Press statements

2023

17.05.2023

BELARUS PLATFORM ADVANCES ACCOUNTABILITY EFFORTS

The IAPB is advancing accountability efforts and justice for victims and survivors in Belarus, with information and evidence provided to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) having contributed to its recent findings that the human rights violations in Belarus may constitute crimes against humanity, a newly published IAPB progress report shows.

The findings from the UN High Commissioner, which were presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March, drew from interviews with 207 victims and witnesses and an analysis of over 2,500 documents. Of these, the IAPB facilitated access to more than 100 interviewees and 1,300 documents. In addition, the IAPB submitted documentation on 180 cases of sexual and gender-based violence, which the High Commissioner found to be credible, contributing to its finding that sexual and gender-based violence had been committed in Belarus.

The latest IAPB progress report also highlights that the platform is currently assisting criminal justice authorities in four states exercising or considering exercising universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes under international law allegedly committed in Belarus, ensuring that viable criminal cases are brought in the future to hold perpetrators accountable and deliver reparations to victims.

At the same time, the IAPB continues to grow its collection of information and evidence on alleged crimes under international law, preserving them in tailored-made digital archives, ensuring they will be readily accessible in the long term. During the reporting period (October 2022 – March 2023), the IAPB had already collected information and evidence from over 2,300 survivor-victims and witnesses located both inside Belarus and elsewhere, and over 750,000 open-source intelligence files.

As the UN High Commissioner noted in its findings, there is no reasonable prospect for justice for victims in Belarus, thus preserving this evidence is crucial. Rampant impunity for human rights violations continues, with Belarus’ withdrawal from the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 8 November 2022 coming into effect from 8 February 2023, preventing Belarusian citizens from reporting violations of the Covenant to the UN Human Rights Committee.

Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB, said:

“The Belarusian authorities have not held one single perpetrator in Belarus accountable due to their lack of willingness. The only options for delivering victims justice lie in third states willing to investigate and prosecute, through UN human rights bodies and, for a more limited range of crimes, the International Criminal Court. Compared with the period in which the IAPB was established, the situation in Belarus has increased in complexity, with more violations of international human rights law and international criminal law that merit investigation. Increasing requests for assistance show that the IAPB can crucially meet these needs for assistance.”

Victoria Federova, from the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, one of the IAPB’s co-lead organisations, stated:

“In interviews conducted with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Belarusian survivors of torture highlighted the importance of documenting violations and of collecting and preserving evidence, which are essential for accountability processes and for future recognition of their status as victims. We will continue to collect evidence of crimes under international law, to support accountability efforts from criminal justice authorities and international mechanisms.”

Pavel Sapelko, representative and lawyer from Viasna, another IAPB’s co-lead organisation, said:

“We have demonstrated the ability of human rights organisations to fill gaps in the existing mechanisms for collecting, consolidating, and preserving evidence for the future prosecution of those guilty of crimes against humanity. We will firmly stand at the forefront of the struggle to preserve the truth about the brutality of the Belarusian authoritarian authorities who lost the elections, supporting legal accountability efforts and advancing the fight against impunity regardless of borders. Not only dictators can be strong, but also the democratic forces that defend and promote the principles of human rights.”

More than two years after the August 2020 presidential elections, the human rights situation in Belarus has significantly worsened. Currently, at least 1,495 political prisoners languish in prison, including the leadership of Viasna, Chair and Nobel Prize laureate Ales Bialatski and Deputy Chair Valentin Stefanovic – who were sentenced to ten and nine years’ imprisonment respectively for their human rights work in March. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, allegedly supported by Belarus, has worsened the situation for Belarusians inside Belarus and elsewhere.

In his most recent report, released in May, the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur on Belarus noted the need for the international community “to support initiatives aimed at reporting and documenting human rights violations in Belarus, and notably the work of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus.” The IAPB shared information and evidence that it has gathered with the rapporteur, including open-source documents and confidential sources on individual cases, which the rapporteur found “highly reliable”.

Contacts:

  • (English) Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB: kavi@dignity.dk
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Victoria Fedorova, Representative, International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus (IAPB co-lead) and Head, Legal Initiative: gomellawyer@gmail.com
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Pavel Sapelko, Representative and Lawyer, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (IAPB co-lead): sapelko@gmail.com
  • (Danish) Jens Modvig, Medical Director, Dignity (IAPB lead): JMO@dignity.dk

 

About the IAPB

The IAPB is an innovative civil society platform that collects, preserves and analyses information and evidence of serious human rights violations constituting crimes under international law allegedly committed in Belarus in the context of the August 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, with the aim of supporting accountability bodies and ensuring Belarusians and other survivors have access to remedies and reparations. Since April 2021, the IAPB has collected information and evidence of torture, rape and other acts of sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial killings and other inhumane acts committed by state actors in Belarus, which may constitute crimes against humanity. The IAPB collects information and evidence from victims and witnesses both inside and outside Belarus, providing them with access to information and to referral pathways for mental health and psychosocial support irrespective of their location.

