Joint NGO document on Belarus discussed during online session of OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference

On 9 December 2020, the Civic Solidarity Platform held an online session of the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference, dedicated to an in-depth discussion of civil society recommendations to the international community on further steps in respect of the situation in Belarus. The meeting, which was held under Chatham House Rules, was attended by representatives of Belarusian and international NGOs, delegations of OSCE participating States, OSCE institutions, and representatives of the UN and the Council of Europe. During the meeting, the Civic Solidarity Platform introduced the main points of the joint NGO document, “Agenda for a Human Rights and Democracy Transition in Belarus”.

The meeting started with a detailed overview of the situation in Belarus. Participants underlined that with the protest lasting for months, the government has transformed into a paramilitary clique willing to destroy all possible freedoms that people had in Belarus and to force the society into fear and obedience by any means. The attention was brought to the figures of victims of repressions and thousands of politically motivated criminal cases, as well as the scale of unprecedented challenges that human rights defenders are facing in Belarus. Pressure should be applied on Russia to prevent its interference in support of Lukashenko, participants suggested.

The participants discussed the need to apply personal sanctions on a much wider circle of perpetrators of human rights violations as an instrument for preventing new violations and weakening the support base of the regime in the law enforcement bodies, as well as economic sanctions as a tool of compelling the regime to implement recommendations of the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report. It was underlined that sanctions against the regime should be principally different from the ones that were introduced after the 2010 elections: the should go much further to deprive the regime from income used for sustaining the repressive machine, use specific measurable benchmarks as criteria, and not suspended be or lifted until tangible progress is attained, beyond the release of political prisoners. The reason for this is that the international community does not recognize Lukashenka as the legitimate President of Belarus. Moreover, the scale of the repression and the brutality as well as the systematic nature of torture create the basis to assess these violations as a crime against humanity.

The speakers accentuated the importance of understanding that the Lukashenka regime rests on the three pillars which cannot exist without each other. These are the conformity of a part of the Belarusian society, the indecisiveness of the bureaucratic apparatus, and the violence of the government security forces. If one of these pillars becomes compromised, it will cause the whole structure to collapse. Hence, the participants discussed the ways of applying simultaneous pressure on the regime, both from within and outside of Belarus.

It was also emphasized that due to prolonged protests and violence Belarusian society needs active help from the international community and diaspora. Several ways were discussed on how to more effectively assist people in Belarus, including various pro-democracy groups and the victims of human rights abuse. The need to support the pioneering work of charitable solidarity funds was emphasized.

As state violence continues to increase in Belarus, the attention was brought to the urgency of taking concrete steps by concerned states as soon as possible to establish an international investigation body, which may have a preventive effect on the human rights situation on the ground and lay ground for justice and accountability. Such a body would ensure high standards of the documentation work on the ground, collect and preserve evidence for future judicial proceedings, wherever they take place, and produce analytical reports for the international community. Participants discussed comparative advantages and drawbacks of an ad hoc body established by states as opposed to a mechanism created in the UN framework, and highlighted a strong need in expert support to the body from the UN, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE. Collected evidence could be used by these states for applying universal jurisdiction mechanism for prosecution of the perpetrators in various countries and the inclusion of the culprits in the individual sanctions lists.

Furthermore, participants underlined the importance of a prompt start of the application of international legal tools to bring perpetrators to justice and end impunity in Belarus, including by opening of criminal proceedings based on the universal jurisdiction principle and making state-party referrals to the ICC.

On a final note, civil society representatives reminded all parties concerned of the urgent need for the prompt, consistent and coordinated actions to avoid further casualties of state violence in Belarus and once again called on the OSCE participating States and institutions to act on the civil society recommendations.

The joint NGO document, Agenda for a Human Rights and Democracy Transition in Belarus: Civil Society Recommendations, was handed over to the heads of OSCE executive bodies and institutions during the special online session of the OSCE Parallel Civil Society Conference, on Monday, 7 December.


Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons / Homoatrox