2008 16/01

Vasil PaliakouIn autumn 2006 the UN Human Rights Committee condemned the decision by the Belarusian authorities to close down the Homel Regional Public Association ‘Civil Initiatives’ and called upon the government of Belarus to rehabilitate its rights. As yet, things appear to be where they started.

It goes without saying that nobody expected an immediate move by the Belarusian authorities, let alone the domestic human rights issues in general. Still, as the proverb has it ‘hope springs eternal in the human breast’. Besides, there was too little hope that the rehabilitation of one NGO would moderate the policy of the state. Moreover, it could have shown its respect for the UNO and its willingness to carry on a dialog with the EU. However, the logic of the Belarusian totalitarianism is inconceivable: ‘We did not close it down to re-open again!’ says the official Minsk, despite its commitments to follow the decisions by the UN HR Committee.

Why the state dislikes NGOs is really difficult to understand. Any power tends to be absolute in its control over society. NGOs, in their turn, often obstruct the tendency through uniting the most active and trained professionals. The question is whether the state is reasonable in its war against NGOs, which is absolutely impossible in a European democracy? In Europe the state supports its NGOs and cooperates with them by delegating certain responsibilities pertaining to cultural, social and other issues, instead of trying to subordinate them. As a result, this contributes to the development of both the state and the society in general.

Totalitarian states do not want to follow the path, which results in permanent harassment of NGOs, as well as any other independent initiatives. It also makes the state extremely aggressive and instable. Why so? Because the state has no confidence in its society and, vice versa, the society does not trust the executive power. E.g. the Constitution ensures the right to the freedom of association and proclaims human rights as the supreme objective of the state. In reality, everything is quite opposite. So can there be any confidence at all? The ‘Law on Public Associations’ itself has a number of provisions that directly restrain the freedom of association, instead of ensuring the equal exercise of the right for all citizens.

Here are several examples.

Article 8 of the Law provides that a local public association is to be founded by at least 10 persons representing the majority of territories of the NGO’s target area, while a republican publican association needs at least 10 funders representing the majority of the country’s regions and towns. I.e. 15 persons from three regions and only 9 from, let us say, Homel region will not be able to form a republican association. Or, in case someone leaves the association after its registration and there would be only 9 members representing, let us say, Minsk, the association would be closed down by the authorities.

Article 13 of the Law provides that the founders of a public association should submit a number of papers, including the list of the founders, stating their name, address, date of birth, citizenship, telephone and occupation. Why should the state know all the data about the founders of an association and has the founder’s occupation anything to do with the association he or she is going to join?

The following example is quite expressive – in 2004 several founders of the Homel-based ‘Civil Alternative’ Public Association were forced to withdraw their signatures and leave the association by the administration of the school they worked in.

Still, the ‘acme’ of the Law is Article 24 entitled ‘Control over the compliance of the work of public associations with the law and their constituent documents.’ The Ministry of Justice seems to be extremely obsessed with finding faults with the members of associations, leaving no chance for NGOs to correct their flaws themselves.

There is another curious provision in Article 24 – any public association should annually not later than on 1 March submit the information on the number of its members, including its elected bodies, the events conducted by the association in the framework of its constituent documents etc. to the authorized state body.

There are much more to be added to the above-mentioned facts, e.g. the regulations concerning the legal address of the association, registration expenses (registration fee, notary services, rent) etc., which totally discourages Belarusian activists from exercising their right to the freedom of association. As a result, the state’s objective is achieved. But has it contributed to its national success or prosperity?

Vasil Paliakou

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