Belarus Struggles with the West on the Ideological Front
The Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs recently presented a report named "Human Rights Violations in Certain Countries in 2012". The report blames 25 Western states of serous human rights violations. Belarus is trying to attack the West in the field where the Belarusian regime is aware of its own weaknesses.
The frequent accusations of Alexander Lukashenka, multiple TV programmes and now the report are the main tools which the Belarusian government uses against the West to win an ideological war. As with many other parts of state propaganda, the accusations have little factual support or are deliberately misleading. But on the domestic level, they seem to serve their purpose well.
The Best Defence is a Good Offense
The practice of blaming western democracies for human rights violations is rather wide-spread among authoritarian regimes. It helps to divert attention from domestic problems to foreign problems and at the same time to respond in kind to those governments that dared to criticise them.
For instance, take the case of Iran. In October 2011 one of the Iranian leading Ayatollahs responsible for judicial system of the country held a long TV-speech explaining why it was time to bring an action before the international courts against the USA for multiple human rights violations.
In May 2012, North Korea took the initiative and officially blamed the West for abusing human rights all over the world by organising revolutions and suppressing the protests.
In December 2012 Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement criticising European governments and the United States for mistreatment of ethnic minorities and brutally dispersing mass demonstrations.
Now Belarus has officially joined the club. It is true that even the best functioning democracies deserve criticism. But when the criticism is made by the country with the worst human rights record in Europe, it is nothing but pure politics.
Belarusian Report With Numerous Mistakes and Distortions
The report seems to be prepared in haste. Some data is simply inaccurate, sometimes the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs deliberately misrepresents what "human rights" are.
Some "accusations" from the Belarusian report seem comic rather than serious. Belgium, for example, is said to discriminate those over 45 years old 8% more often than the other groups while applying for a job. In several countries high unemployment among youth and migrants, poverty, low salaries are also considered human rights violations by Belarusian governmental specialists.
Sometimes western governments are accused of human rights violations when they were actually protecting them. The Danish government is guilty for not censoring the cartoons about Prophet Mohammed.
The US government, in order to respect the rights of Muslims, should have banned "the Innocence of Muslims" movie and prosecute its director. The Norwegian courts were too soft on Anders Breivik.
Perhaps these numerous mistakes attracted more international attention than the report itself. "Foreign Policy" magazine has showed several mismatches in it. For example according the the Belarusian report, Jill Stein, candidate for presidency from the Green Party, was a man but in fact she is a woman.
The authors of the report think that the USA should have also allowed Texas to become independent. As "Foreign Policy" magazine’s columnist Joshua Keating sharply put it: "It appears that if Texas ever did secede, Belarus might be the first to recognise it".
Opportunities to Protect Abused Rights
One must be honest and admit that some of the human rights violations, described in the report indeed took place. This concerns mistreatment of migrants, brutal crackdown on the "Occupy" movement demonstrations, torture in American and European prisons etc.
But what Belarusian officials tend to omit is the possibility of western victims of human rights abuses to defend themselves in courts effectively. What seems exotic in Belarus often happens in democratic states: incorrect governmental or judicial decisions are later overruled.
This concerns, for instance, the case of the Lithuanian journalist Dainius Radzevicius, who was unlawfully accused of libel by the city district court. But the Belarusian report does not mention that this decision was overruled by the appeal court afterwards.
Citing the decisions of the European Court for Human Rights is a moment of a pure hypocrisy in the Belarusian report. The authors make use of one of the greatest European institution’s decisions, although Belarusians are not allowed to use it themselves in reality. Belarusians are the only European nation for whom the doors of this Court are closed.
Describing the cases of torture in American prisons, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs forgets to mention that most were subsequently punished for it. In Belarus such justice seldom prevails. For example, ex-candidate for the presidential elections, Ales Mihalevich, reported about torture in Belarusian prisons (as did many other political prisoners) and had to leave the country fearing for his life. Naturally, "the independent" investigation did not confirm any of these allegations.
Tool in an Ideological War
Belarusian political analyst and journalist Aleksander Klaskovski in his comment to Belarus Digest said: "This document was made by the [Ministry of Foreign Affairs] officials without any enthusiasm. That is why there are so many silly mistakes in it. The purpose was to show Lukashenka, that the MFA will fight back against its ideological foes".
Referring to human rights is a tool of the government's propaganda within the country and towards it's foreign opponents. It became one of the legitimate battlefields for the regime. The Belarusian ruler himself several times mentioned western human rights abuses during his last press-conference.
Belarusian state media keeps pace with its master. For example, Belarusian state television features a weekly programme called "Human Rights: World Outlook". Week after week Soviet-style state propaganda "breaks the myths" about western democracies.
Some of the programme's revelations are that the USA control the world media, the West is obsessed with plans to occupy all oil-producing countries and to overthrow governments who do not want to follow their orders. The West according to the Belarusian television is also waging an information war waged against Belarus and its allies – Iran, Venezuella and Cuba and finances global terrorism.
Belarusian authorities deliberately seem to have put human rights on the chessboard of this ideological struggle. They aim not so much to show how bad the West is, but rather to ridicule and undermine the whole idea of human rights violations.
