On 10 August, much of the world woke up to a news story from Belarus about a stolen presidential election, people peacefully protesting that election’s results, and a subsequent violent crackdown. The peaceful protests have continued every day since and images of an increasingly violent and repressive reaction on the part of authorities hoping to maintain their 26-year grip on power have captured the attention of many. Four weeks since that election and the launch of those protests, international support and solidarity is more important than ever.
We are a country of 9.5 million people, between the European Union and Russia. Our post-election struggle is a peaceful one which has brought together every corner of society: grandmothers standing up to riot police, students locking arms and calling for freedom, journalists unshackled from unspoken rules dictating their coverage, women in the street joining and leading, and a political opposition united in a desire for free and fair elections. Belarus and our peaceful struggle to simply have free and fair elections should matter to us all.
What the people of Belarus want from the international community is for our struggle to receive much-needed solidarity and support. Without international support, the post-election violence committed by the authorities against peaceful protesters will continue and will intensify. We – the representatives of the Belarusian Human Rights House, a coalition of national human rights organisations – know what the international community must do to support our struggle for free and fair elections and an end to gross human rights violations.
Firstly, the situation in Belarus requires an immediate, credible, and apolitical system to report on human rights violations related to the 9 August election. This would allow for an accounting of past actions by the authorities and act as a deterrent to those considering further human rights violations. Such a mechanism must be mandated by the UN Human Rights Council during its upcoming September session in Geneva. We call on the 47 member states of the Human Rights Council to immediately establish this mandate under the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Secondly, we need the support of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to bring the parties to the table and set a course for new elections. This is one of the few international bodies under which Belarus is a member and, as such, must be willing to host political dialogue. The so-called Moscow Mechanism is one option that can be triggered by 10 participating states of the OSCE and would result in an expert mission to our country to facilitate such dialogue.
Finally, individual states and regional blocs can play an important role in putting pressure on the authorities to respect human rights and announce new, free, and fair election. On-going and strong bilateral measures by the European Union and others can do this.
Today, more than 10,000 peaceful protesters, including children, have been arbitrarily arrested, with nearly 1,000 people facing torture – including sexual assault and rape – while in detention. The number of political prisoners increases with each day. Journalists are intentionally targeted by security services and the internet is regularly shut down. Without support, the international community is tacitly approving these actions and turning a blind eye to peaceful protesters calling for free and fair elections and human rights.
Andrei Bastunets, Chairperson, Belarusian Association of Journalists
Aleh Hulak, Chairperson, Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Victoria Federova, Chairperson, Legal Initiative
Ales Bialatsky, Founder, Viasna Human Rights Centre
Tatsiana Netbayeva, Executive Director, Belarusian PEN Centre