A representative of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee spoke today at the Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers during the 53rd session of the Human Rights Council.
In an online appeal prepared jointly with Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers, we described the repressive campaign that the Belarusian government is waging against lawyers who defend human rights.
We emphasized that 10 lawyers were prosecuted on trumped-up politically motivated charges. In 2022 alone, 15 attorneys were wrongfully prosecuted. More than 100 attorneys have had their licenses revoked since 2020. In the appeal, the BHC pointed out that the state had been encroaching on lawyers' self-governing bodies since 1997, and after 2020 made them an instrument of total control over lawyers. This resulted in about 400 attorneys being forced to leave the practice..
We also looked at the NGO lawyers involved in specific complaints.
In the appeal, we identified the need for guarantees at both the international and national levels for human rights lawyers, including lawyers and human rights defenders who have been forced or prefer to conduct their activities outside of professional associations..
Text of the Appeal
Distinguished President, Excellencies, Colleagues!
On behalf of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee and the Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers, I would like to thank the Special Rapporteur for her report and emphasize the importance of the independence of lawyers.
Belarus is a country where the rule of law has failed. Of particular concern is a campaign targeting lawyers. The mere fact of providing professional services to the defendant in a politically-motivated trial leads to the persecution of a lawyer. Thus, 10 such lawyers were criminally charged, and 5 were imprisoned for 6 to 10 years on fabricated charges. 15 lawyers were unfairly punished for administrative misdemeanors in 2022 alone. More than 100 lawyers had their licenses taken away.
Human rights defenders are also targeted, thus Leanid Sudalenka was sentenced to 3 years in prison in 2021 for helping defendants.
The authorities since 1997 have been encroaching on lawyers’ self-governing bodies. In 2020 it became a tool for total control over lawyers. As a result, over 400 trial lawyers left the practice.
We call the attention of the Human Rights Council and the Special Rapporteur to the need for safeguards at the international and national levels for human rights lawyers who are forced to or choose to carry out their activities outside trial-lawyers associations.
We would like to underline that the Belarusian Helsinki Committee has consistently defended the professional legal community using international mechanisms. For instance, we are constantly communicating with the relevant UN Special Rapporteurs for the protection of Belarusian lawyers - 2022/2021. Additionally, we depicted the actual situation with the rule of law and access to justice in the Alternative Report on the Implementation by the Republic of Belarus of SDG 16 and in Belarusian Civil Society Report on Sustainable development goals implementation, prepared in cooperation with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya’s Office.
We also conducted in-country advocacy. For example, thanks to our efforts, a witness's right to an attorney will remain intact Code of Criminal Procedure of the Republic of Belarus. We pushed forward the recommendations of Belarusian NGOs to amend the draft "On amendments and additions to several laws of the Republic of Belarus on improving advocacy activities".