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Written submissions from BPF “Revival” to UN Human Rights Council Universal Periodic Review (UPR), 3rd cycle 36th session (May 2020)

26.11.2019

Restrictions on political activity and legal environment for political parties and movements in Belarus

BPF “Revival” is a social and political movement, founded in Belarus in late 1980s and the 1990s. The main idea of the BPF was the revival of Belarus as independent nation and the rebirth of the Belarusian language. In opposition to the Alexander Lukashenko’s over 25 year rule, the party promote democracy and rule of law, supports Belarus’ entry into Council of Europe and European Union. The BPF now is a socio-political movement in the form of a public association whose program is the basis for the BPF Party, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists Party (ECR) and an associate member of the International Democrat Union (IDU). BPF “Revival” is a member of the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum.

 

Contacts:

Central office of the Public Association BPF “Revival”

Charnysheuskaga street  3, Minsk, 220012

Тel.: +375 (17) 3645012

Web site:  http://narodny.org/

E-mail: uprava@narodny.org (executive body) or press@narodny.org (press service)

 

  1. 1.     Basic comments on the legal nature of the political regime in Belarus

1.1.         Belarus is an authoritarian country with consolidated regime of the president’s autocratic rule.  The incumbent president Aliaksandr Lukashenka has been in power since 1994 and since then all of the presidential elections (2001, 2006, 2010, 2015) has been recognized by internal and international observers as not free and not fair. The president controls all branches of power and single-handedly gives orders to them (including judicial power bodies, which are under total control[1]).

1.2.         Insignificant constitutional restrictions of presidential power or elements of checks and balances (only few of them which have remained after the controversial constitutional referendums of 1996 and 2004) are ignored by the president. In August 2018 the president appointed Siarhei Rumas as the head of the government without preliminary asking the parliament for approval which is required by the Constitution. In August 2019 early parliamentary elections to the House of Representatives of the 7th convocation were called, despite the no constitutional grounds for early termination of powers of the elected in 2016 for the four-year term the House of Representatives of the 6th convocation.

1.3.         According to Article 137 of the Constitution, acts of the president are of higher legal force than laws, adopted by the parliament. The president actively uses this right – in 2018 more than 500 ordinances were issued, while more than 10% of them are secret or are not published. From time to time the president issues the so-called “directives” which contain instructions and obligatory orders for legislative and judicial authorities. Every year the president approves by his ordinance the “legislative activity plan” which contains a list of draft laws, which the government plans to submit to the parliament (cases when draft laws worked out by MPs themselves are extremely rare).

1.4.         Belarus is the only country in Europe which keeps and practices death penalty.

1.5.         In the previous second cycle of the UPR (2015) a range of recommendations on conditions for political parties and opposition movements were brought forward to Belarus, including recommendation from Canada (127.80), Croatia (129.63), Norway (130.46) and Germany (129.76). Despite that, no changes for better have been made in this field.

1.6.         The system of restrictions on exercise of the rights by dissidents and individuals who do not agree with the president’s policies is a complicated conglomerate of norms and practices, based on the primacy of the president’s instructions over the law, dependency of courts, lack of local self-governance and unlimited powers of security and law enforcement agencies. It includes both legal restrictions on establishment and activity of political parties and discriminatory practices against dissidents and members of opposition and human rights groups, as well as against protesters and spontaneous groups of citizens unsatisfied with the state policies. This system based on restrictions on freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, arbitrary arrests, politically motivated criminal cases, as well as politically motivated dismissals from work and expulsion of students from universities.

1.7.         Belarus has signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the First Optional Protocol. However, Belarusian government doesn’t execute the UN Human Rights Committee’s recommendations on individual appeals, including decisions on violations of BPF “Revival” supporters and members[2].

 

  1. 2.                 Since 2000 the authorities have been refusing to register new political parties in Belarus

2.1.         The last case of registration of a political party in Belarus was in 2000, since then more than 20 attempts to establish various political parties (from communist and social democratic to liberal and right ones) have failed. In 2018 the Belarusian Christian Democracy was denied registration for the seventh time as a party (and there were several more unsuccessful attempts to register as a public association)

2.2.         On April 3, 2017 the UCP Party, the BPF Party and the association “Movement ”For Freedom” received written warnings from the Ministry of Justice due to participation of these organizations in preparation of the protest action on March 25 in Minsk.  These associations appealed the warnings in court, but the Supreme Court acknowledged the warnings as justified.

 

  1. 3.                 Membership in opposition groups (including legal political parties) often leads to pressure and discrimination, as well as direct repressions

3.1.         There are often cases detected when open expression of oppositional views (including running at elections) leads to pressure at working places or dismissals.

3.2.         In time of 2016 parliamentary elections BPF Party national board member Volga Damaskina was fired after her public declaration to run at the parliamentary election 2016 as a candidate[3].