Interpol Lists And Political Refugees from Belarus
Belarusians win at international courts and get asylum in democratic states, but they continue to feel insecure afterwards and still remain in the Interpol database.
The recent arrest of a Belarusian on Interpol’s wanted list, Igor Koktysh, by German police despite the activist's refugee status in Poland is yet another case of Belarus' abuse of Interpol rules.
Igor Koktysh's story has everything that a good drama adventure movie needs: wrongful imprisonment, police raids, a struggle with the state machine in an international court and a reckless escape through the border.
Igor Koktysh vs. Ukraine: How It Started
In 2001, Belarusian authorities accused Koktysh (born in 1980) of the murder and robbery, for which he was facing a punishment as severe as the death penalty. However, the court of appeal found that during the investigation physical and psychological pressure had been applied against him in order to extract false confessions.
Koktysh was acquitted, and the Supreme Court upheld this decision. A year later, the Presidium of the Supreme Court overturned the previous decisions, and the criminal investigation was resumed. By that time Igor Koktysh had moved to Ukraine, where he got married.
In mid-2007 Igor was detained in Ukraine on a Belarusian warrant. “In Sevastopol, a group of thugs with firearms detained me at the seashore. Severe beatings was the response given to any of my questions. I thought they were bandits carrying me out to the forest to kill me. I only felt some relief when I arrived at the police station. An enraged Pavlichenko, a Belarusian colonel known for his bloody reprisals with opposition, ran into the police office and threatened me with life in prison upon my return to Belarus”, Koktysh later told his fearful story.
While awaiting his extradition in gloomy Ukrainian detention centres, Igor sent a complaint to the Strasbourg court. The ECtHR analysed the human rights situation in Belarus and the circumstances of the case and ruled in December 2009 that Koktysh’s extradition to Belarus would be a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.
Ukraine was obliged to pay Koktysh 7,000 Euros for the non-pecuniary damage. As a result, Igor Koktysh, previously recognised as a prisoner of conscience by the Amnesty International by the time, was freed in early 2010.
Asylum Seeker De Nouveau
But success in the European Court of Human Rights failed to make Koktysh’s life in Ukraine any more secure. In November 2010, just before the Belarusian presidential election, Ukrainian drug control policy officers made a raid on Koktysh’s apartment. They used brutal physical force against him and his friends, and allegedly found 10 grammes of marijuana.
The story provoked huge media attention. Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s office opened an investigation of the case. As a result, the drug charges against Igor and his friends were dropped and criminal proceedings launched against the drug control officers, including the head of the drug-control department, charged with breaking the law of the inviolability of households and abuse of power.
After the drug case, Igor Koktysh did not feel safe in Ukraine anymore. Since his Belarusian passport expired in 2005 and a consulate refused to extend it, Koktysh decided to cross the Ukraine-Poland border illegally in 2011 and to ask for asylum in Poland. “I got lost in the forest and came across the border signs on the second day. That was a desperate but necessary move, a life or death issue for me”, Igor explained.
Political Refugees Remain on Interpol Lists
On 7 February, police detained Koktysh during his stay in Germany. He spent a few hours at a local police station before his refugee status was confirmed by Polish authorities. Belarus requested his detention and put it on the organisation's Red Notice list. Almost all countries in the world are the members of the largest international police organisation and all their requests, regardless the type of political regime, are treated equally.
This is not the first case when Belarusian authorities abuse Interpol rules in an attempt to reach
political opponents. Interpol cooperation is based on trust between national police organs and the organisation operates on the presumption that policemen in Syria, Canada or Singapore are telling the truth.
Earlier Ales Mikhalevich, a former candidate in the Belarusian presidential election, charged for organising riots but granted refugee status in the Czech Republic, was detained on the basis of the Interpol notice at least twice. His brief detention at the Warsaw airport in late 2011 ended after the interference of Poland’s Foreign Minister. Last September, Mikhalevich had trouble at a New York City airport when heading to a meeting of the UN Human Rights Committee.
Until Interpol undertakes an informal review of a political case and strikes the name out of its database, a person would encounter problems when travelling abroad. And this may last for years, if not decades. The name of a Belarusian Natallia Sudliankova, despite the fact that she was recognised as a refugee by the Czechs in 1999, is still on the the Interpol database.
Strasbourg as a Last Legal Resort
When all national courts fail, the European Court of Human Rights remains the only effective instrument to prevent a third-country applicant’s return to his home country. Belarus is outside the jurisdiction of the ECHR as it is not a member of the Council of Europe. But Belarusians can lodge complaints against the governments of any 47 Council of Europe member countries.
Indeed, 23 of all 28 complaints submitted so far by Belarusians to the ECHR challenged the intention to either extradite or deport them to Belarus. Such applications usually refer, amongst others items, to a violation of Article 3 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. It concerns the probability of being subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
But as Koktysh's story shows, neither ECHR victories nor obtaining refugee status in a foreign state brings and end to harassment by the Belarusian law enforcement agencies. The only option which such people can use is to draw media attention to their cases, hoping that international police organs will understand the need for "special treatment" with requests coming from Belarus.
Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies