There were a number of active domestic human rights NGOs, although authorities were often hostile to their efforts, restricted their activities, selectively cooperated with them, and were not responsive to their views.
Two prominent human rights NGOs–the BHC and the Center for Legal Transformations–operated as registered entities. The government refused to register a number of others, placing them at risk under the criminal code that criminalizes organizing or participating in any activity by an unregistered organization. The law also prohibits persons from acting on behalf of unregistered NGOs. Nonetheless, some unregistered NGOs, including Vyasna and Legal Assistance to the Population, continued to operate.
Authorities harassed both registered and unregistered human rights organizations. They subjected them to frequent inspections and threats of deregistration, reportedly monitored their correspondence and telephone conversations, and harassed family members of group leaders and activists. The government ignored reports issued by human rights NGOs and only met with registered groups. State-run media rarely reported on human rights NGOs and their activities.
During the year the BHC’s bank accounts remained blocked due to long-standing tax arrears related to foreign funding in the early 2000s, but the government allowed the committee to operate without other interference.
Authorities were reluctant to engage on human rights problems with international human rights NGOs or other human rights officials, and international NGO representatives often had difficulty gaining admission to the country. Authorities routinely ignored local and international groups’ recommendations on improving human rights in the country and requests to stop harassing the human rights community.
Authorities may close an NGO after issuing only one warning that it violated the law. The most common pretexts prompting a warning or closure were failure to obtain a legal address and technical discrepancies in application documents. The law allows authorities to close an NGO for accepting what it considered illegal forms of foreign assistance and permits the Ministry of Justice to monitor any NGO activity and to review all NGO documents. NGOs also must submit detailed reports annually to the ministry regarding their activities, office locations, officers, and total number of members.
The United Nations or Other International Bodies: On September 28, the UN Human Rights Council appointed Anais Marin as the new Special Rapporteur on Belarus. On October 1, Belarusian MFA Spokesperson Anatoli Hlaz stated that the government continued to speak against “the politicized” mandate of the rapporteur and did not recognize it. The previous rapporteur, Miklos Haraszti, whose mandate expired on October 31, published his final report at the 73rd session of the UNGA’s Third Committee on October 24, noting that the human rights record in Belarus had not improved in his six-year tenure. In a response, a Belarusian diplomat, Counsellor Ina Vasileuskaya, called the report and Haraszti’s speech “a farce.”
Government Human Rights Bodies: The government took minor steps to implement the Human Rights Action Plan adopted in 2016 to outline, in the government’s words, “main activities for us to implement our international obligations” on human rights. In addition to holding various conferences and seminars jointly with UN organizations, the government ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016. While independent human rights groups, including the human rights center Vyasna and the BHC, welcomed the plan’s adoption, they also noted that the documents lack specific target goals or results assessment mechanisms. Civil society groups noted that the government failed to include any of the concrete suggestions they recommended during drafting that they believed would have made the plan more substantial.
A standing commission on human rights in the lower chamber of parliament was ineffective.