June 18, 2018
To Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council
We, the undersigned international human rights organizations, urge your delegation to support the renewal of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus under Item 4 at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
At its 38th session in June, the Human Rights Council (HRC) will consider the human rights situation in Belarus. Since the creation of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur in 2012, there has been no systematic improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus. On the contrary, all legislative and systemic restrictions on freedom of expression and association remain in place, and violations of civil and political rights are coupled by economic and social rights’ abuses. The peaceful demonstrations on March 25th 2018, also known as Freedom Day, and which are organized every year, were once again met with preemptive house arrests of civic and political activists and journalists as well as the arbitrary arrest of about a hundred of peaceful marchers.
Calls by civil society, the Special Rapporteur and the European Parliament to end the most recent blocking of the charter97.org website have been ignored while the amendments to the Law on Media currently before the Parliament aim to further control access to sources of information, particularly online, including via social networks. Under the proposed law, the authorities would be able to block any online content without a court order on even vaguer grounds than at present.
Authorities continue to pressure human rights defenders, independent journalists and opposition activists, using the court system to harass them, impose preventive or administrative detention and levy severe fines. Moreover, in September 2017, eight lawyers defending clients in a criminal case assessed by human rights defenders as politically motivated were subject to a qualification process controlled by the Ministry of Justice. As a result, Anna Bakhtina, renown for her work in defending political prisoners, lost her practicing license while the license of the remaining lawyers was prolonged conditionally for 6 months. Even if they all passed the “examination” procedure in March 2018, the legislation that allows the authorities to arbitrarily revoke a lawyer’s license remains in place.