Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape in general but does not include separate provisions on marital rape. Rape was a problem, but most victims did not report it due to shame or fear that police would blame the victim. According to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, there were 145 registered cases of rape or attempted rape in 2015.
Domestic violence was a significant problem, and the government took measures to prevent it during the year, although it yet again postponed adoption of a comprehensive law on domestic violence.
The government directed efforts to combat gender-based violence mainly by preventing such crimes and not by protecting or assisting victims, although crisis rooms provided limited psychological and medical assistance to victims.
As of January the state operated 109 shelter-type crisis rooms for victims, including domestic violence victims; NGOs operated at least three more shelters for victims of domestic violence. Authorities reported that in 2015 crisis rooms assisted 237 individuals, including 178 domestic violence victims; however, observers noted a lack of adequate staff training, short-term sheltering, limited working hours, and unsafe locations.
A 2014 law on preventing crimes establishes a separate definition of domestic violence and provides for implementation of protective orders. Such orders, ranging from three to 30 days’ duration, are issued to abusers who have been charged with two counts of violence within one year. The law requires authorities to provide victims and abusers with temporary accommodation until the protection orders expire. In addition to the newly adopted law, the code on administrative offenses, amended in 2013, prescribes a large fine or detention for up to 15 days for battery, intended infliction of pain, and psychological or physical suffering committed against a close family member. The criminal code does not contain a separate article dealing specifically with domestic violence.
Police reported that, from January to October 2015, they identified 1,984 victims of domestic violence; of those 1,509 were female, 475 were male, and 120 were older than age 70. Ninety-six victims of domestic violence died, and 169 suffered severe bodily injuries in 2015. In the majority of these cases, women said they had been previously threatened with violence. Additionally, police investigated more than 42,000 allegations of domestic violence from January to October 2015. The police official reported that women were the aggressors in at least 10 percent of all domestic violence cases and were responsible for approximately 35 percent of all murders and incidents of severe bodily harm connected to domestic violence.
According to a 2014 UN Population Fund study, three out of four women and men between the ages of 18 and 60 claimed they had been subject to some form of domestic violence. Of this number, 76 percent of women and 76 percent of men had been subject to psychological violence, and 37 percent of women and 28 percent of men had been subject to economic pressures. More than 31 percent of women and 24 percent of men suffered from physical violence, and 18 percent of women and 12 percent of men reported their partners sexually abused them. Women remained reluctant to report domestic violence due to fear of escalating the violence, reprisal, social stigma, and a lack of confidence they would receive appropriate and timely assistance. Moreover, they feared that if the aggressor were fined, the financial burden would fall on the family. Male victims of domestic violence did not report their cases due to their own feelings of guilt, feeling pity for their abuser, and fear of family disruptions. According to the study, 12 percent of male and 29 percent of female victims of domestic violence sought professional assistance.
Sexual Harassment: Sexual harassment reportedly was widespread, but no specific laws, other than those against physical assault, address the problem.
Reproductive Rights: Couples and individuals have the right to decide the number, spacing, and timing of children; manage their reproductive health; and have access to the information and means to do so, free from discrimination, coercion, or violence. Access to information on contraception and skilled attendance at delivery and in postpartum care were widely available. The UN Population Division estimated 55 percent of girls and women ages 15-49 used a modern method of contraception in 2015.
Discrimination: The law provides for equal treatment of women with regard to property ownership and inheritance, family law, equal pay for equal work (although in practice women were often paid less), and in the judicial system, and the law was generally respected.
Women’s groups voiced concerns about the increasing percentage of women in poverty, particularly among women with more than two children, female-headed households, women taking care of family members with disabilities or older family members, rural women, and older women.
Birth Registration: Citizenship is derived either by birth within the country’s territory or from one’s parents. A child of a citizen is a citizen regardless of place of birth, even if one of the parents is not a citizen. In general, births were registered immediately.
Child Abuse: The government continued to implement a 2012-16 comprehensive national plan to improve childcare and the protection of children’s rights, including for victims of child abuse, domestic violence, and commercial sexual exploitation, and acknowledged a lack of funding and inefficiency in executing certain protective measures. With assistance from NGOs that promote children’s rights, authorities extensively employed procedures for on-the-record, one-time interviewing of child abuse victims in the framework of investigations or criminal cases at specialized facilities under the direct supervision of psychologists. Courts used recorded testimony to avoid repeatedly summoning child abuse victims for hearings. Cases that affected the rights and legitimate interests of minors were generally heard by more experienced judges with expertise in developmental psychology, psychiatry, and education. The government failed to resume operations of a national hotline for assisting children despite various NGOs’ requests to support the hotline.
