On the initiative of Estonia, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, and backed by many United Nations member states, a high-level meeting will be held to discuss human rights abuses in Belarus.
Belarus, a country bordering the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania as well as Russia, Poland and Ukraine, has in recent weeks seen an unprecedented number of political protests against the country’s president, Alexander Lukashenko, and the Belarusian government.
The demonstrations, which are part of the Belarusian democracy movement, began in the lead-up to and during the country’s recent presidential election, in which Lukashenko sought a sixth term in office. Widely described as “Europe’s last dictator”, he has served as president of Belarus since the establishment of the office in 1994.
The democracy movement claimed the election was rigged – an opinion shared by many Belarusians. Hundreds of thousands of people have since taken to the streets – in the Belarus capital, Minsk, and elsewhere – demanding a change in the country’s leadership.
However, the ongoing street protests are violently suppressed by the Belarusian authorities. On 1 September, in a statement by the human rights experts of the United Nations, more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees were mentioned, including sexual abuse and rape with rubber batons of women and children.
Important to give a forum to those who are being silenced
Estonia, a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council, has initiated a meeting, co-organised with the permanent members, the US and the UK, to discuss the human rights abuses in Belarus. Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Ukraine – all member states of the UN – are also the co-organisers.
According to the Estonian foreign ministry, thousands of peaceful demonstrators in Belarus remain in detention and hundreds of people have disappeared. “Estonia considers it important to give a forum to those who are being silenced. The Security Council is among the most powerful international fora for this purpose, and public pressure can help reduce violence and grave human rights violations,” Estonia’s foreign minister Urmas Reinsalu, who will chair the meeting, said in a statement.
At the meeting, an overview will be given via video link by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin; the Belarusian opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskay; the Vice-Chairman of the Viasna Human Rights Center, Valiantsin Stefanovic; and the Legal Expert for the Belarusian Association of Journalists, Volha Siakhovich.
The virtual meeting is open to all UN member states. Estonian World will live stream the meeting on 4 September at 5 PM EEST/10 AM EST/3 PM BST.
Estonia is imposing sanctions on 30 Belarusian officials
In a separate development, on 31 August, Estonia barred 30 Belarusian officials entering the country.
The five-year prohibition of entry to the Republic of Estonia applies to Alexander Lukashenko, the minister of the interior of Belarus, the minister of justice, the prosecutor-general, officials of the president’s administration, members of the Central Commission of Belarus on Elections and representatives of law enforcement. “These individuals have a central role in falsifying election results in Belarus and using violence against peaceful protesters,” the ministry said.
Cover: A protest rally against Alexander Lukashenko on 16 August in Minsk, Belarus. Photo by Homoatrox, shared under the Creative Commons CC BY-SA 3.0 licence.