The IAPB is led by DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture), the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus and REDRESS.

The IAPB’s mandate is supported by the European Union and states including Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Slovakia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the USA. Recognising the importance of the IAPB’s work, the IAPB’s mandate, which started on 24 March 2021, was extended in 2022 until September 2023.

In recognition of its contribution to the promotion of human rights in Belarus, Viasna was awarded the Clooney Foundation for Justice Albie Award in September 2022 and its founder, Ales Bialiatski, the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2022. In January 2023, the International Committee was awarded the “Human Rights Campaign/Initiative of the Year 2022” award.

17.03.2023

UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS FINDS CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY MAY HAVE BEEN COMMITTED IN BELARUS

In his report to the UN Human Rights Council released today, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has found there are sufficient grounds to believe systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed in Belarus, which may constitute crimes against humanity.

However, the report also concludes that there is no reasonable expectation for justice to be delivered for human rights violations committed in Belarus given “an active policy to shield perpetrators and prevent accountability,” recommending that member states “work towards accountability through national proceedings based on accepted principles of extraterritorial and universal jurisdiction.”

The International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB) supports this recommendation and calls on states to consider exercising universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction to hold alleged perpetrators accountable and deliver justice to victims, in accordance with states’ obligations to investigate and prosecute international crimes under international law.

The report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights draws from interviews with 207 witnesses and witnesses and an analysis of over 2,500 documents. It finds Belarusian state authorities responsible for widespread and systematic human rights violations between 1 May 2020 and 31 December 2022, such as unlawful deprivation of life, torture and ill-treatment, including sexual violence, violations of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association, and the denial of due process and the right to enter one’s own country.

According to the High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk:

“Our report paints an unacceptable picture of impunity and the near-total destruction of civic space and fundamental freedoms in Belarus. The Government owes it to its people to bring a halt to this mass repression and to conduct impartial and transparent investigations to ensure that those responsible for grave violations are held accountable.”

Reacting to the report, Pavel Sapelko, representative and lawyer from Viasna, IAPB’s co-lead organization, said:

“The courage of the victims of torture and the efforts of human rights defenders to prevent impunity will bring the perpetrators of all known cases of torture and ill-treatment and other inhumane acts to justice. We applaud the efforts of international organizations and hope for the expansion of the fight against impunity in national jurisdictions. We will not stop in our quest for justice.”

Victoria Federova, from the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, also IAPB’s co-lead organization, stated:

“We welcome the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and fully support its conclusions regarding the possible qualification of human rights violations in Belarus as crimes against humanity. It will enable us to advance the application of the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute perpetrators in other states. I would like to note the important contribution of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus and Belarusian human rights organisations to this report. This is the result of our documentation and preservation of evidence of human rights violations in Belarus.”

The IAPB provided substantial support to the Office of the High Commissioner examination of the situation in Belarus (OEB), including by facilitating interviews with over 100 victims and witnesses and providing access to over 1,300 documents on a range of violations the OEB found to have been committed by state actors.

The report also documented over 100 cases of sexual and gender-based violence against detainees, finding another 180 documented and analysed by civil society organisations to be credible. However, the High Commissioner noted the scale of sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) is likely to be under-reported due to stigma, fear of reprisals and denial of access of UN human rights investigators to the country. It also highlighted the particular violations suffered by LGBTIQ+ victims.

The IAPB supported the OEB’s findings on SGBV, and is currently pursuing a gender strategy with a view to ensuring any criminal investigations and prosecutions of international crimes committed in Belarus are conducted in a gender-competent manner and take into account the full range of harms experienced by men, women and persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.

Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB, said:

“The onus is now on states to live up to their commitment to accountability by ensuring Belarusians have avenues to access remedies. Progressive legal frameworks providing criminal justice authorities with the opportunity to exercise universal or extraterritorial jurisdiction over crimes committed in Belarus are pointless if they are not used. Belarusians have very few venues they can turn to for justice, and those that do exist should make themselves available.”

The OHCHR’s statement and full report is available here.