As of January the Ministry of Education ran 138 social-educational centers nationwide for minor victims of any type of violence or minors finding themselves in vulnerable and dangerous conditions. Centers could provide short-term shelter, food, clothing, personal hygiene products, and medical and psychological aid to victims. No data on the number of assisted child abuse victims at these centers was available. General healthcare institutions provided a wide range of medical aid to child abuse victims free of charge.
Authorities intervened to prevent child abuse stemming from domestic violence and identified families in vulnerable conditions, providing foster care to children who could not be kept with their immediate families while preventive work was underway. Although the government increased prosecution of child abusers, its efforts to address the causes of child abuse were inadequate.
Rape or sexual assault of a person known to be a minor is punishable by up to 15 years in jail. Sexual acts between a person older than 18 and a person known to be younger than 16 carry penalties of up to five years in jail.
From January to October 2015, authorities registered 193 pedophilia crimes, including 18 cases of rape, 74 cases of coercive actions of a sexual nature, 87 cases of sexual intercourse with a minor, and 14 cases of sexual abuse. Police identified 135 victims of pedophilia, including 58 children under 14, mostly female, in 2015.
Early and Forced Marriage: The legal minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 years old, although girls as young as 14 can be married legally with parental consent. There were reports of early marriage in which girls as young as 14 and boys as young as 16 married with parental consent.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 16. Prostitution of children was a problem. From January to October 2015, the Internal Affairs Ministry investigated 506 crimes involving the commercial sexual exploitation of children, including 25 cases of the production and distribution of child pornography and six cases in which minors became victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation. The law provides penalties of up to 13 years in prison for production or distribution of pornographic materials depicting a minor. The law generally was enforced.
Institutionalized Children: There was no system for monitoring child abuse in orphanages or other specialized institutions. Authorities did not publicly report on any child abuse incidents in institutions. There were allegations of abuse in foster families. The government opened or continued investigations into some of these cases.
International Child Abductions: The country is a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International parental Child Abduction at travel.state.gov/content/childabduction/en/legal/compliance.html.
Jewish groups estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 persons identified themselves as Jews. Most were not active religiously.
Anti-Semitic incidents continued but were on the decline; authorities sporadically investigated reports of such acts. Jewish community and civil society activists expressed concern over the concept of a “greater Slavic union” that was popular among nationalist organizations, including the neo-Nazi group Russian National Unity, which remained active despite its official dissolution in 2000. Neo-Nazis were widely believed to be behind anti-Semitic incidents across the country. Anti-Semitic and Russian ultranationalist newspapers, literature, DVDs, and videotapes imported from Russia were widely available. The government did not promote antibias and tolerance education.
On May 25, authorities in Valozhyn opened a criminal case to investigate vandalism of a memorial in honor of 800 local Jews killed in 1942 near the town of Ivianets. Part of the plaque was broken and a swastika was painted on the fence of the memorial. There were no reported developments in the case.
On July 9, local Jewish community members reported that they saw yellow paint on sculptures at the Holocaust memorial called “Yama” (the Pit) dedicated to the Minsk ghetto victims. Authorities opened an investigation after appeals from the National Union of Jewish Communities and Organizations, but no developments were reported.
On September 21, the government signed a cultural heritage agreement that encourages efforts to “ preserve and protect certain cultural properties of all ethnic groups, including the victims of the Nazi genocide.”
In November the country hosted the Conference of European Rabbis. The conference participants discussed cooperation on erecting monuments and other issues with senior officials, including the speaker of the upper chamber of the parliament and the plenipotentiary representative for religious and nationalities affairs.
Local journalists and Jewish activists reported on November 19 that unidentified vandals sprayed black paint on a monument commemorating thousands of Jews who were killed by Nazis in the local ghetto during the Holocaust in Mahilyou. Police reportedly opened a criminal case and on November 22 detained four individuals, who reportedly expressed ultra-right Nazi ideas and belonged to a local skinhead group. Leaders of the local Jewish community cleaned the monument on November 20. The monument had also been defaced in 2012. The police did not convict anyone in 2012, claiming that someone spilled paint by accident.
