NEW YORK, USA – UN human rights experts on Thursday, strongly criticized the level of violence being used by security forces across Belarus against peaceful protesters and journalists, following five days of demonstrations over the disputed presidential election.
Large numbers of protesters have been detained, and the experts have called on the international community to put pressure on the eastern European nation, where long-time authoritarian leader Alexander Lukashenko has ruled since 1994, to stop attacking its own citizens.
No attempt at dialogue
“We are outraged by the police violence towards peaceful protesters and journalists”, the UN experts said. “The security forces do not seem to seek dialogue with the protesters or allow them to exercise their right to freedom of peaceful assembly.”
Video footage from news organizations and bystanders has shown anti-riot police and men in plain clothes indiscriminately beating passers-by, including minors and voluntary paramedics, said a press release issued by the UN human rights office (OHCHR).
The official results which declared Lukashenko the resounding winner, were condemned by both the European Union, and the United States, as being unfair and the product of a rigged process, according to news reports.
The protests were sparked by what the press release called “credible reports of systematic irregularities and violations of international electoral standards”, which marred the elections.
Rather than seeking dialogue to end the post-election crisis, the experts said, “the authorities only seem interested in quickly dispersing the protests and arresting as many people as possible.” At least 6,700 people have been detained, even though the demonstrations have largely been peaceful.
The experts expressed concern that many of the detained have reportedly been beaten or otherwise mistreated while incarcerated.
Security forces have resorted to frequent use of excessive, unnecessary and indiscriminate force, according to the press release. Some 300 people have been injured, and two deaths have been reported. The whereabouts of dozens arrested, remains unknown.
“Under no circumstances should anybody be physically harmed or criminally detained for peacefully taking part in a protest,” said the UN experts.
Freedoms ‘vastly curtailed’
They also expressed alarm that freedom of expression has been “vastly curtailed”, with at least 50 journalists, bloggers, human rights defenders and activists detained and harassed in recent weeks, while several are facing criminal investigations for allegedly inciting public unrest.
On the day of the election and in the following days Internet access was partially or entirely restricted throughout the country. Internet disruptions have put Belarusians in an information vacuum, says OHCHR, while many social media and news websites were completely blocked.
“The shutdown clearly has a political purpose: to suppress the right of people in Belarus to access information and to communicate at a time of rising protest. The measure is inherently disproportionate and incompatible with the freedom of expression”, said the independent experts.
“The government of Belarus has been impervious to all calls – including our own – to stop crackdowns on peaceful protesters” they added.
“We call on the international community to strengthen pressure on the government of Belarus to stop violently attacking its own citizens who are exercising their fundamental rights,” they said. “We call for full respect of human rights and for accountability for violence against protesters.”
The experts work on a voluntary basis, are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work.