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.
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.
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.