On November 30, local police in the city of Pinsk opened an investigation into vandalism of a memorial honoring Jewish and Roma victims of the Holocaust as well as commemorating killings of prisoners, partisans and underground fighters by the Nazis in 1941-44. Unidentified vandals painted a swastika on the plaque of the memorial, which was installed on the site of the former Jewish ghetto in central Pinsk.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The law does not specifically prohibit discrimination against persons with physical, sensory, intellectual, or mental disabilities in employment, education, air travel and other transportation, access to health care, and other government services; discrimination was common.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Security is the main government agency responsible for protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The law mandates that transport, residences, and businesses be accessible to persons with disabilities, but few public areas were wheelchair accessible or accessible for hearing and vision-impaired persons. The National Association of Disabled Wheelchair Users estimated that more than 90 percent of persons with physical disabilities were unable to leave their places of residence without assistance and stated their residences were not built to accommodate persons with physical disabilities. While authorities claimed that 30 percent of the country’s total infrastructure was accessible, disability rights organizations considered this figure inflated.
The country’s lack of independent living opportunities left many persons with disabilities no choice but to live in state-run institutions. Approximately 80 such institutions across the country housed more than 10,000 persons. Disability rights organizations reported that the quality of care in these facilities was low, and instances of fundamental human rights violations, harassment, mistreatment, and other abuse were reported. Authorities frequently placed persons with physical and mental disabilities in the same facilities and did not provide either group with specialized care.
Public transportation was free to persons with disabilities, but the majority of subway stations in Minsk and the bus system were not wheelchair accessible. According to government statistics, 5 percent of the country’s public transportation network was accessible.
Disability rights organizations reported difficulty organizing advocacy activities due to impediments to freedom of assembly, censorship, and the government’s unwillingness to register assistance projects (see section 2.b.).
Advocates also noted that persons with disabilities, especially those with vision and hearing disabilities, lacked the ability to address violations of their rights easily and completely since courts often failed to provide access and sign language interpretation. Separately, women with disabilities often faced discrimination with respect to their reproductive rights, and there were reports of authorities attempting to take children away from families in which parents had disabilities, claiming that the parents would not be able to provide appropriate care of their children. In addition, women with disabilities, as well as women, whose children were diagnosed with potential disabilities in utero reported that some doctors insisted they terminate their pregnancies.
Governmental and societal discrimination against Roma persisted. There were also expressions of societal hostility toward proponents of the local national culture, which the government often identified with actors of the democratic opposition, repeatedly labeled by President Lukashenka as “the fifth column.”
Authorities continued to harass the independent and unregistered Union of Poles of Belarus.
Official and societal discrimination continued against the country’s 7,000 (according to the 2009 census) to 60,000 Roma (according to Romani community estimates). The Romani community continued to experience marginalization, various types of discrimination, high unemployment, low levels of education, and lack of access to social services. Generally, Roma hold Belarusian citizenship, but many lacked official government identity documents and refused to obtain them.
An independent survey, conducted by Romani communities and experts of the state-run Center for National Cultures in 2014, estimated that no more than 2 percent of the Roma had university education and that only 17 percent enrolled in vocational training after junior high school. Twelve percent of Roma older than age10 remained illiterate. Only 9 percent of Roma were officially employed. There continued to be isolated reports that non-Romani children and teachers harassed Romani children, which forced Romani families to withdraw their children from schools. The majority of Romani youth did not finish secondary school and failed to enroll in university programs, although the situation continued to improve as more Romani children from mixed families enrolled and obtained bachelor degrees, including in areas outside of Minsk. There were no special school programs for Roma, although there were such programs for Jews, ethnic Lithuanians, and Poles.
In April 2015 the website of the regional newspaper Avangard in Buda-Kashaliova published an article that associated Roma with criminal activities and contained a police warning to residents to report “suspicious activity.” Local activists Maryia Klimovich and Ales Yauseyenka raised concerns about the article through media outlets. In February Klimovich and Yauseyenka appealed to the Ministry of the Interior to stop publication of police accusations that Romani representatives were behind criminal activity. In its March response to the activists, the ministry’s press office dismissed the claims and stated, “the public mention of ethnicity of any criminals did not incite any hatred.” The ministry added, “the negative reaction to such publications could be taken as lobbying interests of the Roma to avoid liability for their criminal activity.”
