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Human rights defender's story: Human Rights Center ‘Viasna’


Story behind

The Human Right Center ‘Viasna’ is a non-governmental organisation actively working for the development of civil society and the promotion of human rights in Belarus, also providing legal aid to people in defending their rights and public interests.

Viasna has a long-standing history of cooperation with the United Nations human rights bodies and mechanisms, which has increased amid the ongoing crackdown on human rights defenders and organisations in Belarus.

Due to its engagement with the UN, Viasna has been subjected to continuous acts of harassment and intimidation at the hands of the government, including the raiding of their offices and the arbitrary detention of its members.

What happened

Beginning in August 2020, in the context of widespread protests following the Presidential elections in Belarus and the increased visibility of Viasna’s engagement with the UN, the Belarus authorities intensified their targeting of the organisation’s staff.

Currently, seven Viasna members are being detained because of their vital work for the promotion of human rights, facing charges of ‘organising and financing group actions that grossly violate public order’ and ‘tax evasion’. The members are: chairperson Ales Bialiatski, deputy chairperson Valiantsin Stefanovich, lawyer Uladzimir Labkovich, the coordinator of Viasna's network of volunteers Marfa Rabkova, head of Viasna's office in Homieĺ Leanid Sudalenka, and volunteers Tatsiana Lasitsa and Andrei Chapiuk. Rabkova and Chapiuk were additionally charged with ‘rioting’ and ‘involvement in a criminal group’ and Rabkova is also accused of ‘incitement to hostility’ - while in fact they are working so that everyone in Belarus can enjoy their human rights.

Viasna participated in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Belarus in November 2020 and in the adoption of the outcomes at the Human Rights Council in March 2021. The organisation also participated in a UN Security Council Arria formula meeting in September 2020 and submitted a joint submission to the Committee against Torture (CAT) in January 2021 ahead of the Committee’s examination of Belarus.

Leanid Sudalenka has submitted the most individual appeals against Belarus to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and Ales Bialiatski and Valiantsin Stefanovich have spoken at various UN procedures.

On 19 March 2021, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders expressed concern about the increasing crackdown against human rights defenders in Belarus, including against Viasna’s members.

What do we want

We want the case of Viasna to be widely recognised as a series of acts of reprisals related to UN engagement and for its members to be released.