Russia is trying to “re-Sovietize” Eastern Europe and Central Asia under the auspices of a Eurasian Union, the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe heard last week.
“We know what the purpose of these efforts is and we are trying to find effective measures in order to slow down or stop this process,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
She stressed how “distressing” it is that 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, “so many of the hoped-for indicators of progress are retreating.”
Political space for civil society and human rights groups is shrinking, and “governments are becoming much more aggressive in trying to stifle dissent, [and] prevent the free expression and exchange of views.”
But Soviet-style controls never really ended in one part of the former Soviet Union.
“The Soviet Union disappeared from the world map, but it is preserved in Belarus” one activist told a weekend conference.
The human rights situation in Belarus is “difficult and stable,” said Valyantsin Stefanovich, deputy chairman of the Vyasna (Spring) NGO, said on the occasion of International Human Rights Day.
“Our biggest concern is that the government voluntarily made a number of human rights commitments within the framework of the United Nations and the OSCE and now openly ignores them,” he said.
The second anniversary of the December 19th crackdown in Belarus offers an opportunity to weigh the costs of and responses to “Bloody Sunday.” The human toll has been harsh. After a peaceful protest against a flawed presidential election, Alexander Lukashenka’s regime beat, imprisoned and tortured more than 700 of its citizens, raided dozens of civil society organizations, and forced scores of activists into exile.
Related demonstrations in 2011 led to the repression of thousands more. Students have been expelled, young males forcibly inducted into the military, workers and professionals fired, and families split. The regime still holds and mistreats more than a dozen political prisoners. A combination of US, European and Belarusian support has helped Belarusian human rights groups to provide legal, medical, material, humanitarian, technical and other assistance to more than 1,000 cases of persecution.
The human rights sector has been one of the best performing parts of Belarusian civil society, helping all of those in need, regardless of political or other orientation. Nevertheless, repression continues and human rights groups remain under great pressure as they attempt to respond. Please join us for an update on the human rights situation in Belarus and a discussion how organizations can better assist the work of human rights defenders there.
The National Endowment for Democracy, together with Freedom House, the Belarusian Human Rights House, and the International Federation for Human Rights cordially invites you to a roundtable discussion:
Defending Human Rights in Belarus: Two Years after the Crackdown
Wednesday, December 12
11:30 am – 1 pm
(a light lunch will be served)
1025 F Street, NW, Seventh Floor Conference Room
Washington DC 20004
Zhanna Litvina, Chair of the Belarusian Association of Journalists
Natallia Pinchuk, wife of political prisoner and President of the Human Rights Center Viasna Ales Bialiatski
Tatsiana Reviaka, President of Belarusian Human Rights House,Board Member of the Human Rights Center Viasna
Zhanna Litvina is an award-winning Belarusian radio journalist, chair and co-founder of the Belarusian Association of Journalists. BAJ has been hailed as the “single most important organization for keeping the world informed about what goes on in Europe’s last remaining dictatorship and for keeping Belarus’ besieged journalists a bit more sane and safe than they would otherwise be,” and was awarded the EU’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought for acting “as a champion of the independent media” in 2004. Litvina has advocated for freedom of speech for decades despite pressure from a regime that consistently threatens and detains journalists. Litvina was awarded the Louis Lyons Award for Conscience and Integrity in Journalism in 2004, and the Ebert Foundation Human Rights Award in 2008.
Natallia Pinchuk is the wife of political prisoner Ales Bialiatski, who is Vice-Chairman of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and President of the Human Rights Center Viasna. Since Bialiatski’s trumped up conviction in November 2011, Natallia has been the link between her husband and the rest of the world, speaking frequently about the conditions of his imprisonment.
Tatsiana Reviaka has been the President of the Belarusian Human Rights House in exile in Vilnius since 2010 and is a Board Member of the Human Rights Center Viasna. Viasna is a leading Belarusian human rights NGO, established in 1996 during mass demonstrations by the democratic opposition to help the arrested protest participants and their families. Currently, it has about 200 members across the country and was the main organization assisting those arrested during the demonstrations that followed the flawed presidential election in December 2010. In 2003, Viasna’s state registration was groundlessly cancelled due to its nonpartisans observation of the 2001 presidential election. Despite the 2004 decision of the UN Human Rights Committee declaring the liquidation of Viasna illegal, the organization remains unregistered. In 2006, Tatsiana Reviaka’s commitment to human rights was recognized by the 2006 Anna Lindh Award. Instituted by the Anna Lindh Memorial Fund Foundation, the award demonstrates that violence must never quell our belief in the ability to achieve change with peaceful measures and democratic channels.