In response to a constitutional reform announced by the authorities, Belarusian human rights organizations consider it necessary to note the following.
We believe that the process of discussing changes to the Constitution organized by the authorities is an attempt to silence gross human rights violations, including torture of thousands of detainees. In the current catastrophic human rights situation in Belarus, the full devaluation of the rule of law, in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, and given that a number of potential dialogue actors who enjoy the support of Belarusian society are in imprisonment, some de facto in exile, it is impossible to conduct a truly inclusive and effective process of discussing changes to the Constitution.
We would like to remind that currently there are more than 100 political prisoners in Belarus. Many others, including journalists, lawyers and human rights activists, face routine persecution. Since August 9, nearly 15,000 people have been detained for peacefully exercising their right to assembly, and thousands have been tortured, abused, and ill-treated. The media, journalists and bloggers are under severe pressure. The right to freedom of expression is subject to unprecedented restrictions. People who disagree with what is happening and express their views openly, including doctors, athletes and workers, are persecuted and repressed.
Not a single criminal case has been opened to investigate reports of mass torture, violence and ill-treatment of detainees, despite ample photo and video evidence. The authorities not only deprived people of legal mechanisms to protect them from the arbitrariness of law enforcement officers, but also publicly expressed their approval of their actions, which destroyed people’s trust in the government and state institutions.
We consider it important to reform the Constitution, including to ensure a real separation of powers, to create additional measures to protect human rights, but an effective dialogue to discuss proposals to change the Constitution is only possible after the situation in the country de-escalates: the authorities must stop repression and persecution of dissidents, refrain from detaining peaceful demonstrators, release political prisoners, and initiate criminal proceedings against all those involved in torture. At the same time, the process of discussing and considering opinions on amendments to the Constitution should be based on open and clear rules, with specific deadlines; participation in constitutional reform for different groups must be clear and inclusive; the commission to discuss proposals to amend the Constitution should be formed transparently and include representatives of the full range of non-profit organizations and initiatives.
In the event of a referendum to change the Constitution, the referendum should be organized by the new Central Election Commission, as the former members completely discredited themselves in the public eye, as well as by local election commissions formed on pluralistic principles. The referendum should be preceded by a reform of the electoral law aimed at maximally implementing the OSCE ODIHR recommendations on the democratization of the electoral process. Without such changes in the Electoral Code, no confidence in the results of the referendum will be ensured and, accordingly, its legitimacy in the eyes of the Belarusian society will be questioned.
At the same time, we would like to note that Belarusian human rights organizations have developed and submitted to various state bodies an array of proposals and recommendations to improve the legal system, strengthen the independence of judges and lawyers, improve the situation of civil society organizations, media and journalists, reform electoral laws in order to achieve free and fair elections, improve the conditions of detention of detainees and prisoners, the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly, freedom of speech and freedom of religion. These proposals are based on national experience and take into account best practices and international human rights standards. It is regrettable that almost none of the proposal has been implemented, which has led to the worst human rights crisis, the devaluation of the rule of law and the loss of confidence in state institutions.
In this regard, we once again call on the authorities to:
- immediately stop all forms of repression against dissidents, and release all political prisoners;
- investigate all cases of torture, violence and ill-treatment and punish the perpetrators;
- stop all attacks on freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and refrain from persecuting journalists, lawyers, human rights defenders, and civil society activists.
Belarusian Helsinki Committee
Assembly of Non-Governmental Democratic Organizations of Belarus
Human Rights Center “Viasna”
Center for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”
Belarusian Association of Journalists
Barys Zvozskau Belarusian Human Rights House
Advisory center on contemporary international practices and their legal implementation “Human Constanta”
Belarusian Documentation Center