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Women under fire in Belarus, activists tortured and exiled – UN expert

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Women protesters hold hands in solidarity over the disputed presidential election in Belarus.

While women in Belarus overall are being denied rights and freedoms, female political activists are subjected to enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment and exile, an independent UN human rights expert told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

“The Government’s efforts to promote some rights of women at a policy level are rarely translated into concrete advancement of women’s rights in law and in practice”, said Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus.

“Flaws in legislation have for decades led to inequalities, discrimination, and protection gaps in cases of gender-based violence and abuses”.

Physical, psychological pressure

In presenting her report on the human rights of women and girls in Belarus, including lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, and intersex persons, Ms. Marin cited long-standing societal gender stereotypes “that reach to the very top of the State” and pointed out that women are generally “discouraged from participating in public life as proactive citizens”.

Millions in Belarus took to the streets in protest against the authoritarian Government following the disputed presidential election of August 2020. President Alexander Lukashenko has been in office since July 1994, following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The UN expert observed that “some women became victims of enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, and other forms of physical and psychological pressure, including the threat of seizure of their children” by agencies supposed to be offering social protection.

“Others have been forced into exile for fear of repression and retaliation”.

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Pattern of suppression

The Special Rapporteur described a pattern in which the Belarus Government suppresses civil society, curtailing women’s civic and political rights – most notably their freedom of assembly, association and expression.

Meanwhile, some 800 people in Belarus have been imprisoned on political grounds and more than 270 civil society organizations and independent media have been or are being liquidated.

“Media freedoms were further restricted by legal, administrative and practical obstacles that undermined the work of independent journalists and bloggers”, she said.

“Academics and human rights defenders were forced into exile on a huge scale while perpetrators of grave human rights violations continue acting boldly without fear of facing justice for their crime”.

‘Model for women and girls’

The independent expert described how courageous Belarusian women and girls have peacefully stood up for their fundamental rights, describing them as “truly inspiring”.

She said the served as “a model for women and girls everywhere who seek respect for their right to a better life, free of violence and discrimination”.

She called on the authorities in Belarus to view peaceful public activism not as a threat, but as an opportunity for improving the protection of rights for the entire population.

Ms. Marin and all Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and they are not paid for their work.

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