On May 26, the Political Affairs Committee of the Council of Europe considered a report on the situation in Belarus by Andrea Rigoni. The conclusions of the report contradict no only the common sense but also spirit of the PACE Charter.
… Convinced that the pursuit of peace based upon justice and
international co-operation is vital for the preservation of human society
and civilisation; Reaffirming their devotion to the spiritual and moral
values which are the common heritage of their peoples and the true
source of individual freedom, political liberty and the rule of law, principles
which form the basis of all genuine democracy…
Extract from the preamble of the Statute of the Council of Europe
The Rapporteur offered to return a status of a special guest to Belarus allowing the members of the “parliament” of the country to take part in PACE activities. However, the report is rather disputable. Many paragraphs of Rigoni’s reports are debating, some occasional or intentional understatements, misinterpreting the situation in Belarus, can be met; moreover, some items of the report contain blatant lie.
So, the second paragraph of the report says “…Between January and August 2008, nine opposition figures considered as political prisoners were released, including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin. As a result, since then, in Belarus, there have been no internationally-recognised political prisoners…” Nevertheless, Amnesty International, an influential human rights organization, recognized 11 young activists Prisoners of Conscience in April. According to human rights defenders, restriction of liberty is strict enough to set it equal to custody. Paragraph 14 of the report mentions three entrepreneurs from Vaukavysk, but says nothing about the ridiculous accusations they were presented and about the fact Mikalai Autukhovich has been on life-threatening hunger strike for more than 40 days demanding a public trial or change of the measure of restraint
Finally, the report doesn’t mention prisoners of conscience Artsyom Dubski and Maksim Dashuk, participants of the Process of 14, will stand trials soon allegedly for violation of the rules of serving punishment. It should be noticed that article 415, under which the guys are charges, provides up to three years in prison; the article doesn’t provides for another form of punishment. So, rapporteur Rigoni hushes up that the result of the important reforms by the Belarusian authorities was ibcreasing of the number of Belarusian political prisoners from 9 to 14, among them 11 “internationally-recognised” ones.
Besides, the reports didn’t say a single word about Yana Palyakova, a human rights activist from Salihorsk, who is not a political prisoner, because she committed suicide caused by long baiting and unfair court that had sentenced her to two years of restraint of liberty.
The report author welcomes registration of the “For Freedom!” public association, as well as the possibility for three independent newspapers – Narodnaya Volya, Nasha Niva and Uzgorak – to be
published in Belarus and their inclusion in the state distribution network. Purposefully or not, the rapporteur forgot to say a week’s circulation of these newspapers is only some per cents of a daily circulation of “Sovetskaya Belorussia”, and the “For Freedom” movement was the only organization registered, while other associations were denied registration. The report doesn’t mention persecution of journalists performing professional duties by militia and law enforcement agencies; journalists were arrested, tried and fined for covering opposition actions. The report also doesn’t say how many national and regional media outlets have been closed down in the recent years due to pressure by the authorities.
Paragraph 4 of the report says setting up a number of “consultative councils” under the aegis of the presidential administration was “a positive development”. In real fact, these councils can’t influence the situation and can be called just debating societies. The “councils” consist of people appointed by the authorities. State-run media have started a campaign to discredit the opponent of the authorities, invited to the council.
“What adds to the importance of these developments is that they respond to precise demands
coming from European organisations, and that they have been undertaken in the context of the
resumption of political dialogue with the Belarusian leadership,” paragraph 6 of the reports says. However, it remains unclear what demands the rapporteur means. Actually, no progressive changes on 12 demands of democratization in Belarus have been recorded.
Andrea Rigoni welcomes readiness of the Belarusian authorities to reform electoral legislation following the final OSCE/ODIHR assessment. The real cost of this readiness has become evident after a statement by the head of the Belarusian Central Election Commission. Lidziya Yarmoshyna told on May 20 the changes wouldn’t contain any “innovations that would change the electoral system of Belarus”, but “some electoral technologies and organizational issues will be changed”. On May 27, head of the OSCE Office in Minsk Hans Jochen Schmidt said experts of ODIHR and the Venice Commission are going to consider proposals and give conclusions based on proposals of the Belarusian authorities. so, no grounds for joy can be noticed here.
