Against the background of the euphoria of pro-Kremlin media outlets and certain “mouthpieces” caused by the signing of the so-called integration decree of the Union State, the news report on a collective letter of 35 OSCE participating States to the President of Belarus remained almost unnoticed by the general public. The OSCE participating States invoked the Vienna Mechanism for Belarus.

The Vienna Mechanism is a method of the OSCE’s activity in the field of the human dimension at the initiative of participating States. It includes the exchange of information and bilateral meetings between participating States at the initiative of any of them, as well as discussions between participating States and at OSCE events. This is the most important of the four mechanisms in the organisation’s arsenal, which is used in the case of the most sensitive security threats to the organisation, including potentially possible actions involving armed formations.

As a rule, the Vienna Mechanism is invoked by one of the participating States. By the way, Belarus exercised this right against seven NATO countries in 1999. Currently, 17 countries became the initiators and 35 countries signed the declaration.

Europe is deeply concerned about the serious human rights violations and abuses that have taken place in Belarus in recent years. In November 2020, Wolfgang Benedek, OSCE Moscow Mechanism Rapporteur, presented a report on the situation in Belarus, according to which the 9 August 2020 presidential election results were neither free nor fair, and “massive and systematic” violations and abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms had been committed by the security forces. Five recommendations to the Belarusian authorities under the Moscow Mechanism included the abolition of the official results of the 9 August vote, the organisation of the new election in accordance with international standards, as well as the release of political prisoners and detained journalists.

The Moscow Mechanism report also recommended that the international community should “prosecute, wherever possible, those responsible for the torture and ill-treatment of Belarusian security forces and their superiors” and establish an independent international body to “investigate human rights abuses in the context of the presidential election.”

According to Neil Bush, the Head of the United Kingdom’s Delegation to the OSCE, who invoked the Vienna Mechanism, the situation in Belarus deteriorated since the publication of the Moscow Mechanism report, and the country’s authorities have not taken note of the recommendations contained therein, so it was decided to invoke the Vienna Mechanism.

“Instead of seeing a move towards a resolution of the crisis in Belarus, the situation has worsened and the Belarusian authorities’ response has continued to be inadequate. Therefore, in response to the Belarusian authorities’ failure to respond satisfactorily to the 5 November 2020 Moscow Mechanism report, and considering our additional concerns over ongoing developments in the last 12 months, our countries are today invoking the Vienna (Human Dimension) Mechanism and Belarus’ commitments under that Mechanism,” reads the letter released on Thursday, during the OSCE Permanent Council meeting.

Thus, 35 OSCE participating States want official Minsk to provide meaningful answers to the issues raised in the letter within the framework of the Vienna Mechanism. According to the procedure, such answers must be provided in writing within 10 days.

Invitation to negotiating table

The OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism is not a new round of sanctions or coercion. This is an invitation to the negotiating table to discuss the concerns of OSCE participating States. There are dozens of them in the letter, and the status of each of them requires an official response from the Belarusian side.

The OSCE is interested in whether Minsk has taken steps to investigate allegations of unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, arbitrary arrests, and an increase in the number of political prisoners. Have steps been taken to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment? After all, no criminal case has been initiated against the security forces for allegations of beatings. On the contrary, criminal proceedings have been instituted against those who filed such reports.

Moreover, 35 OSCE participating States want to understand what measures have been taken to ensure the ability of civil society and the media to report freely on human rights concerns? What steps are being taken against illegal migration? How do the authorities interact with the authorised institutions of the OSCE, the opposition, the independent civil society, and human rights defenders?

The letter was signed by: Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, the Netherlands, North Macedonia, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the USA, and Ukraine.

Belarus has a chance to sit down at the negotiating table with the European Union and remedy the situation in the country. However, such actions require a sensible leader of the country and the political will of the Belarusian authorities, which, unfortunately, practically ended up with dictatorship. Therefore, it is not surprising that the response from the representatives of Belarus was immediate: Belarusian diplomats called the Moscow Mechanism totally outdated and the Vienna Mechanism an “arrogant reprimand and collective slander.” Based on this reaction of Belarusian officials, it is probably useless to hope for an improvement in the situation in the country. And given the further “merging” of dictatorial dreams and intentions of Lukashenka and Putin, we should expect only an aggravation of the already tense situation in and around Belarus.

Much to our regret…

Yuri Fedorenko, Head of NGO “Agency for Development of Democracy and Information Freedoms”

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