Dozens of member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) have invoked the so-called Vienna Mechanism to request answers from Belarus on “serious human rights violations and abuses” taking place in the country following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
In a letter dated November 4 and sent to the Belarusian permanent representative to the OSCE in Vienna, the United States, Canada, all EU member states except Poland, and seven other European countries said the situation in Belarus has “deteriorated” over the past year.
The 35 countries asked Minsk to provide answers on the use of “excessive force” against peaceful protesters, “arbitrary or unjust” arrests or detention, and “more than 1,500 cases of credible reports of torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment,” among other things.
The Belarusian authorities are requested to respond to the demand within 10 days.
Authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka has cracked down hard on the pro-democracy movement and civil society after unprecedented anti-government protests erupted across Belarus following the August 2020 election in which he claimed reelection to a sixth term.
Thousands of people have been arrested, dozens of news websites blocked, and independent media shuttered as part of the sweeping clampdown, which has pushed most of the top opposition figures out of the country.
The opposition and the West say the presidential vote was rigged to keep Lukashenka in power. The European Union, the United States, and other countries have refused to recognize Lukashenka as Belarus's legitimate leader.
More than a month after the election -- in September 2020 -- 17 OSCE member states triggered the so-called Moscow Mechanism to establish a mission of experts to report on human rights violations and abuses occurring before, during, and after the vote.
The report concluded that the elections results were neither free nor fair, and “massive and systematic” violations and abuses of human rights and fundamental freedoms had been committed by the security forces.
The document also provided recommendations to the Belarusian authorities to help end the political crisis in the country, including establishing a dialogue with representatives of the opposition and civil society.