Important news for Belarus: the OSCE has adopted an expanded commitment to member states to prevent torture 

Important news for Belarus: the OSCE has adopted an expanded commitment to member states to prevent torture
Photo: Associated Press

On 4 December, the OSCE Ministerial Council, the main political body of the world’s largest regional organization for security and cooperation, adopted an important document at its annual meeting. This is a decision of the Ministerial Council to prevent and eliminate torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. Democratic countries and non-governmental organizations have fought for this for a long time and then have waited for its adoption for several years. Various versions of the text went through a difficult negotiation process every year, but the OSCE member states could not agree, with consensus blocked each time by a small minority of states. At last, they have achieved a result.

It is important to consider that all political decisions in the OSCE are made by consensus of all 57 member states. Of course, this greatly complicates the reaching of agreement, but it significantly increases the responsibility of states for the execution of decisions. No one can say “we were against and did not vote for this decision.” After any decisions have been approved by the 57 foreign ministers of the OSCE member states, all countries represented by these ministers commit themselves to implementing these joint decisions. In other words, they are obligated to implement them both in their domestic policy and legal system and in their dealings with other states. Foreign Minister of the Republic of Belarus Vladimir Makei approved this OSCE decision to prevent and eliminate torture along with his colleagues from other countries, which means that Belarus is obligated to do what is written there.

In turn, civil society institutions, political forces, and citizens have the right to demand from Belarusian authorities that they fulfill these OSCE commitments to combat torture in practice. Moreover, they have the right to demand more active steps from the governments of other states to influence the Belarusian authorities to get them to fulfill these obligations. Since torture and cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of people are the main tools of the Belarusian authorities to suppress peaceful public protest against election fraud and the key demand of the protesters and the international community (along with the holding of new fair and fair elections) is to stop, effectively investigate, and punish the perpetrators of torture, the decision of the OSCE Ministerial Council on the prevention and elimination of torture is well-timed and provides new opportunities for pressure on the Lukashenko regime.

Within the OSCE, there has previously been a commitment made by member states to prevent torture, embodied in decisions taken in previous decades. The December 2020 decision is an updated and expanded commitment to the prevention of torture. The text of the decision was developed taking into account the new challenges of recent years, civil society and intergovernmental organizations’ experience in combating torture, and the development of international law. Among the important provisions of this document is the inclusion of combating enforced disappearances in the scope of commitments to combat torture for the first time in the history of the OSCE. The ICJ’s decision states that prolonged incommunicado detention may contribute to torture and may itself constitute torture. In practice, this means that all elements of the new expanded commitment to combat torture apply to the fight against enforced disappearance as well.

Given the lack of an effective investigation into the abductions and enforced disappearances of opponents of the Belarusian authorities in 1999-2000, this crime is considered ongoing until the fate of the disappeared has been established.

This means that now the government has an obligation to resolve this issue as an OSCE member state, even though Belarus is not a party to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED). This can no longer serve as an excuse for inaction.

The decision of the OSCE Ministerial Council establishes the requirement for an absolute ban on torture, the inclusion of relevant norms in national legislation based on definitions contained in international agreements and requires effective investigation and punishment of perpetrators that corresponds to the severity of their offense, including heads of law enforcement agencies and heads of places of detention.
The document stresses the importance of observing effective legal and procedural guarantees for detainees at all stages of detention, including the early stages of police custody, as effective measures to prevent torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment. States must guarantee that the human rights of all persons deprived of their liberty, including those facing the death penalty, are respected – another particularly important requirement for Belarus. Compliance with the norms of international law regarding conditions of custody in places of detention is another critically important element of the OSCE commitments to combat torture and cruel and degrading treatment for Belarus.

For the first time, OSCE member states have recognized in their decision that to effectively combat torture, states must adopt a comprehensive and victim-centered approach that includes prevention, victim access to justice, government accountability, and the enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation for damages, including funds for the most comprehensive rehabilitation possible. Victims of torture are placed at the center of states’ commitments to combat torture. States are obliged to guarantee support to victims of torture and their families. Particular attention in the document is paid to the increased risk of torture against women and girls when they are deprived of their freedom and the need for a gender-sensitive approach taken by law enforcement agencies.

This short list contains only the key new provisions of the expanded commitment of the OSCE to member states to prevent and eliminate torture. A new tool has appeared in the hands of active citizens, non-governmental organizations, lawyers, and politicians to fight for human rights and freedom from torture and cruel and degrading treatment. It is high time now to actively use all its requirements which the states are obliged to fulfill.

Материал доступен на русском языке: Важная новость для Беларуси: принято расширенное обязательство государств-участниц ОБСЕ по предотвращению пыток