Contacts:

  • (English) Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB; kavi@dignity.dk
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Victoria Fedorova, Representative, International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus (IAPB co-lead) and Head, Legal Initiative: gomellawyer@gmail.com
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Pavel Sapelko, Representative and Lawyer, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (IAPB co-lead): p.sapelko@gmail.com
  • (Danish) Jens Modvig, Medical Director, Dignity (IAPB lead): JMO@dignity.dk

 

About the IAPB

The IAPB is a coalition of independent non-government organisations that have joined forces to collect, consolidate, verify, and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations constituting crimes under international law allegedly committed by Belarusian authorities and others in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. It builds on the ongoing efforts of Belarusian human rights organisations to collect information about human rights violations committed in Belarus. More information about the IAPB can be found on iapbelarus.org. The IAPB is led by DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture), the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus and REDRESS.

03.03.2023

IAPB STANDS IN SOLIDARITY WITH JAILED HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS FROM VIASNA

Today, the Leninsky District Court of Minsk handed down lengthy prison sentences against four human rights defenders from the IAPB’s co-lead organisation, Viasna. Ales Bialiatski, its chairman and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Valiantsin Stefanovich, its deputy, were sentenced to 10 and 9 years respectively. In the same case, Uladzimir Labkovich, coordinator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders for Free Election, as well as Dzmitry Salauyou, who was tried in absentia, also received prison sentences of 7 and 8 years, respectively.

Reacting to the verdict, Pavel Sapelko, representative and lawyer of Viasna, said:

“This is a serious wound for our organisation, and we are unable now to overturn the blatantly unjust verdict, an instrument of repression used by the Belarusian authorities. But we will not stop collecting evidence of the totalitarian regime’s crimes, speaking the truth about the human rights situation in Belarus, and supporting the victims whose rights and freedoms have been violated. The disregard for the basic values of human rights cannot become the basis for the restoration of civil accord in our country.”

As a co-lead organisation of the International Accountability Platform for Belarus since 2020, the Human Rights Centre Viasna has played a crucial role in documenting gross human rights violations allegedly committed by Belarusian authorities and others in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath, with a view to support accountability efforts.

Since 2020, together with another IAPB co-lead, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus, Viasna has assisted the IAPB to collect information and evidence from over 2,200 Belarusian victims and other witnesses, allowing the IAPB to consolidate, preserve and analyse this information along with open-source intelligence. The IAPB has already shared some of this evidence with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ examination of the human rights situation in Belarus and prosecuting authorities in Europe.

In recognition of its contribution to the promotion of human rights in Belarus, Ales Bialiatski was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2022, and Viasna the Clooney Foundation for Justice Albie Award in the “Justice for Democracy Advocates” category in September 2022.

Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB, said:

“The IAPB is gravely concerned about the sentencing of prominent members of its partner organisation for carrying out legitimate human rights work, and calls on the Belarusian authorities to immediately annul the convictions of and release all persons currently in jail on politically motivated charges. Viasna members should be allowed to do their important work without fear of retaliation.”

Hundreds of human rights defenders have been jailed following the violent crackdown on anti-government protests in 2020. Following the August 2020 presidential election in Belarus, Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovic were arrested on charged with tax evasion charges, which were replaced with charges relating to the smuggling of funds and financing group actions disrupting public order in September 2022, which attract an increased term of imprisonment.  Three other members of Viasna remain in prison: Marfa Rabkova, coordinator of Viasna’s network of volunteers; Andrei Chapyuk, a volunteer, and Leanid Sudalenka, head of Viasna’s Homiel branch.

Media Contacts

  • (English) Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB; kavi@dignity.dk
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Pavel Sapelko, Representative and Lawyer, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (IAPB co-lead): sapelko@gmail.com
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Victoria Federova, Representative, International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus (IAPB co-lead) and Head, Legal Initiative: gomellawyer@gmail.com
  • (Danish) Jens Modvig, Medical Director, Dignity (IAPB lead): JMO@dignity.dk

 

About the IAPB

The IAPB is a coalition of independent non-government organisations that have joined forces to collect, consolidate, verify, and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations constituting crimes under international law allegedly committed by Belarusian authorities and others in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. It builds on the ongoing efforts of Belarusian human rights organizations to collect information about human rights violations committed in Belarus. More information about the IAPB can be found on iapbelarus.org. The IAPB is led by DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture), the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus and REDRESS.

30.01.2023

BELARUS PLATFORM SUPPORTS INCREASING NUMBER OF CRIMINAL JUSTICE AUTHORITIES AND THE UN

The International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB) has made significant progress towards meeting requests for assistance from four states and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The IAPB continues to analyze and preserve thousands of files containing information and evidence on alleged crimes under international law committed in Belarus since 2020.

