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UN Human Rights Council must act to prevent torture

Geneva, 18 September 2020 - Aheadof today’s urgent debate at the UN Human Rights Council, the World OrganisationAgainst Torture (OMCT) calls on the Council to establish an independent internationalinvestigation into the violent crackdown, ongoing torture and abuse againstpeaceful protesters in Belarus since the beginning of post-electiondemonstrations.

For the past two weeks, OMCT partner organisations on the ground havebeen witnessing another surge in arbitrary arrests, increasingly violent policetorture and brutality, and reprisals against victims and journalists who darespeak out about human rights violations.

When indignation over the violent post-election clampdown - which sawthousands arrested, tortured and injured, as well and four people killed -morphed into demonstrations with more than 100,000 participants, there was asprinkle of hope that officials would listen to the people. However, by earlySeptember the authorities were doubling down on their efforts to crush thepeaceful protests.

Numerous victims of torture and police brutality are being threatenedfor speaking out about their ordeal in custody. Victims that seek medicaltreatment risk denunciation to the police, and those who file officialcomplaints about torture at the hands of police are at the risk of facingcriminal charges for committing violence against police officers or forparticipating in unauthorized demonstrations. The leaders of the peacefulprotests have been arrested on spurious criminal charges of overthrowing theconstitutional order or forcibly expelled from Belarus. On 7 September, MaryaKalesnikava, a leading opposition member, was kidnapped in central Minsk andthreatened to be thrown out of the country “alive or in small pieces”. Aftersecurity officers failed to expel her to Ukraine, she was placed in pre-traildetention. The authorities continue to harass lawyers who represent victims andprotest leaders in these legal proceedings.

Hundreds of testimonies and other evidence collected and documented bythe OMCT and its local partner organisations, including “Viasna“, supported by photo, video and medicalevidence, describe how riot police units systematically tortured andill-treated people during arrest, transport, and when locked up in severelyovercrowded detention facilities. The evidence shows that beatings, sexualviolence, humiliation and the deprivation of access to food and medical carewere systematically used to punish and intimidate.

The available information and evidence lead to a firm conclusion thattorture was employed in a planned and systematic manner, thus qualifying ascrime against humanity.

Most documented cases are from Minsk, but many testimonies show asimilar pattern of arbitrary arrest and ill-treatment in other cities acrossthe country. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg as the authoritieshave been trying to stop the spread of information about human rightsviolations by all means, including by threatening survivors.

The authorities continue to restrict internet access with targetedinterruptions, while blocking independent websites. In August alone, 151journalists were detained and numerous foreign correspondents lost their accreditation, meaningthey can no longer work as journalists in Belarus. At the same time, officialshave persistently refused to open an official investigation into the numerousand consistent reports of arbitrary arrest and violence, including torture.

The OMCT calls upon the members of the UN Human Rights Council to standby the victims of torture and ill-treatment in Belarus and to demand that Belarusianauthorities immediately stop the policy of intimidation of torture victims,provide them with protection, promptly investigate all the cases of torture,and bring the perpetrators to justice.

As the authorities continue to deny and refuse any recognition, apologyor reparation to victims, but on the contrary honor the perpetrators (mainlyOMON and its special forces), persecute victims, intimidate witnesses andfamilies and publicly defame those who suffered, it is vital that the UN HumanRights Council takes a strong stand and launches an independent internationalinvestigation into violations occurred in the context of the post-electionclampdown.

Press contact:

OMCT: Ms. Iolanda Jaquemet +41 79 539 41 06 / Email : (Geneva)

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