The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has approved a resolution to create a team to investigate Belarus's violent crackdown on demonstrators protesting against presidential elections last year that authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka claims to have won.
The move came as Amnesty International called for international action to protect the rights of peaceful protesters in Belarus, raising “serious concerns” that the police response to demonstrations planned for March 25 “will yet again be marked by severe violence.”
UNHRC members in Geneva voted 20 to 7 on March 24 to create the investigative team, with 20 abstentions. Russia, a staunch ally of Belarus, was one of the countries to vote against the measure.
"We must show our support to the people of Belarus and hold perpetrators of grave human rights violations accountable to end the vicious cycle of impunity," Portugal's ambassador, Rui Macieira, speaking for the EU, told the Human Rights Council.
Portugal currently holds the bloc's rotating presidency and the resolution was put forward by the 27-member group.
Lukashenka was declared president for a sixth straight term after the August 9 election despite the opposition's belief that its candidate, Svyatlana Tsikhanouskaya, was the rightful winner.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
The brutal crackdown on anti-government demonstrations has included tens of thousands of detentions and thousands of criminal cases.
About 1,000 cases of torture have been documented by human rights NGOs, 290 people are currently being held as political prisoners, and at least eight protesters have been killed, according to Tsikhanouskaya.
The text of the UN resolution approved on March 24 "condemns the ongoing grave violations of human rights in Belarus in connection with the 2020 presidential election, including the systematic denial of human rights and fundamental freedoms".
The Belarusian ambassador to the council characterized the resolution as a "destructive signal" and "another example of the manipulation of the UN by Western states in their own political interests."
Lukashenka, who is not recognized by many Western governments, has refused to meet with opposition leaders to discuss their demands for his exit and a fresh election.
The opposition has said it is looking to reinvigorate the pro-democracy protests on March 25, the anniversary of the Belarusian People's Republic, which existed for less than a year in 1918.
In a statement on the eve of the planned demonstrations, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Eastern Europe and Central Asia director, warned that Belarusian authorities have indicated that they are prepared to turn Freedom Day rallies into “yet another scene of appalling violence.”
“The world cannot stand by in the face of these threats,” Struthers said, calling on diplomatic representatives in Belarus to monitor the March 25 protests, live-stream events, and use their diplomatic immunity to expose police violence.
The London-based human rights organization also called on international businesses to “ensure they do not become involved in any future human rights violations by the Belarusian authorities, by taking concrete action to mitigate any risks.”
“If telecom companies are unable to prevent Internet or mobile coverage shutdown, they should mitigate adverse impacts to the extent possible,” Struthers said.