A new report published last week by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has identified “massive” human rights abuses during and after the recent Belarus presidential election of Alexander Lukashenko, confirming what many international bodies have feared. The report states the results of Belarus’ recent election were “systematically” falsified and that there was also “overwhelming evidence” of human rights violations carried out against peaceful protestors by the country’s security forces.
The report, organized by 17 countries and based on 700 submissions of evidence, comes in the wake of the re-election of Alexander Lukashenko, often referred to by media outlets as “Europe’s Last dictator.” Images and videos of violent police crackdowns on protesters during and after the election have been widely reported by western media but this report is one of the first to identify the scale at which human rights abuses have occurred.
In response to this report U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has remarked that its findings were “a damning indictment of Lukashenko’s regime.” The U.S. ambassador to OSCE, James Gilmore, also commented that it was “shocking that the Belarusian security services would treat their fellow citizens in such an unacceptable manner, and even more shocking that such lawlessness and brutality is occurring with total impunity.”
The 58-page document notes instances where peaceful protestors who held “flowers” and “were singing” were subject to “brutal force by police,” while “picketers were arrested and fined with detention.” Thousands of protestors have been detained in this way and disproportionally subject to violence in Belarus. The report also notes that on October 12 2020, police used “tear gas and stun grenades” against the “peaceful march for grandmothers.” Instances of torture and sexual harassment have also been reported in detention centres. The amount of people detained by police on a single given day topped 774 on September 13 2020. As well as human rights abuses against protestors, the document found that the elections themselves fell “short of fulfilling the country’s international commitments regarding elections. Allegations that the presidential elections were not transparent, free or fair were found confirmed.”
This report has provided a clear picture of the situation in Belarus, facilitated through the hard work and bravery of those who have submitted damming evidence that other governments must surely now consider. While the E.U.’s recent step to place Lukashenko and 58 other Belarusian officials on their ‘blacklist’ is welcome, it is clear that the situation within the country is being approached cautiously by governments internationally. Belarus is still very much influenced by Russia and any direct action taken by external governments or international bodies could lead to heightened international tensions between East and Western powers. Therefore, while the report recommends annulling the election results, and releasing political prisoners and those detained due to freedom of expression or assembly, it is unlikely that these recommendations will produce any immediate change within Belarus.
The situation in Belarus is still extremely volatile. Despite the alleged abuses suffered by protesters described in the report, Belarusians continue to peacefully protest their human rights en masse. It is now up to external governments to begin to take further action to ensure these voices continue to be heard. The Organization for World Peace will continue to monitor developments in Belarus.