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World must respond as strongly as possible to “Belarusian Milošević” – Ukrainian NGOs

Belarusian female protesters link hands, preparing to withstand a police attack. Photo:
[editorial]Dictators understand only the language of power, says an open letter by Ukrainian NGOs, who call on the world to “respond as strongly as possible” to the “Belarusian Milošević” in response to the Lukashenka’s regime crackdown on civil society in Belarus and kidnapping of opposition leader and civic journalist Roman Protasevich.[/editorial]

Belarus is in danger!

Statement by Ukrainian civil society and media

We, the representatives of Ukrainian civil society and media, address both national and international institutions regarding the danger that has befallen the Belarusian people and the Republic of Belarus, and the threat of authoritarianism that looms over Europe.

On May 23, 2021, as a result of illegal actions sanctioned by the self-proclaimed President of Belarus Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a Ryanair passenger aircraft was forced to land in Minsk with the aim of illegally apprehending and arresting the founder of the opposition Telegram channel NEXTA, Roman Protasevich.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka took office in Belarus 27 years ago and, after the disputed elections in August 2020, continues to maintain power by suppressing political protests and persecuting politically active citizens. During his rule, Lukashenka eradicated the separation of powers, removed the Belarusian language from the public sphere, and destroyed any opposition to his regime. Moreover, fundamental democratic institutions such as free and fair elections and independent media have been consistently targeted and destroyed in Belarus; it has become impossible to protect human rights and freedoms. Belarus is still not a member of the Council of Europe and therefore does not fall under the jurisdiction of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and the European Court of Human Rights. The death penalty still exists and is applied in Belarus. Belarusian state television is a de facto copy of Soviet television with an inherent propensity for polarization, lies and glorification of the country’s leader.

Frightened by the prospect of losing absolute power, Lukashenka regularly intimidates his countrymen with threats of “Maidans” and “Ukrainian fascism”. Opposition activists, who dared to take part in the protests, have been brutally repressed and some have been killed. It is no exaggeration to state that Lukashenka’s regime can be compared to the dictatorial regimes of 1930-1950. In fact, international human rights organizations have recorded numerous violations of human rights and freedoms, which sometimes reach the level of crimes against humanity (deportation and persecution).

There have been repeated calls to initiate proceedings against Lukashenka in the International Criminal Court. Amnesty International has documented systematic violations of human rights, including many cases of torture and inhuman treatment, suppression of freedom of expression, and the de facto abolition of the right to peaceful assembly.

The situation has recently deteriorated: new bans have been imposed on the media and coverage of protests; all actions are under the constant threat of the death penalty.

In addition, by illegally forcing a civil aircraft to land in Minsk, Belarus has violated both international laws on human rights (which nevertheless apply to Belarus as specified in customary international law and to the extent provided by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), and the Chicago Convention for the Protection of Civil Aviation, because, according to aviation law experts, the use of a fighter plane was an extremely disproportionate measure to the alleged threat.

Due to growing international isolation and reluctance to step down from office, Lukashenka has entered into some political arrangements with Vladimir Putin, who has also shown no desire to relinquish power in Russia for over two decades, alternating pro forma between president and prime minister. The idea of a so-called “Union State of Russia and Belarus” is nothing more than an attempt by the Russian Federation to gradually annex Belarus, a dangerous technology that Russia has repeatedly tried to apply in Ukraine, Poland and other countries over the past three centuries. Thus, an entire country, with its ancient people, history and culture, may disappear from the map of Europe in the near future. Concurrently, it should be noted that any integration into the Russian Federation usually involves marginalization and complete assimilation with loss of language and cultural features.

Using its satellite states, Russia has built a strategy in order to maintain influence in the region and demonstrate its strength on the global level. Countries that resisted Russian political influence have been left with pseudo-republics bordering their territories: Moldova – Transnistria, Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Ukraine – occupied Crimea and parts of Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts.

Europe and the world have been slow in responding adequately to the “Belarusian Milošević”. Neville Chamberlain’s declaration of “I brought peace” has once again shown the uselessness of such strategies. Dictators understand only the language of power, whether it be in the economic, political or even military sphere. This is especially true of dictators generated by the totalitarian USSR, a state that exterminated tens of millions of its own citizens.

There are many people in Belarus whose worldview is opposed to Lukashenka’s – people who want their country to be free, democratic and sovereign. Today, these people are in mortal danger, as the aging dictator, fearing responsibility and losing power, has increasingly immersed himself in conspiracy theories and seeks enemies not only outside the country but also within. Eastern Europe has not forgotten dictator Joseph Stalin, whose totalitarian regime was responsible for the extermination of millions of innocent victims.

