Human Rights Pariahs Support Belarus at the UN – Belarus Foreign Policy Digest
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 Read more
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 Read more
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 Read more
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.
UN Train, Living Library, Anti-Corruption Portal – Belarus Civil Society Digest
An NGO in Belarus launches a website to help the citizens to analyse information on public procurement and identify possible corruption schemes. 700 projects submitted for contest of local initiatives implemented by EU/UNDP.
Living Library celebrates one year of existence. During this time, the team of "librarians" visited different Belarusian cities and gathered 200 people at a time. The UN in Belarus travelled around Belarus by a special train UN70 Belarus Express. Green Network invited Minskers to exchange wastepaper for seedlings.
Civil Society Activities
Website will look for corruption. SYMPA launches a website Opentenders.by, which will help the citizens to analyse information on public procurement and identify possible corruption schemes. The platform collects information on public procurement on all public sources. It allows to use filters to search what company wins in a tender, what tenders are carried out by a specific contractor and so on. After the introduction of more complex algorithms it will be possible to detect the specific corruption schemes.
Action PahoniaPobach starts in social networks. Civil activists want to support the cadets of Yastrabelsk College who photographed in Pahonia T-Shirts. The cadets have been expelled from college, unofficial sources report. A published photograph became viral on social networks and appeared on the media – people post their own photos with the Pahonia symbol and describe their attitude to it. Pahonia is a Belarusian historical coat of arms; in 1995, Alexander Lukashenka scrapped the Pahonia's status as the official coat of arms and replaced it with a modified Soviet emblem.
Living Library celebrates one year of existence. During this time, the team of "librarians" visited different Belarusian cities and gathered 200 people at a time. The idea, which comes from Denmark, is simple – to bring people in the same space where "books" (people that represent some stereotypes) tell their stories to "readers" who want to get rid of stereotypes. The "books" include representatives of different religions, nationalities, professions, LGBT community, etc.
700 projects submitted for contest of local initiatives. Belarus is currently implementing the UNDP/EU joint project Support to Local Development through 2017 aimed at developing a strategy for regional development and involving the public in the process. The project financing is estimated at €5 million from the EU budget. The recent contest of local initiatives received applications from more than 700 organisations, executive committees, and residents.
Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) is to take place in Belarus on 16-22 November. Topic of 2015 is Unleashing Opportunities In Times of Change. All GEW activities and events are aimed at enabling people to investigate their innovative potential, and to turn ideas into reality. Since 2011 Belarus has become one of 137 countries participating in the largest entrepreneurial initiative around the world. GEW activities in Belarus are coordinated by Bel.Biz company and attended by more than 2,000 people.
Online course on public administration. School of Young Managers in Public Administration (SYMPA) together with the Department of Social and Political Sciences, EHU, announces a call for participants for online course Public Administration and Public Policy: Current Practise and Transformation. Classes are held in the system of distance learning Moodle. Course duration is 12 weeks. Deadline for applications is 9 November.
Flying University continues open lectures in November. Weekly, on Wednesdays, Flying University organises meetings with Belarusian intellectuals, scientists, and cultural figures to reflect on a variety of humanitarian, social and cultural issues. Among the speakers are Uladzimir Matskevich, Ales Smalenchuk, Ihar Babkou, Tatiana Vadalazhskaya, Ales Razanau, Vyachaslav Babrovich, etc.
Platform Talaka.by announces a call for Project Consultant course. The program is open for participants who want to improve their skills in project management and help others to effectively plan projects. Project Consultant is a unique course, developed by Talaka.by team. It is based on the experience of 190 projects posted on the platform, 40 of which have been successfully implemented. Education is free. Applications are accepted until 16 November.
Student Week. On 9-17 November Minsk will host the festival Student Week dedicated to the International Day of Solidarity of Students. The festival is held in Belarus for the second time, and includes discussions, seminars, city game, movie night, concert, etc. Among the organisers are several youth CSOs – Studentskaya Rada/Student Council, ZBS/Association of Belarusian Students, Brotherhood of Organisers of Student Self-Government (BOSS), etc.
70 Express Model United Nations. From 23-30 October on the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations, the UN in Belarus travelled around Belarus by a special train UN70 Belarus Express. The train brought more than 250 events to promote Sustainable Development Goals. The events were attended by representatives of the government, regional authorities, the private sector, more than 100 civil organisations, more than 40 embassies, religious leaders of all faiths, and representatives of vulnerable groups of the society. The initiative became possible due to partnership of the Belarus’ MFA and the UN system in Belarus.
Green Network invited Minskers to exchange wastepaper for seedlings. In October the World Paper Free Day, the residents of Minsk in exchange for waste paper could get saplings of maple, oak, nuts, and learn about different ways of economical use of paper. On this day people all over the world came together to share experiences of reducing wasteful consumption of paper and carry out actions in support.
Centre for Urban Initiatives announces the launch of a School of Urban Initiatives Greenhouse.Greenhouse is a series of meetings and lectures in Mogilev that are to help citizens become more initiative and active participants to improve life in the city. During the course, fellows will develop their projects to improve urban life; the most interesting of them will be supported.
Belarus Digest prepared this overview on the basis of materials provided by Pact. This digest attempts to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus. It often goes beyond the hot stories already available in English-language media.