Opinion

The Price of Freedom: What Lukashenko Violated in the Fight against His Own People

Oleksandr Lukashenko

The attention of many is focused on the events that unfolded incredibly fast in Belarus. At the regulatory level in Belarus, the political rights of citizens are enshrined, including the right to peaceful assembly. So, let’s try to consider in more detail which rules are exactly violated by law enforcement officers in Belarus, using force against citizens.

The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus contains the following norms, which enshrine the political rights of citizens, and which are violated by the authorities today:

– Article 1 states that Belarus is a democratic state governed by the rule of law. In this case, it is not entirely clear why the security forces are killing and maiming people for wishing to express their political position to the authorities. Such methods are not acceptable according  to the rule of law;

– Article 2 establishes the responsibility of the state for the protection of the rights of citizens and the creation of conditions for free will. That means, the government should promote the realisation of citizens’ right to peaceful assembly, not suppress it;

– Article 33 guarantees everyone the right to freedom of opinion and expression. That is why Belarusians went on peaceful protests to prove to the authorities that they are tired of corruption and authoritarianism;

– Article 35 declares the right to peaceful assembly, demonstration, and protest, which the state may restrict only if its participants violate public order. At the beginning of the events in Belarus, the authorities immediately chose a forced scenario, fully aware that the protesters were not violating public order in any way;

– Article 37 provides the right of everyone to participate directly in the solution to issues of national importance. Such a question for Belarusians has become a probable falsification of the presidential election;

– Article 62 guarantees the right of citizens to professional legal assistance. To this day, most lawyers do not have access to their clients who have been detained by law enforcement. In such circumstances, the protesters are effectively deprived of legal aid.

Crimes of the Authorities

Thus, law enforcement officers in Belarus have violated a number of constitutional rights of citizens, which are inviolable. This indicates the government’s contempt for the basic law of the state. In addition, it is a violation of the current legislation of the Republic of Belarus, which details the right to peaceful assembly and political action. We are talking about the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus.” This document is a key piece of legislation that regulates all aspects of holding peaceful assemblies. In this case, we can talk about the violation of the following rules of this document:

– Article 11 stipulates that law enforcement officers must ensure the safety of the participants in such actions during mass events and must not restrict them in any way. At the moment, law enforcement officers are the main danger for protesters in Belarus, as they are trying to stop peaceful political actions by force;

– Article 13 contains the principle of non-interference of the state and law enforcement agencies in mass events. We are talking about both interference and obstruction of such measures. This is exactly what the Belarusian government is doing today.

Moreover, it is rather strange that this law provides only for the responsibility of participants and organisers of mass events for the damage caused to the stat, whereas the damage that the state itself can cause is not considered by Belarusian authorities. That is, the legislative level prescribes impunity for law enforcement officers who use force against citizens of their own country. Thus, there is a violation of norms of the document that defines the status of law enforcement officers. This refers to the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Internal Affairs Bodies of the Republic of Belarus.” Here it is necessary to emphasise attention to the following norms which are broken by law enforcement officers:

– Article 2 stipulates that law enforcement officers must protect the life, honor, dignity, and health of citizens, as well as their rights and legitimate interests. It is also about the duty to protect the interests of society or part of it. This is the part that expresses distrust in the head of state and the elections held by him today;

– Article 4 states that the basic principle of law enforcement is respect for the rights and freedoms of citizens. In contrast, Belarusian law enforcement officials show disrespect for their own people;

– Article 6 stipulates that law enforcement agencies have no right to restrict citizens in their legitimate interests, rights, and freedoms. Today, law enforcement officers are used as a tool to influence society in order to prevent citizens from expressing their political position.

That is, following criminal instructions, law enforcement officers commit actions that contradict the key legislative act, which defines their status. By the way, the above-mentioned law (Article 6) stipulates that citizens have the right to appeal against illegal actions of law enforcement officers in court, as well as to apply to the prosecutor’s office. This also applies to the illegal use of physical force against protesters. Article 27 of the document also stipulates that law enforcement officers may use physical force only when there are no other means to resolve the situation. This is possible only in the context of the cessation of crimes or administrative offenses, but not as a way to restrict civil rights and freedoms.

Violation of the Right on Information

At the same time, violations of certain rights of citizens, including the right to access information, can be observed in Belarus. This is due to the blocking of Internet access and disabling mobile connections. This is a direct violation of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Information, Informatisation, and Protection of Information.” Here we should pay attention to the following rules, which are violated today:

– Article 4 provides the freedom to search for, receive, and store information that is in the public domain. With the Internet turned off, Belarusian society is unlikely to have such an opportunity;

– Article 21 guarantees the right of access to public information. In the context of protests, such information can be useful for Belarusian citizens who are trying to understand the situation.

Such systemic violations of civil rights occur despite the fact that, since 1976, Belarus, which was still part of the USSR, has ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and assumed relevant international obligations, including those concerning the prohibition of unlawful arrests, tortures and illegal detention of participants in political rallies. The Covenant provides the establishment of a Human Rights Committee consisting of 18 representatives of the countries that have ratified the document.

Citizens of Belarus will be able to submit their complaints about violations of civil and political rights to this committee without obtaining justice in national courts. In addition, acceding countries are required to submit reports to the committee on violations of citizens’ rights.

It should be noted that in 1987 Belarus also ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Nevertheless, law enforcement officers are now also torturing detained protesters, in violation of international obligations and the Republic’s authorities’ unconditional disregard for key international legal acts in the field of human rights and freedoms.

Victor Filatov, Analyst of the NGO “Human Rights Group “SICH”

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