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Human rights violations in Belarus require an international investigation

Doc. 15256: collection of written amendments | Doc. 15256 | 20/04/2021 | Final version

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ADraft Resolution

1The Parliamentary Assembly recalls that the peaceful protests against the falsification of the results of the presidential election in Belarus of 9 August 2020 were brutally put down by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko, with many protesters arrested and tortured in detention. A great many leaders of the citizens' movement are being prosecuted for crimes which are vaguely defined but incur long prison sentences, while others were forced into exile.
2In February 2021, a new wave of arrests and prosecutions was launched against opposition activists who had not yet been detained. Those prosecuted included human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, trade unionists and representatives of the “Coordination Council”, the political opposition's flagship body.
3According to Freedom House, the number of political prisoners, including human rights defenders, journalists, activists, representatives of youth organisations and political parties, has reached 300, with fabricated cases against them; in March 2021 there were attempted suicides of two political prisoners and three hunger strikes in protest by Igor Losik, Igor Bantser and Dmitriy Furmanov.
4The Assembly considers the persons referred to above as political prisoners, following the definition of this term in Resolution 1900 (2012). These persons are in administrative or pre-trial detention or serving prison sentences for merely participating in peaceful protests or publishing information on those protests and their unjustified repression by the law enforcement agencies.
5The Assembly notes that the perpetrators of these serious and repeated human rights violations committed on a massive scale when repressing the protests against the falsification of the presidential election results have not been troubled in the slightest by any criminal proceedings at national level, despite the fact that torture and inhuman or degrading treatment are also crimes in Belarusian law. Where international anti-torture instruments are concerned, Belarus is not a contracting party to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (ETS No. 126) or to the Optional Protocol to the United Nations Convention against torture (OP-CAT) or to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
6The Assembly stresses the great importance of combating impunity for the perpetrators of serious human rights violations, out of principle and also to deter others from perpetrating human rights violations, reiterating its Resolutions 2252 (2019), 2157 (2017), 2134 (2016) and 1966 (2014). It notes that the criminal legislation of several Council of Europe member States provides for “universal jurisdiction” for their courts for certain crimes of a particularly serious nature, including acts of torture, even committed abroad, by foreign nationals and against foreign nationals. It also notes that a number of States have passed “Magnitsky laws” under which targeted sanctions may be imposed on perpetrators of serious human rights violations.
7The Assembly welcomes the initiative taken by human rights activists in Belarus who have successfully compiled a substantial body of evidence of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment and identified presumed perpetrators.
8It welcomes the initiative launched by the European Parliament in collaboration with other international stakeholders, in the spirit of the follow up to the recommendations of the Moscow Mechanism of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), setting up an international advisory platform, the Belarus Accountability Platform, tasked with gathering evidence of serious human rights violations in Belarus and assessing it with a view to making it available to the competent authorities of member States, so that they can prosecute Belarusian nationals having perpetrated these crimes, committed in Belarus against Belarusian victims.

In the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 8, insert the following words:

"The Assembly also supports the creation of a Council of Europe permanent group or similar institution on the situation in Belarus, primarily on the protection of human rights."

9The Assembly considers that the information gathered by human rights activists in Belarus and the evidence assessed by the platform launched within the European Parliament will be able to serve as a basis for criminal proceedings lodged on the basis of universal jurisdiction and for the imposing of targeted sanctions under “Magnitsky laws”.
10It welcomes the prosecutions already initiated by Lithuanian courts on the basis of universal jurisdiction and the commitment of some member States, notably the Baltic countries, Poland and Ukraine, which have taken in victims of repression forced into exile and support civil society in Belarus.
11The Assembly calls upon:
11.1  the Belarusian authorities to:
11.1.1engage in dialogue with the opposition as the only way to cease the violence, human rights violations and to hold new democratic elections to resolve the political crisis;

In the draft resolution, paragraph 11.1.1, after the words:

"hold new democratic elections”, insert the following words: "this year".

11.1.2release political prisoners without delay;
11.1.3 immediately put a stop to all acts of torture or inhuman and degrading treatment committed against opponents of the regime, whether in public, citizens' homes or any places of detention;
11.1.4prosecute all the perpetrators of such acts in accordance with the Belarusian Criminal Code;
11.1.5co-operate with the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) with a view to reforming the Criminal Code in order to decriminalise the exercise of freedom of expression, assembly and association;
11.1.6sign and ratify the United Nations Optional Protocol to the Convention against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (OP-CAT) and the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court and ask the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers to invite their country to accede to the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;
11.1.7take all necessary measures to ensure the right to a fair trial, including access to a lawyer;
11.1.8cease all restrictions on media freedom and freedom of assembly;
11.1.9implement all recommendations of the European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission) in its opinion of 20 March 2021 on the Compatibility with European Standards of certain Criminal Law Provisions used to prosecute peaceful demonstrators and members of the “Coordination Council”;
11.1.10abolish the death penalty as soon as possible, starting with a moratorium;
11.2the member States of the Council of Europe to:
11.2.1explore mechanisms for facilitating dialogue between the authorities and the opposition for resolving the political crisis;
11.2.2demand, in their dealings with the Belarusian authorities, at all levels, the immediate release of all political prisoners and the ceasing of the campaign of repression against protesters and their families;

In the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 11.2.2, insert the following words:

"and make any economic, financial and political co-operation conditional on this".

11.2.3support the ongoing efforts at international level to call to account the perpetrators of serious human rights violations committed in Belarus by State officials who enjoy impunity, including by exercising the universal jurisdiction provided for in their criminal legislation or, where applicable, by introducing this possibility in their legislation;
11.2.4continue to take in the victims of repression who have been forced into political exile and support Belarusian civil society, including political prisoners' families, and provide study grants for Belarusian students who have been expelled from their faculties;
11.2.5use their “Magnitsky laws” which make it possible to impose targeted sanctions on perpetrators of human rights violations and also presumed perpetrators of such violations in Belarus, and pass such laws where necessary;
11.3the competent institutions of the European Union to:
11.3.1demand, in their dealings with Belarus, at all levels, the immediate release of all political prisoners and the ceasing of the campaign of repression against protesters and their families, and make any economic and financial co-operation conditional on this;
11.3.2strengthen their co-operation with Belarusian civil society, give support to political prisoners' families and provide study grants for Belarusian students who have been expelled from their faculties;
11.3.3support the initiative developed within the European Parliament aimed at creating a co-ordination platform federating efforts at international level to combat impunity for the perpetrators of human rights violations in Belarus, by gathering, analysing and assessing relevant information and tip-offs, with a view to these being used to help national law enforcement authorities exercise universal jurisdiction and to impose targeted sanctions via the “Magnitsky mechanisms” that exist or are to be created; strengthen personalised sanctions against those perpetrating human rights violations, including police, prosecutors and judges.

BDraft Recommendation

1Referring to its Resolution ... (2021) “Human rights violations in Belarus require an international investigation”, the Assembly invites the Committee of Ministers to:
1.1examine the scope of universal jurisdiction with a view to its use by Council of Europe member States to combat impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations;
1.2invite Belarus to accede to the European Convention for the prevention of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (ETS No. 126);
1.3make the expertise of the Council of Europe available to the co-ordination platform launched within the European Parliament, particularly in the sphere of combating torture and protecting freedom of expression, association and the media;
1.4demand, in its dealings with Belarus, the immediate release of all political prisoners and the ceasing of the campaign of repression against protesters and their families and make any technical co-operation and any movement towards the possible accession of Belarus to the Council of Europe subject to that requirement;
1.5explore ways for the Council of Europe to serve as a mediation platform for the dialogue between the authorities and the opposition.