“Investigations of international crimes can be extraordinarily complex, and require access to significant amounts of evidence. Increasing requests for assistance show how human rights organizations like ours can contribute to meeting these needs,” said Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB. “What is absolutely vital though is ensuring any support given is consistent with not just criminal justice standards, but survivor-centered approaches that minimize the re-traumatization of witnesses and at the same time ensure evidence is not contaminated.”

The IAPB’s newly published progress report shows that, between February and September 2022, the IAPB provided the OHCHR examination of the human rights situation in Belarus (OEB) with access to its collection of materials, subject to informed consent. Since September, it has facilitated OEB’s access to over 140 victims and witnesses, as well as over 1,400 documents and open-source files relating to violations identified of interest by them. The IAPB and OEB continue to work together to share knowledge and identify continuing areas of support.

During the reporting period, the IAPB also received a request for assistance from the criminal justice authorities of another domestic jurisdiction, bringing the total number of states requesting assistance to four.

During the same period, the IAPB’s Belarusian co-leads, the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus (International Committee), collected witness statements, medical reports, court records and other materials from 857 survivor-victims and other witnesses, bringing the total to around 20,000 documents from to 2,052 survivor-victims and witnesses gathered by the IAPB so far. In addition, the IAPB has collected over 600,000 files from open sources, including more than 82,000 videos, 238,000 images and 159,000 text items from over 200 sources.

These materials are being analysed for the purpose of identifying survivor-victims and witnesses who may provide information and evidence to criminal justice authorities and the OEB, and to prepare analytical reports and other tools informing such bodies about crimes under international law allegedly committed in Belarus.

Mass arrests and torture

The progress report also notes how the human rights situation in Belarus has continued to deteriorate since the 2020 presidential elections. Mass arrests, detentions and prosecutions of persons on politically motivated charges continue to be the norm, with those released from detention continuing to allege they were subject to torture and other forms of mistreatment.
“The human rights crisis deteriorated in 2022. We observe the normalisation of torture and ill-treatment, massive persecution of anyone suspected of dissident opinions and massive crackdown on all civil society organisations. 1,437 persons are recognised as political prisoners by Belarusian human rights organisations,” said Victoria Federova, Representative of IAPB co-lead, International Committee. “The decision of Belarus to denounce the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights leaves citizens of Belarus without any remedies for individual complaints about human rights violations at the international level.”

Among those held in detention are six members of Viasna, including the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize winner President Ales Bialiatski and board member Valiantsin Stefanovic, who were presented with new charges in September 2022 which attract an increased term of imprisonment of seven to 12 years. In November 2021, Viasna member and the head of the Center for Strategic Litigation, Leanid Sudalenka, was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and Viasna volunteer Tatsiana Lasitsa was sentenced to two years and six months. Persons fleeing the country risk the appropriation of property they left behind and losing their citizenship, while being vulnerable to discrimination in third countries given Belarus’ role in the conflict in Ukraine. “Next, we must be to try to build effective cases for specific perpetrators and to maximize the interests of victims and witnesses,” said Pavel Sapelko, Representative of IAPB co-lead, Viasna. “Protecting their rights is our top priority.”

In recognition of its contribution to the promotion of human rights in Belarus, Viasna was awarded the Clooney Foundation for Justice Albie Award in the “Justice for Democracy Advocates” category in September 2022 and its founder, Ales Bialiatski, the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2022. In January 2023, International Committee was awarded the “Human Rights Campaign/Initiative of the Year 2022” award by the Belarus human rights community, an initiative of the Human Rights Alliance founded in 2008.

Contacts:

  • (English) Kate Vigneswaran, Head of the IAPB; kavi@dignity.dk
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Victoria Federova, Representative, International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus (IAPB co-lead) and Head, Legal Initiative: gomellawyer@gmail.com
  • (Belarusian/Russian) Pavel Sapelko, Representative and Lawyer, Human Rights Centre “Viasna” (IAPB co-lead): sapelko@gmail.com
  • (Danish) Jens Modvig, Medical Director, Dignity (IAPB lead): JMO@dignity.dk

 

About the IAPB

The IAPB is a coalition of independent non-government organisations that have joined forces to collect, consolidate, verify, and preserve evidence of gross human rights violations constituting crimes under international law allegedly committed by Belarusian authorities and others in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath. It builds on the ongoing efforts of Belarusian human rights organizations to collect information about human rights violations committed in Belarus. More information about the IAPB can be found on iapbelarus.org. The IAPB is led by DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture), the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, the International Committee for the Investigation of Torture in Belarus and REDRESS.