posted on Thu 3 Sep 2020 7:18 PM
Arria-formula Meeting on Human Rights in Belarus  

Tomorrow (4 September) an Arria-formula meeting on human rights in Belarus will be held via videoconference (VTC). The meeting is being co-organised by Council members Estonia, the UK and the US and co-sponsored by Canada, Denmark, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, and Ukraine. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Estonia, Urmas Reinsalu, will chair the meeting. The expected briefers are Anaïs Marin, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus; Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Belarusian opposition presidential candidate; Valiantsin Stefanovic, Vice-Chairman of Viasna, a Minsk-based Human Rights Center; and Volha Siakhovich, a law expert for the Belarusian Association of Journalists.

Following interventions by Council members, other UN members will be allowed to make statements, time permitting. The meeting will be live-streamed on the YouTube channel of the Estonian Mission to the UN at 10 am EST.

According to the concept note prepared by the co-organisers, the main objective of the meeting is to provide participants with first-hand accounts and information on the situation on the ground in Belarus, with a specific focus on human rights violations.

On 9 August, Belarus held presidential elections in which the incumbent president, Aleksandr Lukashenko, claimed victory following an announcement by the Central Election Commission that he had won just over 80 percent of the vote. The main opposition candidate, Tsikhanouskaya, who appeared to garner substantial support from Belarusian citizens ahead of the elections, rejected the election results, maintaining that they were fraudulent. Many Western countries—including member states of the EU, the UK and the US, among others— share this position, holding that the elections were neither free nor transparent. Russia, on the other hand, views Lukashenko’s electoral victory as legitimate. In the aftermath of the election, supporters of the opposition have engaged in large-scale peaceful demonstrations in the capital, Minsk, and in other major cities. The response by government security forces has been violent at times, and there are numerous reports of imprisonment and torture of demonstrators as well as of members of the media. According to the concept note, thousands of people remain imprisoned and hundreds are still missing. Tsikhanouskaya has since fled to Lithuania amid fears for her safety.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania imposed sanctions on Lukashenko and other government officials over their alleged role in violence against protesters and in election irregularities. The EU agreed in principle to impose sanctions but has yet to name specific individuals that will be designated under such measures. The US announced that it is considering targeted sanctions on those involved in human rights abuses in Belarus. Russia stated on 27 August that it had created a reserve police force that may be deployed to Belarus, with Russian President Vladimir Putin noting that it will only be used if “the situation got out of control”.

So far, the Council has refrained from discussing the situation in Belarus in formal meetings. It has already addressed the issue once in an informal format, however; on 18 August, Estonia and the US initiated a discussion on Belarus under “any other business”, following informal VTC consultations on Yemen. They stated that they wanted to address the ongoing crackdown on protesters in Belarus following the presidential elections. Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Reinsalu participated in the meeting. He expressed his concern over reports of grave human rights violations in Belarus and called for the use of preventive diplomacy and greater engagement of the Security Council in monitoring the situation in the country. At the meeting, Russia emphasised that the situation in Belarus is an internal issue that should not be discussed by the Council. China and Viet Nam similarly opposed Council engagement on the matter, while stating that the situation in Belarus does not pose a threat to international peace and security

At tomorrow’s meeting, many participants will be interested in hearing Tsikhanouskaya’s views on the situation in Belarus. She has been advocating for new, free and fair elections in Belarus, and has criticised Lukashenko’s heavy-handed tactics against protesters. She is likely to use this opportunity to call for the release of all political prisoners and citizens detained during the protests. In a recent media interview, Tsikhanouskaya emphasised that the crisis in Belarus is an internal affair that should be resolved by the people of Belarus. Some members might be interested to hear more from Tsikhanouskaya on what role the Council could play in the current situation in Belarus.

Other briefers are likely to maintain a focus on human rights violations against the protesters and members of the media. They are likely to draw attention to the large number of protesters that were detained and those who are still missing amid the crackdown by the Belarusian security forces.

At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may reiterate their position that the situation in Belarus is an internal affair that should not be in the Council’s purview. Others may express the view that human rights violations are an early indicator of conflict, and that, as such, early warning and attention are necessary to prevent a possible conflict which may have international implications.