On 26 August 2021, a statement issued by the Investigative Committee of Belarus announced that allegations of torture and other crimes under international law, including severe deprivation of liberty and sexual violence, will not result in the initiation of criminal investigations or prosecutions by competent State authorities.
According to the statement, complaints submitted to the Investigative Committee of Belarus by 680 persons who had been detained as from early August 2020 formed the basis of this decision. The Committee further concluded that all use of physical force in this context by State authorities was in accordance with Belarusian law.
The statement is the first of its kind demonstrating the unwillingness of Belarus to conduct prompt, effective and impartial investigations into allegations of the involvement of State authorities in crimes under international law. The blanket refusal of the Investigative Committee of Belarus to initiate criminal investigations in response to a considerable number of allegations of torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, by State authorities in the run-up to, during and after the 2020 presidential election violates Belarus’ obligations under international law.
More specifically, under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention against Torture (UNCAT), Belarus is obligated to promptly and impartially investigate acts where there are reasonable grounds to believe that any form of torture or ill-treatment has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction. Article 13 of the UNCAT provides survivors of torture with the right to complain to competent authorities, and to have their case promptly, effectively and impartially examined. The State must take steps to ensure that survivors are protected from further ill-treatment or intimidation.
As a result, the IAPB calls on Belarus to respect its obligations under international law. In particular, Belarus – as any other State Party to the UNCAT – must ensure prompt, effective and impartial investigations into allegations of torture and other crimes under international law. Furthermore, the IAPB urges that any appeal against the decision of the Investigative Committee of Belarus not to open an investigation should be considered, and that those alleging ill-treatment through complaints or by filing appeals must be protected in accordance with international law against any form of ill-treatment, intimidation or other forms of reprisals.
Pursuant to its mandate, the IAPB will continue the collection, preservation and analysis of information and evidence of crimes under international law committed by Belarusian authorities in the run-up to, during and after the 2020 presidential election. The aim is to contribute to accountability processes that will provide justice to survivors and their communities while holding to account those individuals responsible.
The International Accountability Platform for Belarus is an NGO Consortium led by DIGNITY – Danish Institute Against Torture, Viasna, Legal Initiative on behalf of International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, and REDRESS, and comprising 14 Belarusian and international human rights organisations. The IAPB is supported by 21 States.