway the European Union at a time of growing domestic and geopolitical pressure.

The question is whether he will succeed this time.

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The 4 August is key to Belarus, because of Ales Bialiatski’s arrest on this day in 2011. The day is now a symbol of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s repeated practice of arbitrary arrest of voices criticising his way of governing the country.