- RECORD-BREAKING INITIATIVE OF TSIKHANOUSKAYA
- FIRST STEPS TOWARDS INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL ON BELARUS
- THE SPRING HAS COME. BUT PEACEFUL MARCHES WON'T RETURN
- REACTIVE VIOLENCE MAY GROW AMID REPRESSIONS
- THE INTRODUCTION OF DE-FACTO MARTIAL LAW
- THE GREATEST HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS IN POST-WORLD WAR BELARUS
- SYSTEMATIC REPRESSIONS AGAINST THE POLISH MINORITY
- A WITNESS TESTIFIED ON FACTS OF TORTURE TO DEATH
- REPRESSIONS AGAINST PRESS PUSH PEOPLE INTO REVIVAL OF «SAMIZDAT»
- KGB PLANNED A TERRORIST ATTACK, ACCORDING TO BYPOL
- RUSSIA SENDS SIGNALS TO LUKASHENKA TO FORCE HIM INTO PAYBACK FOR SUPPORT
- ENERGY SECURITY AND BLOCKADE OF NUCLEAR POWER FROM BELARUS
RECORD-BREAKING INITIATIVE OF TSIKHANOUSKAYA
Civil disobedience in Belarus continues for 233 days.
Over just 10 days, the initiative of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to begin negotiations with the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka on the matter of new elections gathered over 750,000 verified digital signatures of Belarus citizens, and keeps growing. The initiative is widely endorsed by the Western democracies. So far, it is the most popular political campaign in modern history of Belarus.
Although the regime in Minsk yet ignores all offers to start negotiations, it also blocks all efforts to spread information on the matter of voting for new elections and political transit. It intimidates state-employed workers and officials to avoid them from joining the campaign of Tsikhanouskaya.
Lukashenka is completely incapable of any negotiations, and he remains core obstacle to peaceful resolution of conflict in Belarus. The situation still can be solved in fast and in a peaceful way if there will be joint political will, leadership and uncompromising position of the United States and the EU (as well as active engagement of its member states). Without decisive position of the United States in achieving Lukashenka’s resignation and subsequent arrest and trial for his role in organization of international crimes within and out of Belarus, current stalemate situation may continue for years, and will eventually result into a violent conflict that will split into all neighboring states, including three EU member countries.
FIRST STEPS TOWARDS INTERNATIONAL TRIBUNAL ON BELARUS
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) will create an investigative department (that will include around 20 investigators and other staff) that will collect evidence on the use of torture by the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Out of 2,000 complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention that were recorded by the UNHRC, none was investigated by Belarus.
19 countries have backed the newly-established platform to record human rights violations in Belarus, International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB). It will collect, verify, and store evidence on human rights violations conducted by the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. The initiative will be led by the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY), Viasna Human Rights Centre in Belarus, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, and the British NGO Redress.
The Platform is established as a follow-up to the OSCE Moscow Mechanism report (presented by Professor Wolfgang Benedek on 5 November 2020) concerning human rights violations related to the 9 August presidential elections in Belarus.
The materials collected by the IAPB will be handed over to UN investigators immediately after the UNHRC investigative department on Belarus (mentioned above) will start its routine work. These materials can be used for independent criminal investigations and trials at national, regional and international levels, as well as within International jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, the regime in Minsk announced plans to introduce new law to provide bodyguards to state propagandists (such as state media workers), law enforcement members, and state nomenclature. The law will allow changing physical image for these people as well as complete change of their identity. Such measures may help the perpetrators of atrocities and workers of state propaganda and state media avoid prosecution in the future.
Although necessary, these steps are not enough to ensure fast and timely prosecution of perpetrators of ongoing crimes against civilians. The creation of designated international tribunal on international crimes conducted in Belarus under Lukashenka regime will be the most effective tool. The creation of such body can be reinforced by new cases under universal jurisdiction that should target criminals representing civil and military administrations of the acting regime.
