In Geneva, UN members urged to hold the Belarusian authorities accountable for human rights violations

On 21 March in Geneva, the Permanent Missions of Lithuania and Poland organised a side-event to discuss the steady deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus, the increasing restrictions on civil society representatives inside the country and among diaspora, and the need to hold the Belarusian authorities accountable for all human rights violations. Ambassador Darius Staniulis, Permanent Representative of Lithuania to the United Nations (UN) Office in Geneva, stressed the need for the UN and all its members to increase their attention to this situation. Already last year, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, concluded that some of the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.

Among panellists were Kristina Rikhter, Legal Advisor to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Victoria Fiodarava, Chairperson of the Legal Initiative, Kanstantsin Staradubets of the Viasna Centre for Human Rights, Ekaterina Deikalo of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. The discussion was moderated by Vytis Jurkonis, political scientist at VU TSPMI and project director at Freedom House.

During the event, the speakers shared stories about the dangers and threats faced by all citizens, the oppression of journalists, political prisoners, and the oppression of the opposition in exile. Torture and other ill-treatment have become a daily occurrence in detention facilities. Belarusian citizens living in the diaspora are also subject to the same human rights violations as in Belarus. It was stressed that the repression by Belarusian authorities against its own people had also influenced the external aggression against Ukraine. Speakers also condemned the deportation of Ukrainian children to Russian and Belarusian territory.

Participants called on the international community to have the political will to use the existing mechanisms of international law to hold Belarusian authorities accountable for all human rights violations. States were also urged to extend the mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council to not only monitor the human rights situation in the country, but also to investigate, document and preserve critical evidence of ongoing violations.

Representatives from Canada, the US, the UK, Latvia, Australia and Ukraine expressed strong support for Belarusian society and the families of detainees, and asked what the most urgent measures would be most effective in preserving the lives of political prisoners and in ensuring accountability for the ongoing repression.

The event was supported by Albania, Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, Japan, the European Union, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Romania, North Macedonia, the United States of America, Sweden, Ukraine.

The event took place during the 55th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council.