Human Rights Pariahs Support Belarus at the UN – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest

Irina Velichko defends Belarus' human rights record at the UN

On 29 October, Belarusian diplomats had another verbal joust on the issue of human rights in New York. They managed to gather significant support from other international pariahs. However, the adoption of a UN resolution stating concern over the human rights situation in the country appears to be a certainty.

The Belarusian foreign ministry also promoted the Eurasian Economic Union, as an integration partner of the EU and as an observer at the UN. They are unlikely to get a quick and positive reaction in Brussels. In New York, they are facing difficulties at fostering a consensus among the UN members.

Human Rights Battle in New York

On 29 October, the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly held interactive dialogues with experts on the human rights situation in some countries.

Miklós Haraszti, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, said in his statement that the human rights situation in the country continued to deteriorate. He expressed much concern over the situation with freedom of opinion and expression, including freedom on Internet.

The special rapporteur described the recent presidential elections as “orchestrated”. He also reminded the committee that Belarus remained the only country in Europe with no opposition represented in parliament.

Miklós Haraszti was appointed a special rapporteur on Belarus in 2012. The government of Belarus has refused to recognise his mandate. The regime denies Miklós Haraszti’s entry to Belarus and ignores his attempts to establish communication.

In reply, Irina Velichko, a Belarusian diplomat, harshly criticised Haraszti’s conclusions. She claimed that the report on Belarus was “politically motivated and openly biased”. In her opinion, the special rapporteur had distorted the human rights situation in the country and referred to sources containing “only negative information”.

China, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Russia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are among Belarus's supporters at the UN

The delegations of the US, the UK, Norway, the Czech Republic, Switzerland and the EU supported Miklós Haraszti’s conclusions. However, twenty delegations backed Belarus directly, or questioned the need for country-specific mandates and regretted the politicisation of human rights. The list of sympathisers towards the Belarusian regime has featured China, Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Venezuela and Zimbabwe but also Russia and five other post-Soviet countries.

The heated debate in New York shows that despite the positive trend in relations with Belarus, Western countries have no intention to cease insisting on Belarus’ adherence to its international obligations. In its turn, the Belarusian authorities, notwithstanding their engagement in a direct dialogue with Europe and the US on human rights issues, have failed to adjust their tactics of stubborn denial of the dire human rights situation in the country.

Reviving the Idea of the “Integration of Integrations”

On 13 October, Andrei Yeudachenka, Belarus’ permanent representative to the EU, acting on behalf of the EAEU, passed an aide-mémoire entitled “The Eurasian Economic Union - the European Union: Cooperation Outlines” to an EU official in Brussels. The full text of this document, widely publicised by officials and state-run media, remains unavailable to the general public.

The non-paper has failed to include a single reference to any common values, such as democracy, rule of law, good governance or human rights, as a basis for suggested cooperation. The EAEU sees the “gradual creation of a common economic space from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans” as the ultimate goal of this exercise.

Among the practical instruments, the EAEU countries suggest is the reduction of tariff and non-tariff barriers, the approximation of technical regulation systems, and the attraction of direct investment. They also invite the EU to consider concluding a free trade agreement in the future.

The non-paper includes a specific reference to the "integration of integrations", which it describes as a “conjugation and mutual consideration of economic integration processes”.

Since 2011, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenka has promoted this idea at any convenient occasion. In September, speaking from the UN rostrum, he described it as “the most topical trend of the modern world”.

The idea of "integration of integrations" looks stillborn

To date, a comment by Štefan Füle, the former EU commissioner, remains the only instance of a positive EU public reaction to the idea of “integration of integrations”. It seems though that it was a personal opinion of an outgoing bureaucrat.

The idea of “integration of integrations” between the EAEU and the EU looks stillborn and nothing more than a nicely coined phrase. However, it does not preclude the Belarusian authorities from actively exploiting the idea at home and abroad. The current Belarusian presidency in the EAEU provides a favourable setting for such an exercise.

EAEU Pushed Through at the UN

Besides presenting the EAEU as an equal partner of the EU, Belarus actively promotes the EAEU at the United Nations.

On 19 October, Andrei Dapkiunas, the permanent representative of Belarus to the UN, introduced at the United Nations a draft resolution on granting the Eurasian Economic Union an observer status in the General Assembly.

The Belarusian ambassador insisted that the EAEU’s purposes and principles were consistent with the interests of the General Assembly in the fields of sustainable development, international trade, ecology and other areas.

The General Assembly grants observer status to intergovernmental organisations whose activities are of interest to the Assembly. This status enables representatives of an observer organisation to participate in the debate on topics’ within its mandate.

Together with an additional speaking opportunity, observer status provides an important form of international recognition, which the EAEU clearly needs. The adoption of this resolution is among the Belarusian delegation’s official priorities at the current session.

On most occasions, the General Assembly grants similar requests without much deliberation. However, this initiative of Belarus and its fellow EAEU members provoked opposition from two delegations.

Belarus' initiative at the UN caused disagreements

The representative of Georgia expressed concern that the organisations' founder, Russia, flouted international obligations by occupying and annexing the territories of its neighbour States. Azerbaijan’s representative expressed regret that Armenia, an EAEU member, continued to illegally occupy a part of the territory of Azerbaijan.

These statements have indicated that the draft resolution lacks consensus. A vote on the application to observer status would seriously undermine the EAEU’s international standing. If their efforts to foster consensus fail, the draft’s sponsor may have to withdraw it. A decision is expected during the coming weeks.

Igar Gubarevich is a senior analyst of the Ostrogorski Centre in Minsk. For a number of years he has been working in various diplomatic positions at the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

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