Belarus

EPDE calls on the international community to support Belarusian Helsinki Committee

Peaceful demonstration in Minsk, 16 August 2020. Source: Yulia Khvoshch / Mostphotos

 

The Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), a founding member of the European Platform for Democratic Elections (EPDE), is another Belarusian human rights organization threatened with a liquidation lawsuit filed by the Ministry of Justice. The lawsuit is part of a broad campaign by the de-facto authorities in Minsk against the Belarusian civil society. The liquidation of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee by the Supreme Court will have irreversible consequences since its decision - according to the current Belarusian legislation - cannot be appealed. Independent citizen election observation in Belarus would significantly suffer under such a blow. The BHC, together with the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, founded the successful, nationally and internationally recognized coalition “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”.

 

BHC is the oldest non-governmental organization defending human rights in Belarus and is a part of the worldwide Helsinki movement. Since 1995, BHC has protected the rights of thousands of Belarusian citizens who required legal support during lawsuits against the regime in Minsk. BHC has also been actively involved in protecting voters' rights and has led numerous election observation campaigns in Belarus with another EPDE member, the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, as part of the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” initiative.

Over the years, BHC has prepared hundreds of proposals for state bodies to improve human rights legislation and practices. BHC has supported civil society organizations in Belarus to effectively use UN mechanisms in their dialogue with the authorities, through training or special resources such as a visualization tool of recommendations provided to the government of Belarus - www.upr.belhelcom.org - or a searchable database of human rights legislation relevant to Belarus - www.database.belhelcom.org. BHC focuses on a broad spectrum of human rights issues - from equality and non-discrimination guarantees, the death penalty, and fair elections to human rights in business.

We believe the pressure on BHC is related to the support BHC provided to victims of repression following the rigged presidential election in August 2020. The organization, along with other non-governmental organizations, was asked by the Ministry of Justice to provide internal and partially confidential documents about their clients. The BHC office was searched and equipment was confiscated or destroyed. Relevant documentation was seized in the absence of the organization's staff without any inventory being made. For two months, access to the organization's office has been restricted by police forces.

Finally, on August 27, the Ministry of Justice filed a lawsuit against the BHC for a "one-time gross violation of the law" that could lead to the dismantling of any civic organization. In this lawsuit, however, the Ministry presents unverified document images and alleged "evidence" based on an uncompleted criminal investigation. Another session of the Supreme Court is scheduled for September 30, at which the BHC's request asking the Ministry to provide original evidence based on the accomplished investigation should be considered.

EPDE calls on the de-facto authorities of Belarus to stop the persecution of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and other civic organizations supporting Belarusians in their struggle for human rights in the country. EPDE also calls on the international community to put pressure on the regime in Minsk to stop the complete destruction of civil society structures in Belarus.

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