The Independent Media Council recently remarked on the numerous violations of journalists’ rights in Belarus and the actions to be taken by Ukrainian and foreign governments. There was no response, and today the situation has become much more dangerous.

That is why the world must respond as strongly as possible to the illegal arbitrary actions committed by Lukashenka’s regime and at the same time provide assistance to individuals who oppose such a regime and / or attempt to escape, but continue working to uphold human rights in Belarus and bring the perpetrators of gross violations of basic human rights and freedoms to justice (in particular, to the International Criminal Court on the basis of the UN Security Council Resolution). In this regard, the signatories underline the following:

  • We demand the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and other political prisoners of the Lukashenka regime. We call on all governments and human rights organizations to do their utmost, including the imposition of sanctions against official structures and officials of the Republic of Belarus, to release Roman Protasevich and other prisoners of conscience of today’s Belarus regime.
  • We call on the governments of European member states of the Council of Europe and the EU to impose sanctions not only on the Belarusian government, parliament, judges, but also on government bodies such as the tax administration system, a favorite tool of economic pressure used by post-Soviet countries. Each and every “silovik” or tax officer must be regularly scrutinized for harassing independent media and the opposition when attempting to leave the country.
  • We call on Ukraine and other countries to provide the widest possible support to refugees from the Lukashenka regime, simplifying the procedures for obtaining temporary residence status, and acting in accordance with international law, in particular the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
  • We call on international organizations, both intergovernmental and non-governmental, to immediately launch an investigation into the events in Belarus as of August 2020 in order to provide an adequate legal assessment of the systematic persecution of protesters and flagrant human rights violations, to identify crimes against humanity and to adopt further measures to bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with the principle of universal jurisdiction over such crimes.
  • We call on international intergovernmental organizations to consider the liability of Belarusian officials for violating the Chicago Convention for the Protection of Civil Aviation. We call on international freedom of speech organizations to ensure the safe evacuation of journalists if their lives or the lives of their families are in danger from the Lukashenka regime. We also call for full support of the Belarusian media in exile, as long as their existence in their country is impossible, in order to spread true and complete information about the events in Belarus.
  • We call on NATO to strengthen protection and combat capability in the region in order to protect members and partners, in particular, countries bordering Belarus and the Russian Federation, as the de facto “act of state terrorism” committed by the Republic of Belarus may provoke similar actions by authoritarian regimes in the region and in the world.
  • We call on the member states of the Council of Europe and the EU to provide Belarusians with all possible information channels, such as television, radio, online platforms and, where necessary, access to the Internet through alternative state-controlled networks. The need for such support has only increased due to new legislative bans on access to information in Belarus.
  • We advise Ukraine and other countries to immediately stop purchasing goods and services produced by Belarusian enterprises – both public and formally private entities – associated with Belarusian officials. In fact, every hryvnia and euro contribute to the imprisonment and torture of Belarusian citizens, who want to live in a democratic state free from the KGB and dictators.
  • We advise Ukrainian civil society activists, journalists and the military to refrain from flying over Belarus and to countries under the political influence of the Russian Federation, as in the event of illegal seizure, they will be used by the dictators as an additional means of pressure and blackmail in exchange for the return of so-called “political hostages” to their country.

We are convinced that a united Europe, with its different countries, ethnic groups, cultures, will be safe if there is no place for fascism, Nazism, populism and dictators on its territory. In point of fact, cultures and values require not only expressions of deep concern, but also strong responses that stop any encroachment on democratic values by action rather than words.

Now is the time to act!

  • Independent Media Council
  • NGO Center for Democracy and Rule of Law
  • NGO Detector Media
  • NGO Internews-Ukraine
  • NGO Institute of Mass Information
  • NGO Souspilnist Foundation
  • NGO Institute for Regional Press Development
  • NGO Center for Innovations Development
  • NGO Human Rights Platform
  • VoxCheck
  • NGO Ukrainian Media and Communication Institute
  • Vostok SOS
  • Center for Civil Liberties
  • Pylyp Orlyk Institute for Democracy
  • NGO Women in the Media
  • NGO Commission on Journalism Ethics
  • Foreign Policy Council ‘Ukrainian Prism’
  • International Volunteer Community InformNapalm
  • ZMINA human rights center
  • Euromaidan Press
  • Ukrainian Crisis Media Center
  • NGO Institute of Information Security
  • Hromadske Radio
  • ANTS Network to protect national interests
  • Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies
  • NGO Anti-Corruption Action Center

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