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Diplomats voice outrage at Belarus over rights abuses, invasion role

GENEVA, Switzerland:  Diplomats at the United Nations voiced outrage yesterday over Belarus’s widespread human rights violations at home, and also for “enabling” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, a wide range of countries decried Minsk’s role in supporting Moscow’s war against its pro-Western neighbor, which began on February 24. US Ambassador Michele Taylor called out authoritarian Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko for the “enabling of Russia’s unprovoked war”. “The Belarus authorities’ facilitation of Russian aggression has contributed to an unconscionable humanitarian toll on the people of Ukraine… and to a dangerous crisis which could irrevocably harm global security and that of every sovereign state,” she told the council.

Icelandic Foreign Minister Thordis Kobrun Reykfjord Gylfadottir, speaking for the Nordic and Baltic countries, chimed in. “The Lukashenko regime is on a destructive path, at home and abroad,” she warned in a video statement. “We reiterate in the strongest possible terms our condemnation of Russia’s illegal and unprovoked aggression against Ukraine and Belarus’s involvement in it.”

Belarus representative Andre Taranda repeatedly interrupted the speakers with “points of order”, decrying that they were not using appropriate UN language by referring to the Belarus government as a “regime”. He also decried the many comments relating to the invasion of Ukraine, which he said was beside the point, since the meeting was meant to discuss the latest UN report on the rights situation inside Belarus.

Taranda was also not happy with that report, presented by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet, saying it was “full to the brim with insinuations and… accusations”, and revealed the UN rights office’s “double standards”. He received backing from some countries, including Venezuela, Cuba, China and Russia, who hit out at the rights office for politicization by bowing to “foreign pressure”. In the report, Bachelet had warned Belarus was crushing dissent and blocking victims of widespread violations, including torture and arbitrary detention, from seeking justice, creating a “situation of complete impunity”.

‘Brutal repression’

The violent crackdown on the massive protests around that election saw at least 37,000 people detained between May 2020 and May 2021, the report said. By the end of 2021, 969 people were in prison on likely “politically motivated charges”, the report said, with some given sentences of 10 years or more. The report did not touch on Minsk’s role supporting Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine, or the impact that might have on rights inside Belarus.

But Bachelet said yesterday the numbers imprisoned on politically-motivated charges had now risen to 1,085. She also highlighted that more than 900 people were arrested last month during protests against the so-called “constitutional referendum”, which saw the country vote to host nuclear weapons and Russian forces permanently. “Belarus’s actions supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine mirror its brutal repression at home,” said US Ambassador Taylor.

Meanwhile, Canada yesterday unveiled fresh sanctions against 22 Belarus defense department officials for allowing Russia to launch attacks on Ukraine from its territory. The announcement, Canada’s foreign ministry said in a statement, “sends a clear message to President Putin’s accomplices: those who support violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence will be held accountable.”

Ottawa accused the senior Belarus officials — including the head of its air force, Victor Soyko — of supporting Russia’s attack on Ukraine and “allowing their country to serve as a launch pad for the Russian invasion.” Canada had already imposed sanctions in 2020 on Belarus’s President Alexander Lukashenko after he claimed an overwhelming victory in an August election the opposition said was rigged, as well as more recently on members of Lukashenko’s inner circle. This latest round brings the number of individuals and entities in Russia, Moscow-ally Belarus and Ukraine sanctioned by Canada to more than 500 since Russia’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine. – AFP

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