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Aliaksei Kazliuk: We have fears that Belarus-EU dialog on human rights will be a mere imitation

31.07.2015  |  Politics   |  Sergey Kozhukov,  EuroBelarus
Aliaksei Kazliuk: We have fears that Belarus-EU dialog on human rights will be a mere imitation

The format of full-fledged participation of the civil society in the dialog is not provided for and it is practically impossible to influence its agenda.

On July 28 the first round of Belarus-EU dialog on human rights took place in Brussels. Belarusan delegation was headed by Yury Ambrazevich, the head of the headquarters of Foreign Ministry’s multilateral diplomacy; EU delegation was headed by Silvio Gonzato, the chief of directorate for human rights and democracy of the European External Action Service.

In the run of the dialog, informs the press service of the Belarus’ Foreign Ministry, a range of issues was discussed, including the establishment of a National Human Rights Institution, freedom of expression, assembly and association, the death penalty and the fight against inhuman and degrading treatment, as well as children’s rights. Cooperation with the UN and coordination on multilateral issues were also discussed.

According to the opinion of the Belarusan Foreign Ministry, “the talks demonstrated the commitment of Belarus and the EU to deepen the dialogue, including in the area of human rights. They allowed for a frank and respectful preliminary exchange on issues of the substance with a view to strengthening mutual trust and developing cooperation”, - the Foreign Ministry notes.

First time EU-Belarus dialog on human rights took place in Prague on June 2009; however, it never continued. The official Minsk agreed to renovate the dialog only this year.

- Latest dialog really took place 6 years ago; during the last 6 years indirect communication on observation of human rights in Belarus was taking place, - noted Aliaksei Kazliuk, the expert of the Legal Transformation Center “Lawtrend”, in the talk with the “EuroBelarus” Information Service. – The EU had certain expectations from Belarus in the human rights sphere based on international and legal obligations that our state took upon itself. These expectations were formed through official statements, resolutions, and other documents where situation with human rights was indicated. As is known, the EU introduced, prolonged, and reviewed the volume of sanctions, including personal ones, because of rude and mass violations of human rights in Belarus. In return the official Minsk used to reject admitting the presence and importance of problems, stating that there are no political prisoners, no violation of electoral rights, and rights for freedom of association. It is these mutual processes that we cannot describe as a dialog that we can still describe as exchange of opinions.

- What does the renovation of dialog mean?

- For now dialog is quite odd format.

There is no continuity in agendas of discussing human rights in Belarus. In 2009 there were 12 actual demands of the EU but afterwards there was no analysis of whether there was any progress in any of the demands. The dialog starts from the blank page. Partially the agenda of the current dialog coincides with those 12 demands, but there is continuity as such. In our eyes this is a serious problem that inhibits significant results.

Of course, there is hope that at least certain cases of human rights’ violations will be considered within the frames of the dialog and concrete decisions will be taken for some of them. But it is hardly influencing the general situation with human rights at all.

- Can civil society somehow affect the course of the dialog?

- The format of the dialog was determined without consultations with the civil society and now we can only take part in it indirectly. The consultations with the representation of EU Commission to Belarus that we had were aimed at giving us the possibility to provide issues that could have been included to the agenda of the dialog.

However, the format of the civil society’s full-fledged participation in the dialog, and the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum in particular, is not stipulate for in the dialog. The format was determined in Brussels and it is basically impossible to influence it despite a number of obvious drawbacks.

- In this case, can we talk about a full-fledged dialog? Or is it its imitation?

- Judging from the suggested format, there are big fears that it will be an imitation. It is unclear whether the EU has clear expectations as to what this dialog should finish in and whether there are indicators of this dialog’s success. For now we see no answers to these questions.

There are too many indicators of this format’s unsuccessfulness; although high-level communication about human rights is also useful, since during it some separate or systematic problems are still articulated. It is bad that this dialog is happening in the narrow bilateral format, which makes it very hard to for the civil society to promote the human rights agenda.

In fact, the current dialog, likewise other similar formats of discussing the situation with human rights in Belarus, consists in setting a number of questions before the government. These questions are based on the work of Belarusan human rights fighters that provide the systemic analysis of the situation or concrete examples. Accordingly, Belarusan government either answers the question or denies the presence of the problem, ignoring the existing facts. As the practice shows, second variant is more likely.

Accordingly, such format of dialog has serious limitations that don’t allow looking at it with big enthusiasm. The main signal of the dialog’s effectiveness can be an agreement about a clear set of steps Belarusan government is ready to undertake for the improvement of situation with human rights. For now we only hear common phrases.

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