According to leaders of the Romani communities, security and law enforcement agencies arbitrarily detained, investigated, and harassed Roma, including by forced fingerprinting, maltreatment in detention, and ethnic insults. In March 2015 the Belarusian Helsinki Committee sent an inquiry to the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office, raising their concerns about human rights violations against the Roma and seeking a stop to police discrimination. The agencies reportedly studied cases of maltreatment, and Romani leaders stated the situation continued to improve during the year as authorities took measures to prevent discrimination and worked closely with Romani “mediators” to integrate marginalized community members.
While the Russian and Belarusian languages have equal legal status, Russian was the primary language of government. According to independent polling, the overwhelming majority of the population spoke Russian as their mother tongue. Because the government viewed many proponents of the Belarusian language as political opponents, authorities continued to harass and intimidate academic and cultural groups that sought to promote Belarusian and routinely rejected proposals to widen use of the language, although the situation improved before year’s end.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
Consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults is not illegal, but discrimination against LGBTI persons was widespread, and harassment occurred.
Due to egregious official harassment of the LGBTI community, groups opted for holding private activities and events. LGBTI groups did not seek permission from authorities to hold any public events. Mikhail Pishcheuski, a gay man who was harassed and severely beaten as he left a club in Minsk in 2014, died from his injuries in October 2015. The main perpetrator of the assault, Dzmitry Lukashevich, was convicted of hooliganism and inflicting severe bodily harm in 2014 and was sentenced to two years and eight months in prison. Although Lukashevich was released as part of the government’s amnesty program in September 2015, ultimately serving only 11 months in prison, prosecutors reopened a criminal case against him after Pishcheuski’s death on the charges of negligent homicide and hooliganism. A Minsk district court sentenced him to three years in prison on July 28. Pishcheuski’s mother, sister, and brother, also sued Lukashevich for damages totaling 210,000 rubles ($100,000), but the judge reduced the damages to 21,000 rubles ($10,000) total, noting that Lukashevich would not be capable of paying such a large sum.
On June 10, a regional court in Homyel convicted 11 young men of beating and abusing a gay man in May 2015. Ten of them were charged with hooliganism and received suspended sentences, and one of the abusers, who had a previous criminal record, was jailed for four years and two months. The 11 men,, calling themselves “anti-pedophile” activists, lured the 27-year-old victim into an apartment, beat him, undressed him, painted a swastika and explicit language on his body, and forced him to walk outside naked.
In a conviction on February 10, a Minsk district court sentenced a man to two years of restricted freedom (similar to partial house arrest) and ordered him to compensate his victim 500 rubles ($230) in damages for assaulting an LGBTI person because of his sexual orientation. The court based its conviction on an article of criminal code that covers crimes based on hatred “toward a certain social group.” This was the first time this provision of the criminal code had been used to prosecute crimes against LGBTI victims. According to the LGBTI human rights NGO Identity, the defendant contacted the victim on an LGBTI-focused social network website and later met the victim in November 2015. The defendant questioned the victim to confirm the latter was gay and then hit him several times, stole his cell phone and some cash, and threatened to post a video of the beating unless the victim changed his sexual orientation. The defendant admitted to authorities that he had been “hunting” for LGBTI individuals online, with the goal of forcing them to change their sexual identities. Independent human rights groups welcomed the verdict.
Societal discrimination against LGBTI activists persisted with the tacit support of the regime. The police continued to mistreat LGBTI persons and refused to investigate crimes against LGBTI persons. A number of individuals filed complaints, but police refused to open investigations during the year.
The government does not provide transgender persons with new national identification numbers, which include a digit that signifies gender. Transgender persons reportedly have been refused jobs when potential employers note the “discrepancy” between the identification number and the stated gender of the applicant. Banks also refused to open accounts for transgender persons on the same grounds.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Societal discrimination against persons with HIV/AIDS remained a problem, and the illness carried a heavy social stigma. The Joint UN Program on HIV/AIDS reported there were numerous reports of HIV-infected individuals who faced discrimination, especially at workplaces and during job interviews.
There were also frequent reports of family discrimination against HIV/AIDS-positive relatives, including preventing HIV/AIDS-positive parents from seeing their children or requiring HIV/AIDS-positive family members to use separate dishware. Authorities also reported that a few HIV-positive orphans remained institutionalized due to families’ reluctance to adopt or foster children with HIV/AIDS.
The government continued to broadcast and post public service advertisements raising awareness about HIV/AIDS and calling for greater tolerance toward persons infected with the virus.