However, PACE Rapporteur wants to persuade his colleagues that the Belarusian authorities have settle down to a course of democratization so much that he singles out Uladzimir Navumau’s (Vladimir Naumov) dismissal from the position of Internal Affairs Minister he occupied since 2000. The reporter notes that Navumau is considered to be involved in abductions of political opponents in 1999-2000, and on that reason he is banned entry to the EU countries. It should be underlined that the dismissal of Navumau could be connected with anything except investigation of opposition leaders and the journalist, which had been almost stopped. Besides, Navumau’s dismissal hasn’t improved the situation with human rights in any way. As before, the Belarusian police are an instrument of political terror, as before, the right of Belarusian citizens for freedom of assembly is harshly violated. Participants of peaceful rallies are beaten up and arrested. And Navumau is still a high-ranking official, who is the head of the Belarusian Hockey Federation. At attempt to present Navumau’s dismissal as a sign of democratization doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
However, Paragraph 18 reads: “Considering that, although Belarus is far from Council of Europe standards in the field of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, its authorities have recently taken important steps in the right direction…”
Based on the above, we see that the report obviously overrates dimension and importance of “steps in the right direction”. In reality certain cosmetic measures have been taken, in order to mislead the world community, including the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. None of the conditions on Belarus’ democratization has been fulfilled, no system-level changes have taken place. The danger of introducing into effect new laws on mass media and on extremism counteraction still exist, which has put independent media and the civil society in an even more difficult situation.
Statements in Paragraphs 17 and 22 that no executions allegedly have been carried out since February 2008 and the current de facto moratorium on the death penalty, also seem strange. Firstly, it is not clear what de facto moratorium means, and secondly, according to statements of Amnesty International, death penalty is still used in Belarus at the moment. AI coordinator Heather McGill stated:
“Everything connected to the capital punishment is concealed by the veil of secrecy. The whole process of the death penalty is shrouded in secrecy – prisoners and their relatives are not informed about the date of the execution, the body is not given to the relatives and they are not told where the burial place is.”
With a view to inaccuracies in the descriptive part of the draft resolution the proposal in the Paragraph 19.1 “to lift the suspension of Special Guest Status for the Parliament of Belarus” looks absolutely illogical, especially in the light of Paragraph 12 of the same report, which reads that violations during the parliamentary elections on September 28, 2008 “inevitably cast a doubt over the representativeness of the present Parliament, where no single opposition candidate managed to gain a seat.”
As we have informed, the Belarusian “parliament” was deprived of the Special Guest status in the PACE after the illegitimate referendum on November 24, 1996 for two reasons: the way in which the Belarusian parliament was changed deprived it of democratic legitimacy; constitutional changes adopted at the referendum are illegal, fall short of minimal democratic standards and violate the rules of the separation of power and supremacy of law.
In January 2004 the Bureau of the PACE affirmed the decision about deprivation of the Belarusian “parliament” the Special Guest status in the PACE as the causes for that decision hadn’t been eliminated.
In April 2004 the PACE adopted Resolution 1371 (2004) according to which informal presence of members of the Belarusian “parliament” at the PACE sessions was inappropriate until cases of the regime’s opponents’ disappearances investigated.
As we see, none of the causes on which the Belarusian “chamber” had been eliminated. On the contrary, as compared to 1997 or 2004, when these decisions were adopted, the situation with human rights and freedom of speech in Belarus has been only aggravating.
It is hard to believe that the report is deliberately aimed at misinforming the members of the PACE Political Affairs Committee. However, considering the many years’ experience of Andrea Rigoni in international structures and Italian Parliament, it is impossible to attribute everything to elementary unprofessionalism.
Alyaksandr Atroshchankau, “European Belarus”