THE SPRING HAS COME. BUT PEACEFUL MARCHES WON'T RETURN
During March 25-27 celebrations of the Freedom Day, thousands of drivers kept honking in central streets to express their protest safely – but still under a threat of arrest and losing license under new traffic rules (updated recently to affect protesters among drivers).
In the evenings of March 24 and 25 people across Belarus launched hundreds of fireworks at 23:34 in expression of protests. The time is related to the former administrative code article used for political prosecution of peaceful protesters, it was recently changed to another number.
Although people remain angry and are still ready to express their protest in peaceful way, the cost of political participation has become unbearable to many – and people see no sense in peaceful marches at this stage of protests. Without clear results of protests (as Lukashenka ignores their demands and treats protesters as terrorists and extremists) this trend will remain. The protesters inevitably got tired of long-lasting emotional marathon and repressions. But they are also getting tired of verbal support, repeated «deep concerns» from outside the country, and resolutions that have no immediate effect on the regime and its economic leverage.
Without obvious and visible critical damage caused to financial infrastructure of the regime in Minsk by sanctions and other economic measures, state security will continue punitive operations against civilians.
REACTIVE VIOLENCE MAY GROW AMID REPRESSIONS
Last week, GSM connection, mobile internet and certain landline internet was shutdown in return to August 2020 policy of digital censorship and limitations imposed on human right to freedom of information.
Despite numerous efforts to gather in central streets to celebrate the Freedom Day on March 25, people were unable to form large groups due to heavy presence of military and state security. Journalists and passers-by were detained and beaten along with activists. At least one German journalist (Nicholas Connolly of DW) was detained and intimidated at a detention center in Minsk. He was released 5 hours later – only after direct intervention of German MFA into his case. No reasons of detention were explained by the representatives of the regime by either Belarus MFA or state security.
Despite public statements in the West, repressions in Belarus not just continue, but expand fast. This causes fears that expectation of peaceful change will sooner or later transform into a full-fledged civil conflict comparable to Yugoslav Wars. However, in case of Belarus, the sides will be presented by civilians on one side and army, paramilitary, and militsiya’s forces on the other side.
Lukashenka and his team ignore all verbal and symbolic steps of the democratic community and respond with even more violent repressions. Belarus has become the largest «grey zone» of Europe as was assumed by iSANS experts since late 2020.
THE INTRODUCTION OF DE-FACTO MARTIAL LAW
As of late March, civil legislation has de-facto ceased to regulate public life. As we already reported, both Freedom House and Amnesty International have come to conclusions that both the judiciary and law enforcement system in the Republic of Belarus have completely collapsed and were turned into weapons of repressions. As of late March, both private and public life in Belarus are de-facto regulated by a mix of martial law and arbitrary decisions of state security personnel, often contradicting each other and non-centralized.
On March 22, The Council of Europe’s body of constitutional experts, the Venice Commission, have come to a conclusion that the Republic of Belarus has de-facto banned all peaceful forms of civil expression and criminalized all forms of non-violent demonstrations. Although Belarus is not a member state of the Council of Europe (it has been an associate member of the Venice Commission since 24 November 1994), the expertise of the Council provides an indisputable argument: Belarus is in condition of a complete failure of the rule of law.
Failing to stop Lukashenka and his subordinates on time, the West now deals with low intensity conflict (LIC), rather regular political crisis. This new stage of Lukashenka’s rule will require the West to estimate the situation based on the logic of a military conflict, rather the logic of another political crisis.
Western leaders need to forget everything they knew about Belarus in the past. It is not anymore a country that it used to be. Since around November 2020, the state of Belarus has been gradually transforming from an authoritarian regime into a military junta. As of March 2020, the model of administration of the territory of the Republic of Belarus by this group under commandment of Aliaksandr Lukashenka matches a definition of “internal occupation”. Lukashenka imposes a de-facto military control and martial law onto a hostile territory that does not consider him or his representatives neither legal, not legitimate governing bodies or “bearers” of state sovereignty. This transformation speeds up further erosion of Belarus as an independent state.
