The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe says there is “overwhelming evidence” that Belarus’s August 9 presidential election results were falsified and that “systematic” human rights violations have been committed by the country’s security forces in response to the peaceful demonstrations the vote sparked.
In a 58-page report seen by RFE/RL that is to be presented to the OSCE’s Permanent Council on November 5, lead author and Austrian international law professor Wolfgang Benedek notes that there were “evident shortcomings” in the election, which he says failed to meet “the basic requirements established on the basis of previous election monitoring.”
He added that “the allegations that the presidential elections were not transparent as well as neither free nor fair were found confirmed.”
In addition, allegations related to human rights abuses “were found to be massive and systematic and proven beyond doubt.”
It is “particularly worrying that the well-documented cases of torture and ill-treatment in the crackdown by the security forces on political dissent have not as yet resulted in anybody being held accountable, which is confirming allegations of general impunity, also due to the absence of fair trial in political cases,” Benedek says in the report.
Mass demonstrations have swept across the country since the disputed election, ratcheting up pressure on Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who has ruled for 26 years and rejects accusations that the landslide vote was rigged.
Last week, Lukashenka tightened his grip on Belarus by partially closing the border to the west, replacing his interior minister, and signaling to security officers policing protests that they should intensify the crackdown on demonstrators.
That failed to stop tens of thousands from marching in Minsk on November 1, with police countering by firing warning shots into the air, using stun grenades, and arresting about 300 people.
The OSCE report claims that the main purpose of Lukashenka’s crackdown was “to punish demonstrators and to intimidate them and potential other protesters.”
The report adds that the legal system of Belarus today can be characterized as based rather on “rule by law rather than the rule of law,” and concludes that freedoms of the media, assembly, and association, and the right to liberty and security, as well as the safety of journalists, are “under massive attack.”
The report on the situation in Belarus came about after 17 OSCE member states triggered the so-called “Moscow Mechanism” to examine alleged human rights violations in Belarus.
The mechanism allows a group of 10 or more member states to establish a mission of experts to look into threats of human rights commitments in countries belonging to the organization.
Benedek, who also was the author of a 2018 OSCE report on alleged human rights violations in Chechnya, was denied a visa to travel to Belarus after the government in Minsk did not see “valid reasons” for launching the “Moscow Mechanism.” The claim was made in a written statement that is included in the final OSCE report.
Since he couldn’t investigate on the ground, Benedek had to collect evidence and conduct interviews online, receiving more than 700 submissions.
His 65 recommendations to Belarusian authorities stated in the report include the cancellation of the August 9 election results and the organization of a fresh vote in accordance with international standards. All political prisoners and journalists detained in the crackdown should be released, he adds.
The report also recommends that the international community bring the “perpetrators of torture and inhuman treatment among the Belarusian security forces and their responsible superiors to justice wherever possible.”
It calls for the creation of an independent international body to conduct an “in-depth investigation” of human rights violations in the context of the presidential elections.