3.3.         Especially youth is vulnerable to pressure, including members of youth organizations of political parties. For example, since 2005 all chairmen and chairwomen of the BPF Youth (the youth wing of the BPF Party) have always been expulsed from universities immediately after they were elected to the post of chairperson of a youth organization)[4]. Belarusian State University (BSU) reportedly expelled Yury Lukashevich, a student of history and a leader of of the BPF Youth, in 2018 – same case with new chairwomen of the BPF Youth Hanna Paholka (Smilevich).

 

  1. 4.            Freedom of peaceful assembly

4.1.         In 2016 – 2018 the authorities have refrained from the practice of mass arrests of participants of peaceful assemblies, preferring imposing of monetary fines. However, such a policy is not sustainable and can at any moment return to severe repressions. For example, in February – March 2017 there were arrested hundreds of participants of lasting social protests against the Decree №3, introducing personal tax for unemployed citizens[5].

4.2.         In 2019 possibilities for exercise of the right to peaceful assemblies have been significantly restricted due to the increase of fees for obligatory militia and medical services on guiding assemblies.

 

 

4.4.Case of Freedom day march 25th in 2019 and notification-based principle for assemblies

 

Belarusian CSOs and political parties submitted 3 applications for holding of mass events (meetings and demonstrations) to celebrate the Freedom Day to the Minsk City Executive Committee. The mass events were planned to be held on March 24 and 25, 2019. The authorities declined all 3 applications and holding of mass events on these days was forbidden. It is an excessive and no-proportional  restriction on freedom of peaceful assembly, incompatible with the principle of proportionality.

The first refusal of March 5, 2019 was addressed to our association BPF “Revival” and the institution “Amaroka”. It forbade holding of a demonstration on March 24 in Minsk. But Minsk City Executive Committee as authorities grounded their refusal to permit holding of mass events on the fact that they thought it to be “inexpedient” in the light of the preparation of the Dinamo Stadium for the sport event. It was also mentioned as a ground for refusal of a demonstration that the planned by the applicants demonstration route contradicted the requirements of the Law “On mass events” (it was not mentioned how exactly), as well as the fact that the applicants had announced the place and the time of the action in the media and in the Internet before getting the permit from the authorities.

The second refusal of March 5, 2019 was addressed to the Belarusian Social Democratic Party, the UCP Party and association “Movement “For Freedom”, which had applied for a permit to hold rallies on March 24 and 25 in Minsk. It was also mentioned as a ground for refusal that the planned place for holding of a mass event contradicted the requirements of Article 9 of the Law   “On mass events”, as well as placement of the information about the place and the time of the planned rally in the media and in the Internet before getting the permit.

The third refusal of March 14, 2019 was addressed again to our public association BPF “Revival” and the informational and educational institution “Amaroka”, which, after the receipt of first refusal, submitted a new application to the authorities, asking for permit to hold a meeting on March 24 in Minsk. The grounds for refusal were the same, including incongruence of the place of the planned event with legislative requirements (although in these places of the city mass gatherings, including concerts, are held regularly).

Thus, none of the 3 applications for holding of mass events in Minsk was satisfied and all the planned for Freedom Day events were forbidden. Аll refusals contained information about the possibility to hold actions in 6 places in uptown districts of Minsk, which had been determined by the authorities as permanent places for assemblies in accordance with the notification-based principle.

Introduction of this notification-based procedure for holding of mass events became possible after adoption of the Law of July 17, 2018 “On introduction of amendments and addenda to the Law of the “On mass events”, which added the new Article 9-1 “Holding of mass events in permanent places for holding of mass events” to the Law (came into force on January 26, 2019).

Several individuals took up this offer and held a Freedom Day rally on March 24 in one of these permanent places in Minsk.

However, the situation with these refusals looks alarming: in fact, introduction of the notification-based principle is now interpreted by the authorities as a ground to ban holding of legal mass events in all places, except those enumerated in a narrow list of permanent places.

Thus, introduction of elements of the notification-based principle has de facto failed to extend the possibilities for exercise of the right to peaceful assembly in Belarus.

In addition, while introducing amendments to the Law “On mass events”, it was determined that the government should fix the cost of payments for militia services on public order maintenance during mass events. This Ordinance of the Council of Ministers № 49 adopted on January 24[6].

According to the ordinance, after receipt of a permit (or when there is no ban) to hold a mass event, organizers should conclude contracts on public order maintenance, medical services and cleaning of the territory and pay the following amounts for public order maintenance:

  • 3 basic units (76,5 rubles or 33 Euros) — when number of participants is up to 10 people;
  • 25 basic units (637,5 rubles or 281 Euros) — from 11 to 100 people;
  • 150 basic units (3825 rubles or 1687 Euros) — from 101 to 1000 people;
  • 250 basic units (6375 rubles or 2812 Euros) — more than 1000 people.

When mass events are held in other places, the costs are 1,5 times higher.

Introduction of these costs by the government, allegedly for guarding of events, is actually a form of a disproportionate and excessive restriction on freedom of assembly, which is of obstructing character, aimed at restricting people and possibilities to exercise the stipulated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights right to assemble peacefully and unarmed in order to discuss generally interesting issues or express convictions.