Reluctant non-verbal support of protesters by global democracies in the aftermath of August 2020 has led to a logical end: mass peaceful marches of civilians will not return to the streets of Belarus in 2021, and will be transformed into safer forms of protest (which is literally a matter of survival for many protesters).
While the regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka has an obvious domination in military power, civilians see no reasons to join peaceful marches amid a de-facto martial law that criminalized them, and turns them into easy targets. The protesters are forced to choose other tactics. One of the most effective and most widely used methods is a blockade of railroad transportation. According to the official information, there are now at least 97 criminal cases on such matter.
In given circumstances, all state institutions and individuals involved in repressions and propaganda have to be isolated, and must face global blockade and prosecution, foremost led by the United States and the EU. For instance, since August 2020, Belarus state media systematically incited hatred against civil population of Belarus, as well as Poland and Lithuania, and relevant ethnic and linguistic minorities. Despite indisputable facts that National State Television and Radio Company of Belarus is directly responsible for incitement to violence against civil population and minorities, it is ironically still a part of European Broadcasting Union. Such membership legitimizes a clearly criminal organization that is involved in coordination of crimes against humanity and armed seizure of power by Lukashenka’s team in August 2020. The West has to apply zero-tolerance policy to all efforts of the regime in Minsk to legitimize itself, foremost – through economic pressure and indiscriminate pursuit of all «pockets» of Lukashenka’s family and allies.
THE GREATEST HUMAN RIGHTS CRISIS IN POST-WORLD WAR BELARUS
Over just the past week, 500 people were kidnapped or detained on political grounds across Belarus, most of them in Minsk. To compare, the same number of people was detained in February over four weeks. Human rights activist Ales Bialiatski acknowledged that Belarus has not witnessed worse political repressions since Stalin’s rule (that ended almost seven decades ago, in March 1953). For instance, the number of politically charged cases in Belarus under the ultimately repressive Soviet rule in the 1960s-90s averaged one to three a year. Moreover, the repressions of Lukashenka regime are unprecedented in post-war Europe.
In the last two weeks, the number of political prisoners grew by two dozen names, and now at least 302 civilians are acknowledged as political prisoners. Torture and inhuman treatment of civilians in detention centers never stopped since August 2020: detainees are being poisoned with a mix of water and calcium hypochlorite (splashed widely into detention chambers to cause breath damage). The detainees are heavily beaten and suffer from psychological violence, are being denied basic needs (sheets, pillows, blankets, water, food, natural light and air, basic legal protection, and access to / of lawyers). The families of victims are often denied access to basic information about their detained relatives and can not verify their location. In the majority of cases procedural rules are abandoned by law enforcement and court system in favor of immediate detention. As a rule, the detainees are denied connection with the outer world: their letters are being destroyed by prison administration to increase psychological pressure on both detainees and their families.
As in previous years, the lawyers who provide services to clients under politically-motivated charges are being systematically deprived of their right to work. Last week, nine lawyers have lost their licenses – in addition to six lawyers who lost their licenses on political grounds earlier this year.
SYSTEMATIC REPRESSIONS AGAINST THE POLISH MINORITY
Over the last two weeks, state security in Belarus has detained the leader of Polish diaspora organization (the Union of Poles in Belarus) Andżelika Borys, Polish-Belarusian activist and historian Andrzej Poczobut, journalist and civil activist Pavel Mażeika, and a range of Polish educators (including language teachers). Members of Polish diaspora are targeted on ethnic and linguistic basis.
Polish President Andrzej Duda already sent a letter to the US President Joe Biden describing systematic repressions targeting Polish ethnic and linguistic minority in Belarus. Duda pledged to discuss that matter at the UN Security Council (chaired by the United States) and other international organizations.
Polish minority has been the target of repressions since the rise of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. Both Mażeika and Poczobut have already been the victims of politically-charged criminal processes and were sentences to prison terms in early 2000s.
