Belarus: authorities must grant access to lawyers to detained protestors, release those arbitrary detained and account for the missing
Today, the ICJ called on Belarus to comply with its international human rights law obligations in its response to the protests taking place in the aftermath of the presidential elections and in the treatment of those detained.
This includes immediately releasing persons arbitrarily detained, providing prompt access to lawyers for those still detained, accounting for the fate and whereabouts of missing protestors and promptly and effectively investigating torture and other ill-treatment.
The widespread arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters, and credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment and enforced disappearances of detainees, are particularly alarming in light of obstacles faced by detainees in accessing lawyers, the ICJ said.
The ICJ recalls that under international human rights law, all persons have the right to peaceful assembly, and any restriction of this right must be provided in law be strictly necessary and proportionate to a specified legitimate purpose. The mass arrest of protesters does not appear to meet these requirements.
Belarus has obligations, including under treaties to which it is party, to respect the right to liberty and refrain from arbitrary arrests or other unwarranted interferences with the freedom of assembly, or freedom of expression, of protesters, protected under international law.
Law enforcement authorities must respect the right to life and the prohibition on torture or other ill-treatment at all times. Allegations of arbitrary killing, enforced disappearances and torture and other ill-treatment must be promptly, thoroughly and independently investigated, and those responsible brought to justice.
Effective remedies must be provided to victims of such serious human rights violations.
The ICJ is concerned about reports of the widespread denial of access to a lawyer and further obstacles that lawyers face while carrying out their professional duties in the current context in Belarus.
Reportedly, lawyers are not provided with access to the case file or further information necessary for the provision of effective legal assistance to their clients. This is of particular concern in light of multiple reports of torture or other ill-treatment of those detained following the election.
The ICJ stresses that the right of access to qualified legal representation is crucial for the protection of the human rights of those arrested in connection with the current political upheaval in Belarus.
The right of access to a lawyer is recognized as an essential element of the right to a fair trial and the right to liberty, protected under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus is a party.
The UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers provide that governments should ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference and should be able to consult with their clients freely and have access to appropriate information, files and documents in their possession or control in sufficient time to provide effective legal assistance to their clients.
It is essential that lawyers and other human rights defenders can carry out protection of human rights of their clients especially in times of emergency.
The ICJ also calls on the Belarus Republic Bar Association to bolster its efforts in protecting its members who provide legal representation in cases related to the ongoing protests.
The Republic of Belarus ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1973
Following the presidential elections of 9 August 2020 in Belarus, widespread protests across Belarus took place following the discredited result, which were recognized as neither free nor by the European Union and other observers. Following the initial dispersal of these protests by the authorities, more than 6000 people were arrested and detained, many arbitrarily. There is credible evidence that many of those arrested or detained have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment and that decisions regarding their arrest and detention have been made by courts temporarily established in detention centres.
While estimates of numbers differ, the whereabouts of at least tens of those who took part in the protest have not been established to date. One of the missing persons, Nikita Krivtsov, was recently found dead in a forest near Minsk.
The reports that defence lawyers were denied access to those arrested include high-profile cases, such as the case of the former presidential candidate Victor Babaryka whose lawyer was not allowed to see his client in the detention centre for more than a week.
According to the Belarusian Republican Bar Association, lawyers face problems with meeting their clients held in the detention centres and access to the case files and further information necessary to carry out their professional duties.