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Repression in Belarus has increased since EU sanctions removed

Human rights activists warn that the significantly increased use of fines against peaceful protesters and the increasing use of the death penalty shows that the EU’s softening attitude to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is misguided.

It is 100 days since the European Union removed sanctions on Belarus asserting that this was warranted by greater liberalization in the country.  The human rights organization Libereco – Partnership for Human Rights has, however, marked the occasion by publishing a report suggesting that pressure on civil society has actually increased. They warn that the significantly increased use of fines against peaceful protesters and the increasing use of the death penalty shows that the EU’s softening attitude to Alexander Lukashenko’s regime is misguided.

The following is from their press release which can be found, together with the full report, here.

On 15 February 2016, the EU Foreign Affairs Council suggested lifting the sanctions against Belarus. Ten days later, the Council of the European Union inaugurated the proposal. This is a benchmark in the EU´s political rehabilitation of Belarus, which has been ongoing since mid-2014. In face of the crisis in Ukraine and the deteriorating relationship with Russia, Belarus is welcomed as a supposed stable partner on the EU’s Eastern border. Nevertheless, the sanctions were originally introduced not out of considerations of international diplomacy, but to motivate Belarus to improve rule of law and reduce human rights violations.

Libereco’s analysis of the 100 days following the abandonment of the sanctions evidences striking results. The situation of human rights has not improved and in several respects they have actually deteriorated compared to 2015. Punishments and harassments have been kept beneath a level which would attract international attention.

Death sentences increased
The investigation period gives a particularly shocking image regarding the use of the death penalty. As the last country upholding capital punishment in Europe, Belarus does not appear to be decreasing its use of the death penalty. In the 100 days since the end of sanctions the amount of death sentences and executions exceeded those taking place in the whole year of 2015.

“The death penalty is legalised murder. Every death sentence makes the Belarusian state a killer. Recently, at an international UN conference, the government defended their actions, indicating that there is no end in sight for this inhumane practice” says Andrej Paluda, coordinator of the campaign against death penalty in Belarus.

Freedom of speech and assembly severely limited
The assessment of repression against civil society reveals a grim picture. Dr. Imke Hansen, researcher on behalf of Libereco, states: “In Belarus it is a risk to have an opinion and stand up for it; even on issues that seem unconnected to state politics such as environment protection or costs of medical services. The restrictions placed on civil society, particularly concerning freedom of speech and assembly, may well have become less visible, but have not decreased.”

For example, the fining for participation in peaceful protests skyrocketed whilst publicity-provoking measures such as short-term imprisonment were used significantly less. The amount of fines, imposed throughout the 100 investigated days could cover the salaries of 55 policemen for the same period.

Despite of this, Belarusian authorities have managed to create a less repressive and more internationally acceptable image. An upcoming UN vote on the removal of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Belarus might illustrate Lukashenka´s success – if the UN countries consider continual scrutiny unnecessary.

Libereco joins the International Federation of Human Rights in urging the UN to continue monitoring the human rights situation in Belarus. In fact, our analytical results prove that the Belarusian state still legitimates violations of basic rights against its citizens. We call upon the European Union to uphold its original values and to object to Belarus´ violations of human rights, including their use of the death penalty.

For further questions contact:
Dr. Imke Hansen,  [email protected]

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