As iSANS already reported earlier, Lukashenka is using his classical strategy: taking hostages in exchange to further legitimization in the eyes of the West. He has been using this method since early 2000s, and not without success: after each and every circle of rigged elections and repressions, the West continued its cooperation with representatives of Lukashenka’s regime, often before all political prisoners were released.
27 years after Lukahsenka’s rise, this mistake may not happen again. Poland is clearly not going to accept “hostage trade” with Lukashenka. Poland’s prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has announced his plans to discuss partial trade blockade of Belarus along with Lithuania and Latvia to seal Lukashenka’s trade routes with the EU. These measures will follow the latest sanctions imposed by Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia last week. Three countries have agreed to ban 118 Belarus state officials from entering Latvia for an indefinite period of time.
A WITNESS TESTIFIED ON FACTS OF TORTURE TO DEATH
A new witness has recently acknowledged that one of the protesters, Mikita Vikhor (who was recorded dead on August 12, 2020), was tortured to death by the personnel of detention center in Homiel despite official statements that he died of natural causes.
Similarly, Aliaksandr Taraikouski, who was officially acknowledged dead of an explosion of an “improvised explosive device” in his hand on August 10, 2020, was in fact shot dead at a short range by a “Almaz” special unit officer who was employed by the ministry of interior.
REPRESSIONS AGAINST PRESS PUSH PEOPLE INTO REVIVAL OF «SAMIZDAT»
Following mass repressions against media, «samizdat» (underground production and distribution of self-published printed periodicals) reappeared in Belarus on a nationwide scale for the first time since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The teams of these media remain secretive, and target audiences that are not exposed to internet, mainly the elderly.
KGB PLANNED A TERRORIST ATTACK, ACCORDING TO BYPOL
On the eve of March 25, BYPOL published an insight information about the plans of Belarus KGB to organize a terrorist attack against one of interior ministry’s facilities in order to discredit the protesters. The next day, state security published a video about a plotted terrorist attack that was met with irony by the public: state officials claimed that a «terrorist» targeted trash containers in a remote area of Minsk and a military facility.
RUSSIA SENDS SIGNALS TO LUKASHENKA TO FORCE HIM INTO PAYBACK FOR SUPPORT
Alexei Venediktov, chief editor of Russia’s «Echo of Moscow» radio station (a part of Gazprom Media and close to the Kremlin), made a controversial public statement based on «two sources» that we assume requires an explanation. Venediktov wrote that Lukashenka will begin talks with opposition under OSCE moderation no later than May 1, 2021.
Although Venediktov referred to recent conversation between Vladimir Makei (the head of diplomatic services in the so-called «government» of Aliaksandr Lukashenka) and US State Department Counselor Derek Chollet, his statement is likely an indirect threat sent by the Kremlin to Lukashenka following his recent negative public remarks on the so-called «Union State» with Russia that he made when meeting Belarus state security employees.
The Kremlin continues to push Belarus into integration with Russia that is, as feared by public, may turn into annexation and complete dissolution of Belarus as independent state – against the will of its population.
ENERGY SECURITY AND BLOCKADE OF NUCLEAR POWER FROM BELARUS
Conflict within Belarus makes further development of Astravets nuclear power station in Belarus even more dangerous for the Baltic region (including at least four EU members, but foremost Lithuania). Although Lithuania leads the movement to boycott Belarus nuclear energy, the Baltic states’ transmission grid is still a part of the Integrated Power System/Unified Power System (IPS/UPS) operating in what is known as the “BRELL ring” (which includes the transmission systems of Belarus, Russia, and three Baltic states).
This makes the Baltic states unable to control the supply of electricity from Astravets late 2025, when the Baltic grids will be synchronized with the Continental European Network (CEN) via Poland. This makes blockade almost impossible since there no possibility of separating Belarusian electricity from the «BRELL ring».
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