FIDH Press release
Paris-Geneva, August 31, 2007. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), expresses its deepest concern regarding the refusal of the Belarusian authorities to re-register the Human Rights Centre "Viasna", on August 28, 2007, in violation of a communication of the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued at the end of July 2007.
On August 28, 2007, the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus concluded that "the Charter of the association [did] not comply with the Law on Public Associations", on the grounds that [it did] not contain concrete goals (which could imply the possibility for the association to develop subversive activities), that the information provided on some of the members of the association was mistaken and that 20 founders out of 69 had been charged with criminal offences, five of them being convicted.
On July 23, 2007, "Viasna" had submitted a re-registration request to the Ministry of Justice, which had to reply within a month. "Viasna" had been closed down on October 28, 2003 by order of the Supreme Court at the demand of the Ministry of Justice, in a context of massive violation of the right to freedom of association (1).
The Observatory expresses its deepest concern with the abusive decision of the Belarusian authorities and considers it as further evidence of their determination to strike down any dissenting voice in the country, in blatant violations of international and regional standards on freedom of association.
The Observatory also wishes to point out that by refusing to re-register "Viasna", the Republic of Belarus further directly violates Communication nÝ1296/2004 (2) of the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued on July 24, 2007. This complaint had been lodged by Mr. Aliaksandr Bialiatski, the President of "Viasna" and a FIDH Vice-President, on April 8, 2004. In its concluding observations, the UN Committee found that Article 22(1) of the 1966 UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on freedom of association had been violated and considered that the co-authors of the complaint were "entitled to an appropriate remedy, including the re-registration of "Viasna", and that Belarus was "under an obligation to take steps to prevent similar violations occurring in the future" (9).
In view of these elements, the Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to review the decision of the Ministry of Justice to close down "Viasna", to refrain from resorting to the closure of NGOs and to conform in all circumstances with international and regional standards concerning freedom of association, in particular Article 5(b) of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, which states that "for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms, everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, at the national and international levels ... to form, join and participate in non-governmental organizations, associations or groups".
The Observatory also stresses that paragraph 17 of the Resolution on Strengthening OSCE Engagement with Human Rights Defenders and National Human Rights Institutions, adopted by the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on July 10, 2007, provides that "OSCE participating States [shall] address the remaining challenges, the lack of progress and even set-backs with respect to the implementation of the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, under threat from a range of excessively restrictive laws and policies and that negatively affect the working environment of human right defenders".
More generally, the Observatory urges the Belarusian authorities to put an end to any act of harassment against human rights NGOs, their members and all human rights defenders in the country, as well as to conform with Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which states that "everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels", Article 5(b) above-mentioned, as well as Article 12.2, which states that "the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration".
For further information, please contact:
FIDH : Karine Appy, + 00 33 1 43 55 25 18
OMCT : Delphine Reculeau, + 00 41 22 809 49 39
(1) The Observatory recalls that 89 associations were dissolved by legal means in 2003 and 2004, several of which were human rights organisations (including Viasna), and about 40 associations were dissolved by legal means in 2005. Furthermore, on August 1, 2005, amendments to the Law on Public Associations entered into force in Belarus, thus leading to further restrictions of freedom of association (See Observatory Annual Reports 2004 and 2005).
(2) The full document has not yet been published on the website of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights but is available on "Viasna" website: http://spring96.org/en/news/17880.