Geneva. 13 May 2010. Yesterday, the Universal Periodic Review of the Republic of Belarus at the United Nations Human Rights Council resonated with civil society concerns regarding severe restrictions on the freedom of association.
A number of fundamental rights violations, including against the freedom of association were highlighted during the session, especially with respect to the infamous Criminal Code Article 193.1, which criminalises participation in activities of non-registered associations as being punishable by up to two years in prison. Since its entry into force in 2006, 17 people, including several minors, have been convicted under this legal provision. Not only does this provision run contrary to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but it also violates the Constitution of Belarus.
With the aim of drawing governments and civil society attention to the issue, CIVICUS, in collaboration with FIDH and the Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs of Belarus, organised a Side Event at the Council session highlighting the implications of Article 193.1. Bringing local voices to the Human Rights Council, the event featured presentations from five national civil society leaders, including one activist who had been imprisoned under the same provision for her peaceful NGO activities.
During the interactive dialogue session on the review of Belarus, government delegations from Belgium, Czech Republic, Ireland, Israel Netherlands and Poland all addressed the implications of Criminal Code Article 193.1. The Netherlands in particular strongly urged the Belarus Government to decriminalise the activities of individuals on behalf of non-registered organisations by abolishing article 193.1 of the Criminal Code and called on the government to create an enabling environment for human rights defenders to peacefully exercise their freedoms of expression and assembly in conformity with international law.
"As CIVICUS drew attention to this issue at its Side Event shortly before the session, we are very much encouraged to see that these governments shared the deep concerns of the Belarus civil society," said Renate Bloem, CIVICUS Permanent Representative to the United Nations, "We hope that others have also addressed this issue in their written recommendations."
Various states also called on Belarus to take concrete measures to ensure respect for fundamental rights and enhance cooperation with UN human rights bodies as well as abolish the death penalty, address issues of human trafficking and torture, ease restrictions on the freedom of expression, and protect journalists and human rights defenders.
CIVICUS emphatically urges the Belarus Government to adopt the recommendations that came out of the UN Human Rights Council's deliberations, in particular stopping the criminal persecution of peaceful civil society activity.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world. CIVICUS is also taking the lead on the Every Human Has Rights campaign.
For more information, please contact:
Devendra Tak, Media and Communications Manager, CIVICUS
Sonia Zilberman, Civil Society Watch Programme, CIVICUS