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UN Rights Expert Describes 'Dire' Situation In Belarus Ahead Of Presidential Vote

Belarusian police break up a protest in Hrodna, on June 26.
Belarusian police break up a protest in Hrodna, on June 26.

The UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus says the country's "already dire" human rights situation has deteriorated further over the last year, amid a widening crackdown on civil society ahead of a presidential election.

"The systemic and systematic human rights violations remain, both in law and in practice," Anais Marin said on July 10 as she presented her annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Marin expressed concerns that the Belarusian government uses restrictive laws and arbitrary administrative and judicial measures to penalize dissent.

On July 1, Marin joined other UN independent experts in urging the Belarusian government to abandon its "policy of arbitrary arrests, violence, and intimidation" against political activists, rights defenders, journalists, and bloggers ahead of the August 9 presidential election, in which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is seeking a sixth term.

They said at least 200 representatives of civil society had been arrested during demonstrations across the country since June 18.

In her report, which covers the period from April 2019 to March this year, Marin pointed to "disproportional and discriminatory restrictions" on freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.

She said that "suppressive tactics" such as arbitrary detention continued to target civil society activists, peaceful protesters, independent journalists, and bloggers.

According to the UN expert, ethnic and religious minorities, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community, and families of detainees are stigmatized while no anti-discrimination law exists to protect them.

Marin also said that speakers of the Belarusian language are discriminated against in higher and secondary education and in the media, which she said threatens the language's survival and negatively impacts cultural life in the country.

She deplored that Belarus continues to apply and implements the death penalty -- the only country in Europe to do so – and expressed concerns about the lack of efforts to fight torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement authorities.

By systematically compelling students, employees of state-owned enterprises, army conscripts, and detainees to work without pay, the government violates the country's own law against forced labor, according to Marin.

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