Belarus: new report exposes denial of justice for victims of torture and police violence

Belarus: new report exposes denial of justice for victims of torture and police violence

Authorities in Belarus are using a variety of stratagems to thwart fair investigations into hundreds of complaints of violence and acts of torture by security forces following disputed presidential elections, says a report published today by two human rights groups, the Committee Against Torture (CAT Russia) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

The report, titled “Corridor of Truncheons. How popular demonstrations are met with massive police violence and denial of justice”, is based on investigations carried out in various Belarus cities by a team of lawyers from CAT Russia between 22 August and 12 November 2020. It details the cases of 13 citizens – one woman and 12 men – who suffered violence at the hands of the authorities between 9 and 13 August, like hundreds of others. Most of them were forced through “corridors” where law enforcement officers lined up facing each other to strike detainees with their truncheons.

One man’s eardrum was perforated from the blows, another one’s gallbladder was damaged, while several suffered fractures. Some of the survivors also report sexual abuse or threats of a sexual nature and humiliation. Other abuse included being kept in stress positions for hours and thrown into overcrowded cells without water or food. Most of these 13 people were passers-by who were not taking part in popular demonstrations against the reelection of President Lukashenko at the time of their arrest.

“Law enforcement officials used widespread force against people already detained, who posed no threat nor offered any resistance”, said Dmitry Kazakov from CAT Russia, who coordinated the investigation in Belarus. “The purpose was clearly to intimidate, humiliate, and punish Belarusian citizens for participating in demonstrations that were mostly peaceful. What we found are violations of the requirements of proportionality on a massive scale, which contravene Belarus’ own legislation. What we found are indeed deliberate acts of torture.”

By 9 September, according to official data, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus had received over 1,800 applications for “bodily injuries”. On 31st December, not a single case had been opened against law enforcement.

The report details a number of stratagems used by various legal authorities to defeat any attempts at justice, under the cover of formal respect for the law. These include initiating criminal proceedings against citizens who filed complaints, preventing their lawyers from filing cases, removing some lawyers’ licenses and even opening criminal cases against them, and lumping hundreds of cases together, among others. Police leadership refused to provide the contact for officers involved in acts of violence, thus preventing investigators from auditioning them. Both the Minister of Internal Affairs and President Lukashenko were on record justifying police violence by the supposed need to protect the families of policemen or the country at large.

“This investigation uncovers what could be described as the 101 procedural maneuvers used by various Belarus official bodies to frustrate accountability, in the face of overwhelming evidence of unlawful behaviour by security forces”, said Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General. “It is clear that what we are seeing is a denial of justice that responds to purely political imperatives. Given this patent lack of independent investigations, it is time for an international body to look into the large-scale human rights violations in Belarus.”

The full report in Russian can be accessed here.