 

 

  1. 5.                Unfree and unfair elections

5.1.         After elections in 2016, it was for the first time for the last 12 years in Belarus when there were MP in the parliament, who demonstrate views different from the views of the president and the government – one representative of the opposition UCP party and one representative of an independent civil society organization. Nevertheless, these elections, as well as all previous ones, failed to be recognized by internal and international observers as free and fair.

5.2.         Election commissions are formed out of totally loyal to executive authorities people. authorities refuse opposition party members to include their representatives in election commissions[7].

 

  1. 6.                Legal discrimination of opposition parties

6.1.         Two loyal to the government parties (the Communist Party and the Republican Party of Labour and Justice) enjoy material support from the authorities – the government has enacted that they pay for the rent of state-owned premises 10 times less than all other organizations. The pro-governmental association Belaya Rus locates their offices in the executive authorities’ buildings, while the Belarusian Republican Youth Union receives direct funding from the state budget. These organizations are the key players on the governmental side during any election campaign (for example, election commissions are formed out of their members).

6.2.         The president Aliaksandr Lukashenko has insistently warned private business against participation in political struggle and especially against funding of opposition, stating that he would consider such activity as anti-state one. “If somebody out of businessmen funds the fifth column or in any other way negatively influences the society, I will think that they have joined political struggle, struggle against the state. There are other own laws there, such businessmen shouldn’t get offended then”, – stated Mr. Lukashenko at the session of the Council on the Development of Entrepreneurship[8].

 

  1. 7.                Recommendations

Belarus should align its legislation and practices in the field of civil freedom and political rights:

7.1.         Abolish responsibility for organization and participation in the activity of non-registered CSO, political parties and religious organizations (exclude Article 23.88 from the Code on administrative offences), as well as lift the ban on non-registered CSO.

7.2.         Simplify the procedure for registration of political parties, other public associations and foundations, cut down the list of grounds for decisions on refusals in registration of parties, make this list proportional according to international standards as required by OSCE Guidelines on Political Party Regulation[9].

7.3.         Legislate the possibility to register CSOs, political parties and their branches, in premises in the buildings of their founders’ (members’) residence.

7.4.         Develop non-discriminatory and open system of political parties financing from the state budget, as well as provide all political parties with rental incentives and benefits in respect of other payments at such a level, which will not be less than the one enjoyed by 2 loyal to the authorities parties.

7.5.         Stop the practice of persecutions and intimidation and stigmatization in the state media in respect of political parties, protesters, spontaneous mass assembly participants, CSO members, including activists of human rights and environmental groups especially in connection with the upcoming opening of a nuclear power plant in Ostrovets.

7.6.         Implement the UN Human Rights Committee recommendations, issued under individual appeals from victims of violations of the ICCPR.

7.7.         Release all individuals recognized by Belarusian human rights defenders as political prisoners, as well as refrain from the practice of politically motivated criminal cases against opponents of the authorities, bloggers, dissidents, political and human rights activists.

7.8.         Abolish obligatory payment for militia services while holding peaceful assemblies and make the Law “On mass events” and practices of law enforcement agencies congruent with international standards of freedom of assembly.

7.9.          Introduce amendments to the Electoral Code and changes into practices in accordance with the recommendations of the internal observation campaign “Right to Choose” and the OSCE/ODIHR[10].

[1] No positive changes since the visit of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers in June 2000 https://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Judiciary/Pages/Visits.aspx

[2] Alexandre Dergachev CCPR/C/74/D/921/2000 and CCPR/C/74/D/921/2000/Rev.1; Andrei Burdyko CCPR/C/114/D/2017/2010, Vitaly Amelkovich CCPR/C/125/D/2720/2016  and others.

[4] Expulsion of students as a tool of control (2019) by Sasha Kuzmich, Belarusian Students’ Association http://balticworlds.com/expulsion-of-students-as-a-tool-of-control / or “All the five leaders of the “BPF Youth” were expelled from universities” (in Belarusian) https://euroradio.fm/use-pyac-lidarau-moladzi-bnf-adlichanyya-z-vuchoby

[5] Following the events of 25-26 March, the Belarusian National Platform of the Eastern Partnership  Civil Society Forum released a statement https://eap-csf.eu/statement-on-the-events-of-25-26-march-2017-in-minsk-and-other-belarusian-cities/

[7] More information – in the reports of the “Right to Choose” election campaign campaign (conducted by the BPF along with other parties of the democratic opposition) in 2015 (https://pvby.org/sites/default/files/spravazdach_pv_eng-2015.pdf) in 2016 (https://pvby.org/sites/default/files/spravazdach_pv_eng-2016.pdf) and in 2018 (https://pvby.org/sites/default/files/right_to_choose-2018_campaign_final_report.pdf)/

[8] Deutsche Welle https://p.dw.com/p/17lp2

[9] Guidelines on Political Party Regulation – Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe  (May 2011) https://www.osce.org/odihr/77812

[10] Belarus, Parliamentary Elections, 11 September 2016: Final Report of Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe election observation mission https://www.osce.org/odihr/elections/287486

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