Belarus

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Persistent violations
  • Trafficking of women and girls for the purpose of sexual exploitation [1]
  • Belarus does not have a specialised justice system for children [2]
  • Lack of freedom of expression and association [3]
  • Discrimination against Roma children [4]
  • Children's health continues to suffer from the effects of Chernobyl [5]
  • Persistence of corporal punishment in a number of spheres [6]
  • The high number of children without parental care and the lack of support for parents in child-rearing to prevent separation [7]
  • The high incidence of sexually transmitted infections, HIV, and the high rate of abortions [8]

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Footnotes
  1. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Universal Periodic Review
  2. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, UN Special Rapporteur for Belarus, Universal Periodic Review
  3. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Special Rapporteur for Belarus
  4. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Special Rapporteur for Belarus, Universal Periodic Review
  5. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Universal Periodic Review
  6. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Universal Periodic Review
  7. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women, Universal Periodic Review
  8. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women



Introduction

Belarus is a landlocked country in eastern Europe. Commonly labelled “Europe’s last dictatorship”, the State has virtually no political opposition and has been under the authoritarian leadership of Alexander Lukashenko since 1994. Belarus is the only country in Europe that still endorses the death penalty, and has been widely criticised for its restrictions on freedom of expression and association.


Geography

The Republic of Belarus was established in 1991 after the fall of the Soviet Union but its current borders date from after the Second World War. It is a landlocked country that shares borders with Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. The country's capital is Minsk.


Population and Language

The population of the country is 9.5 million. Almost 84 per cent of the population is Belarusian and the rest is made up of minorities from neighbouring countries. Belarusian and Russian are the official languages.


History and Politics

Brought together by the events of the twentieth century, the territories of Belarus were historically attached to many of its neighbours. After an abortive attempt to form an independent nation at the end of the First World War, the modern state arguably stems from the successor Soviet Socialist Republic created in 1919. After industrialising rapidly during the 1920s and 1930s, Belarus was devastated by the German occupation during the Second World War, with mosts its cities and industry eradicated and suffering such high casualties that the population would not recover until the 1970s. Soviet attempts to dilute or Russify the national character intensified after the war, usually to the disadvantage of the local population. In 1986, Belarus suffered significant environmental impact from the Chernobyl disaster in neighbouring Ukraine, severely affecting the environment and health of some of the population. The fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 initially brought hopes for a more democratic order. The new constitution, however, gave significant powers to the Presidency and the winner of the 1994 elections has exploited these to stay in office ever since.

Belarus today is an effectively non-democratic presidential republic headed since 1994 by Alexander Lukashenko. The third election keeping Lukashenko in power in 2006 was described by observers as fundamentally flawed. His regime is authoritarian and quick to suppress dissent. There is virtually no political opposition and no free media, the country is internationally isolated.


Economy

Unlike other former Soviet countries, Belarus’s economy never underwent a transition to a market economy. Belarus’s main industries are metallurgy and mechanical engineering, truck and tractor factories. Its main agricultural products are grain and potatoes. It is a centrally directed economy. In 2010, the unemployment rate was around 0.9 per cent, one of the lowest in the world [1]. However, the country is suffering a serious balance of payments crisis, with 36 per cent devaluation of the local currency (the rouble) and inflation reported in June 2011[2]

There is very little foreign investment in the country. Russia is Belarus’s main business partner. Pipelines to Europe travel across the territory of Belarus making supply of energy to the European Union vulnerable to clashes between Russia and Belarus.


Media and Civil Society

The State is regularly described as the 'last dictatorship in Europe'. However, Lukashenko's grip on power looks to be wavering. Large scale protests held in the context of the presidential elections in December 2010 were brutally repressed but nevertheless, in June 2011, more than 1,000 people defied a ban on holding a silent protest in the country's capital against the economic crisis.[3]

Belarus ranked 157th out of 179 in Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index 2013.[4]

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has expressed concern about the barriers to the work of civil society organisations, including high registration fees. Furthermore, article 193 of the Criminal Code criminalises persons working for an unregistered NGO.[5]


Human Rights and Children's Rights

Belarus is the only European country which continues to endorse the death penalty, although recent discussions about a moratorium have taken place with the Council of Europe.

In terms of children's rights, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has also expressed concerns that children's right to freedom of association is not guaranteed in practice. This became evident in December 2010, when a number of children were detained for their role in the demonstrations taking place in the context of the presidential elections.[6]

Children in Belarus have also experienced health problems as a result of the Chernobyl disaster. Although Chernobyl is in the Ukraine, 70 per cent of the radioactive fallout from the disaster fell on one quarter of Belarus' territory[7] with catastrophic consequences for the health, agriculture and economy of the region and its inhabitants, who include 500,000 children, among whom there is a high incidence of thyroid cancer.

Footnotes

  1. UNICEF, “Education in Belarus”, Country Profile 2010, p.1
  2. BBC, "Belarus Lukashenko: Hundreds defy protest ban in Minsk", 16 June 2011
  3. BBC, "Belarus Lukashenko: Hundreds defy protest ban in Minsk", 16 June 2011
  4. Reporters Without Borders, "Press Freedom Index 2013"
  5. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations to Belarus, February 2011, paragraph 23
  6. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations to Belarus, February 2011, paragraph 35
  7. The United Nations and Chernobyl: The Republic of Belarus

Sources:


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