2009 16/11

Eastern Partnership Forum

At the forum in Brussels Belarusian civil activists disseminated a statement about rights and freedom violations in our country.

The first session of the Civil Society Forum in the framework of the Eastern Partnership policy of the EU is held in Brussels on November 16-17. The conference is organised by Sweden, the country presiding in the EU, the European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC). About 240 public associations from 6 partner countries: Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine are taking part in the meeting. Among them are NGOs, associations of employers and trade unions. Representatives of 27 organisations from Belarus have been invited.

The main aim of the Civil Society Forum is to facilitate the dialogue and cooperation between organisations of the civil society and governments of the countries participants of the Eastern Partnership, as well as assistance in realization of the program.

Participants who represented Sweden were Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, the European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner, and the president of the European Economic and Social Committee Mario Sepi.

At the opening of the forum addresses were delivered by the former Secretary General of the Council of Europe Catherine Lalumiere, Principal Adviser; Head of the Eastern Partnership Task Force (European Commission) Bruno Dethomas, Political Director of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs Bjorn Lyrvall, President of the External Relations Section: the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) Filip Hamro-Drotz.

Website charter97.org was told about the Civil Society Forum of the Eastern Partnership policy by the representative of the Charter’97 and the civil campaign “European Belarus” Uladzimir Kobets:

“Representatives of the EU who spoke at the opening of the forum expressed confidence that all the resolutions and documents adopted at the event would influence the policy of national governments and of the European Union in general. Much was said about human rights violations and necessity to develop democracy. Ex-Secretary General of the Council of Europe Catherine Lalumiere expressed hope that Belarus would finally become a member of the Council of Europe, as 5 out of 6 members of the Eastern Partnership are members of this organisation. However, Catherine Lalumiere noted that being a member of the Council of Europe depends on Belarus”.

Necessity to facilitate visa regime with the European Union and association agreement of some countries of the European Partnership in the EU were also discussed at the forum. 4 working groups were formed. They are to discuss issues of democracy, economy, ecology and contacts between citizens. A statement of the civil campaign “European Belarus” with the analysis of the situation in the country after Belarus’ joining the Eastern Partnership was distributed at the Forum. This document is discussed by everyone actively, it was met with interest,” Uladzimir Kobets said.

We offer the text of the statement by the civil campaign “European Belarus” circulated at the Eastern Partnership Forum in Brussels.

Belarus has been included in the Eastern Partnership on May 7, 2009. What has changed in the human rights sphere since than?

1. Death penalty

Belarus remains the only European country that still has death penalty. Two death sentences have been passed since May 2009. Supreme Court left the sentences without changes.

2. Violation of freedom of associations

Article 193.1 of Criminal code is still acting in Belarus. It establishes criminal responsibility for activities on behalf of not registered organizations. At the same time authorities deny registration of NGOs, human right organizations and political parties (Human right center “Viasna”, “Young Front, “Belarusian Christian Democratic” party, etc.)

3. Violation of freedom of speech and distribution of information

At least 6 independent printed editions have been denied registration during the last three months only. Only 2 independent newspapers were admitted to state distribution system. During dispersal of recent rallies officers of special services were intentionally beating journalists and breaking journalist equipment to hinder their work.

4. Violation of freedom of assembly

Three peaceful protest rallies have been brutally dispersed in September and October in Minsk. Participants of the rallies were beaten, arrested and sentenced to large fines. The detained were beaten, tortured, insulted and humiliated in police vehicles and police departments. They were threatened with execution, females were threatened with rape.

5. Politically motivated criminal cases

Two new political prisoners emerged in Belarus after it had been included in Eastern Partnership– activist of “Young Front” Artsiom Dubski sentenced to one year of arrest and activist of “European Belarus” Maksim Dashuk – to a year of probation. Civil activists Mikalay Autukhovich and Uladzimir Asipenka are in jail since February. Their cases haven’t been sent to court until now.

6. Persecution of civil activists

Since the beginning of the year about 500 democratic activists have been arrested, beaten or fined for distribution of information materials and taking part in street rallies. Authorities continue firing democratic activists from jobs and kicking them out of universities. Cases of kidnappings of democratic activists Artur Finkevich, Nasta Palazhanka and Dzianis Karnou haven’t been investigated. Last spring they were grabbed by officers of special services, taken out of city, beaten, robbed and left in the forest.

7. Violation of freedom of conscience

Authorities continue pressure on church “New Life”, Baptist churches, religious community Jehovah’s Witnesses and others are persecuted, by authorities, tried and fined.

8. Politically motivated draft to army service

About ten youth leaders were illegally and violently enlisted to army service with the purpose of preventing their civil activities.

9. Investigation of disappearances of politicians and a journalist

Abduction and murders of well-known politicians Victar Hanchar, Yuri Zakharanka, public figure Anatoly Krasouski and journalist Dmitry Zavadski in 1999-2000 were not investigated. According to report of PACE Special reporter on Belarus Christos Pourgourides high-ranked Belarusian officials were involved in this crimes.

10. Electoral legislation

Presidential election of 2006 and parliamentary election of 2008 were recognized as not free and fair by OSCE and independent observers. Not a single member of the opposition got a seat in the “parliament”. Next presidential elections will take place in 2011, but electoral legislation and its implementation remain unchanged.

Without solid improvements in these areas any cooperation with the regime on the part of the European Union will lead to more human rights abuses in Belarus. The conditions for Partnership and Cooperation Agreement entry into force should be respect for human rights and free election in Belarus.
Source: www.charter97.org

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