Anti-government protests in Belarus

ECCHR and OMCT submit complaint in Germany

Belarus – Repression – Shrinking spaces and authoritarianism

Since the disputed presidential elections in Belarus in August 2020, thousands of citizens have demonstrated across the country. With the aims of hindering the protests, disabling the opposition, and intimidating members of the population who are critical of the regime, state security forces have cracked down violently on demonstrators, activists, and journalists. Independent organizations working to protect human rights and the opposition movement have also been targeted by the authorities. Since the beginning of the protests, human rights organizations have documented thousands of cases of arbitrary arrests and maltreatment.   

With no foreseeable investigation into these violations of international law in Belarus itself, ECCHR and partner organizations filed criminal charges against six named, high-ranking members of the Belarusian security apparatus in early November 2021.

Case

The systematic repression of the Belarusian population qualifies as a crime against humanity. In Germany, the Federal Public Prosecutor can act on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction when violations of international law have been committed. Our demand: the initiation of preliminary proceedings against the principal perpetrators. The securing of evidence in Germany serves the interests of Europe-wide and international approaches to criminal prosecution. It would also send an important signal to survivors of the crimes, as well as to Belarusian civil society as a whole.

Context

The Belarusian government is deliberately using violence to stifle the protest movement and secure President Alexander Lukashenko’s power. Belarus represents an instance of the tendency worldwide toward increasing obstruction of the realm of civil society by authoritarian states. The criminal complaint makes this obstruction visible and takes a stand against it. International criminal law also works to prosecute the worldwide repression of civilian populations whose severity reaches the threshold of international crimes, and to indict those responsible.  

The criminal complaint is in alignment with other legal actions taken by ECCHR to bring those responsible for violations of international law to justice. Similar charges regarding human rights crimes in Syria have already culminated in an arrest warrant for a high-ranking officials and the first-ever trial on Syrian state torture worldwide at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court.

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Definition

German Federal Public Prosecutor

The Office of the German Federal Public Prosecutor (Generalbundesanwaltschaft, GBA) is Germany’s highest prosecutory authority. The GBA is responsible for prosecutions in serious cases relating to crimes against international law and crimes concerning state security.

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Insight

Shrinking spaces and authoritarianism

Whenever states and corporations stifle critical voices and crackdown on political dissent – whether in the streets, on social media, or in the courtroom – they shrink civic space necessary for a democratic society based on human rights to thrive.

Overly broad “counter-terrorism” frameworks, digital surveillance targeting journalists and activists, or the increasing criminalization of solidarity with refugees are only some examples of how civil society is targeted increasingly all over the world. Such authoritarian policies and practices occur in democracies and dictatorships alike.

In the last decade, worldwide intersectional emergencies such as the climate crisis, rising far-right populism and the pandemic have posed collective challenges that impact everyone, even if unequally, no matter where in the world we live. However, civil society is constantly resisting to (re)claim its space. 

ECCHR’s work is only possible through in collaboration and solidarity with civil society actors around the globe. Many of our partners – be it in Mexico, The Gambia or Italy – face varying degrees and types of pressure, restrictions and even physical attacks, intended to repress their activities, expression and ability to organize. The Shrinking spaces and authoritarianism project hopes to support them in efforts to cope, resist, and innovate new ways to strengthen progressive civic power. Through legal and discursive interventions, ECCHR will draw attention not only to how civil society space is under attack in different contexts, but also to how it is being defended and by whom.

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