GENEVA, March 17 (Reuters) – The U.N. human rights chief said on Thursday that nearly 1,100 activists, opposition members and journalists are being detained on “politically motivated charges” in Belarus and called for their release.
Michelle Bachelet said the government of President Alexander Lukashenko was carrying out violations of a “widespread and systematic nature” since large-scale protests against his contested victory in 2020’s elections.
The Minsk government carried out a “massive crackdown including widespread excessive use of force”, she said in an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Bachelet also said that 13,500 people had been arrested after the August 2020 election and protests, and many had suffered repeated beatings as well as rapes and other forms of violence.
Belarus’s delegation dismissed her report, with its diplomat Andrei Taranda telling the forum: “It is filled with allegations and false accusations.
“Its conclusions and recommendations are aimed at supporting any structures and organisations, as long as they work against Belarus,” Taranda added.
Bachelet said: “Our examination finds that the government has sought to suppress all forms of criticism and has actively tried to prevent justice, accountability and truth about the violations committed.
“I urge the government of Belarus to immediately release all prisoners sentenced on politically motivated grounds and cease all other ongoing human rights violations,” she said.
Bachelet said that there were no reasonable grounds to expect national systems in Belarus to deliver justice, so other states should work towards holding perpetrators there to account.
Iceland’s foreign minister, reading out a statement on behalf of Nordic-Baltic countries, voiced deep concerns about the U.N. findings.
“The Lukashenko regime is on a destructive path, at home and abroad,” Thordis Kolbrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir said.
“The relentless attack on civil society and independent voices and the widespread use of disinformation in Belarus must stop,” she said.
Photo – Protesters hold old national flag during a peaceful protest rally against the results of the presidential elections, in Minsk, Belarus. EPA-EFE/TATYANA ZENKOVICH