UN expert likens Belarus to ‘totalitarian’ states

Special Rapporteur Anais Marin warns Human Rights Council that Minsk is moving to ‘purge’ Belarus of all dissent.

President Alexander Lukashenko has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent in Belarus since winning re-election in an August 2020 poll that was denounced by the opposition as rigged [File: Sputnik/Alexander Astafyev/Pool via Reuters]

A top UN expert has likened Belarus to “totalitarian states”, warning that Minsk’s recent grounding of a passenger plane and subsequent arrest of an opposition journalist on board was part of an ongoing effort by officials to “purge” the country of all dissent.

Anais Marin, the United Nations’ special rapporteur on the rights situation in the country, told the Human Rights Council on Monday the incident in May “illustrates the desire of authorities to end all forms of dissidence by purging society of elements it considers undesirable”.

“It is a form of purge that recalls those practised by totalitarian states,” she said in a speech at the Geneva-based forum.

On May 23, Belarusian authorities diverted a Ryanair plane flying from Greece to Lithuania and forced it to land in Minsk, which was followed by the arrest of Lukashenko critic Roman Protasevich and his girlfriend.

Marin added the rights situation was “deteriorating” in Belarus, which was rocked by months of protests late last year following longtime President Alexander Lukashenko’s re-election in an August vote that was widely denounced by his opponents as rigged but handed the 66-year-old a sixth term in office.

Authorities responded to the demonstrations with a massive crackdown that saw thousands of people arrested and reports of police brutality. Most of Lukashenko’s opponents are now either in jail or have fled the country.

‘Serious’ rights violations

Marin, who was presenting her latest report to the council, decried that the “already catastrophic situation” in Belarus she had highlighted the last time she spoke before the UN’s top rights body in September had since significantly worsened.

She pointed out that three of Lukashenko’s opponents during last year’s election remained behind bars, and that they were among some 530 people currently considered to be prisoners of conscience in the country.

Over the past year, Marin said more than 35,000 people had been arbitrarily detained for simply exercising their right to assemble peacefully or their solidarity with the victims of rights abuses.

Thousands more had been subjected to violence, humiliation and intimidation by law enforcement officers, she said, adding that she had received information indicating that torture of the detained was all but “systematic”.

“These extremely serious violations have led to no prosecution in Belarus,” she said, decrying “persistent impunity” in the country.

US threatens further sanctions

Marin’s remarks came as Washington’s delegate to the Human Rights Council hinted at the possibility of further economic sanctions against Belarus in a strongly worded speech on Monday.

The United States announced targeted sanctions against key members of the Belarusian government after the plane incident.

“Such contempt for international norms cannot go unanswered,” the US delegate said on Monday, describing the incident as “sickening”.

“We will consider further actions as necessary,” he added, in reference to sanctions.

The European Union, United Kingdom and Canada have all also imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and his allies.

Minsk has reacted angrily to the moves, saying they “border on the declaration of an economic war”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies