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Department Seal


DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994


Belarus, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 
1991, has yet to hold elections or to approve a new 
constitution.  Belarus' form of government continues to 
parallel closely that of the former Soviet Union.  The Supreme 
Soviet, the legislative branch, is technically the highest 
ruling body of the country; its chairman, Stanislav 
Shushkevich, is considered Head of State.  Most power, however, 
continues to remain in the hands of the Council of Ministers, 
headed by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich.  The Council is the 
executive branch of government, and its decrees have the force 
of law.  It is still dominated by ex-Communist party members, 
as is the Supreme Soviet.  The nationalist Belarusian Popular 
Front (BNF), the principal opposition group, holds less than 10 
percent of the seats in Parliament.  Political parties as such 
have yet to develop as a political force in Belarus.  
Shushkevich is supported by the democratic opposition, 
including the opposition Popular Front, in addition to many 
deputies in the mainstream.  Shushkevich's major source of 
support is his personal popularity among the Belarusian 
people.  Kebich has the support of the "Belarus" faction in 

The Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB), while 
legally under parliamentary supervision, in practice reports to 
the Council of Ministers as well as to the Supreme Soviet.  
Attempts in Parliament in 1993 to restore exclusive Council of 
Ministers' control over the KGB were not successful.  Opponents 
of the Government reported no overt harassment from security 
services in 1993.  Electronic monitoring of residences and 
telephones, however, reportedly continued.  There were no 
reported human rights violations on the part of the military 
with the exception of hazing, which reportedly continues much 
the way it was practiced in the former Soviet Union.

Belarus' economy is in decline.  Many factories cut workweeks 
back to 4 days or less and continued the policy of giving 
workers mandatory unpaid vacations.  The Government continued 
to pursue cautious reform of the state-owned sector with the 
stated aim of developing a "socially oriented market economy."  
Parliament passed additional privatization laws, but the 
executive branch was slow to implement privatization plans.  

Respect for human rights was mixed.  Progress continued in some 
areas but flagged in others.  Although little progress was made 
on political reform, the Government did not attempt to suppress 
political activity.  Freedom of the press was restricted 
through the Government's virtual monopoly over forms of mass 
communication and its desire to limit media criticism of its 
actions.  It controlled the editorial content and policy of the 
largest circulation daily newspapers and of radio and 
television broadcasts.  The Government did honor a longstanding 
request from the opposition for television air time.  In a 
marked contrast to the Soviet era, freedom of religion is 
generally observed, although bureaucratic impediments remain.  
A government dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over its 
status in Belarus (and the status of Polish priests) eased 
somewhat.  The Government, however, still has not recognized 
Archbishop Svyontek, a Belarusian of Polish origin, as the head 
of the Catholic Church in Belarus.  Svyontek had been charged 
in the past by the Government as being an agent of Polish 
agitation, particularly in Western Belarus where Polish 
influence is strong.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including 
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajuridical Killing.

Such killings are not known to have occurred.

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions, disappearances, or secret 

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading 
         Treatment or Punishment

The current Soviet-era Constitution provides for the 
inviolability of the person but contains no explicit ban on 
torture and other degrading forms of punishment.  Police 
beatings were reported in detention centers and prisons.  
Credible sources report that the police severely beat up 
Gennadiy Shpak on March 19, 1993, when they detained him.  The 
use of force is officially sanctioned in some instances.  For 
example, it may be employed on prisoners found harming or 
threatening to harm other prisoners or prison personnel.  The 
Government claims to monitor and keep statistics on the use of 
force by prison guards.  Prison authorities are required to 
report each such use of force by prison guards to the 
Prosecutor General's office.  A medical evaluation of the 
prisoner is also required when force has been used.  

There were continued reports that prison conditions were 
substandard and treatment degrading.  Inhumane prison 
conditions were reported in Grodno, Minsk, and Orsha.  Amnesty 
International observers were officially denied access to the 
Grodno prison in March.  The Government's justification was 
that the visit would provoke chaos and riots in the prison.  A 
vice minister of internal affairs stated publicly that a radio 
broadcast about the prison had at the time created "a very 
complicated situation" in the prison.  He suggested that the 
delegation visit "any other prison but Grodno."

Government officials claim that lack of space remains the chief 
obstacle to improving prison conditions:  the rising crime rate 
means more prisoners, and this fact, coupled with a decaying 
physical plant and local neighborhood movements opposed to the 
construction of new prisons, results in overcrowded prisons.  

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Criminal procedures remain essentially unchanged from those in 
the former Soviet Union.  Persons may be detained arbitrarily 
and without an arrest warrant.  The Criminal Code requires that 
detainees be charged or arrested within 72 hours.  Once 
arrested and charged, defendants often spend many months 
awaiting trial.  At the request of the state prosecutor, a 
detainee may be kept in pretrial detention for up to 3 months.  
This period may be extended at the request of either the 
regional or the state prosecutor for up to a maximum period of 
1 1/2 years.  Detainees may be allowed unlimited visits from 
their legal counsel.  However, there were reports that some 
detainees had difficulty in gaining access to a lawyer.  There 
is no provision for bail, and detainees may not correspond or 
receive family visitors without the express permission of the 
state prosecutor.

Ministry of Internal Affairs' special forces staged a 
large-scale raid on February 5 on the hotel Agat on the 
outskirts of Minsk, allegedly looking for persons involved in 
narcotics dealing and other illicit activity.  Witnesses 
indicated that occupants (including some foreigners) were 
arbitrarily beaten and detained.

Exile is not practiced.  

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system, retaining much of the Soviet structure, has 
three tiers: district, city or oblast (province), and 
republic.  Higher courts serve as appellate courts, but many 
also hear trials in the first instance.

Trials are generally public, although they may be closed on 
grounds of national security.  In practice, however, attendance 
at open trials may be arbitrarily restricted.  Defendants have 
the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and 
present evidence on their behalf.  The court appoints an 
attorney for defendants who do not have one.  Some defendants 
reportedly had difficulty in gaining access to lawyers and 
court materials.  Sergey Golubev, arrested for stealing, was 
denied access to an attorney by an investigator in the 
Pervomaiskiy region of Minsk.  Although technically the burden 
of proof is on the prosecutor, as a practical matter the 
presumption of innocence is not always strictly observed.  

There were no reports of political prisoners in 1993.  

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 

Electronic monitoring of residences and telephones continues.  
A law, revised in 1992, gives the KGB, the Ministry of Internal 
Affairs, and certain border guard detachments the right to 
request permission to install wiretaps.  Permission of a 
prosecutor is legally required before a wiretap may be 
installed.  Except in cases of pursuit, a search warrant, 
issued by the prosecutor, is needed in order to enter a private 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of the press is provided for by existing legislation 
but is not yet fully observed in practice.  

The executive branch of the Government continued to use laws on 
slander to clamp down on criticism of government officials.  
According to the Belarusian League of Human Rights, government 
officials sued Supreme Soviet deputies Evgeniy Novikov, Pavel 
Kholod, and Alexandr Shut for their public criticism of the 

The chairman of the regional council of the Logoisk region, 
Aleksander Kresik, sued Kholod and Shut for a newspaper article 
they published in Narodnaya Gazeta in March 1992 criticizing 
Kresik for corruption in his dealings with local government 
property.  Kholod and Shut claimed that Kresik sold school 
buildings to his friends at prices well below market value.  
The suit was brought in December 1992 and, despite numerous 
hearings in 1993, remained unresolved at year's end.  Both 
opposition party members, Kholod and Shut stated that they feel 
there has been a concentrated effort on the part of the 
Government to single out opposition deputies for such suits.  
They assert only opposition deputies have been objects of such 
legal action.

Novikov was sued by a state enterprise (Belgosstrakh) for his 
disclosures of corruption at this company.  Novikov was fined 
in 1992.  He was subsequently sued in 1993 by the same Judge 
Gorodnicheva who presided over his trial in a personal suit for 
a political statement he made that called into question the 
court's decision in the earlier case.  This case was also 
unresolved at year's end.

A deputy of the Borisov city soviet, Sergey Kolesnik, was 
reportedly fined by the courts for criticism of local executive 
branch officials.  He was sued by deputy Borisov city 
administrator Galina Kuchuk in 1993 for his appeal alleging 
irregularities in the privatization process in Borisov.  The 
suit was eventually dropped.  Subsequently Kolesnik and a group 
of other city-level deputies were sued for a public appeal they 
made in September to Supreme Soviet Chairman Shushkevich about 
corruption in housing in the Borisov city region.  The Chairman 
of the City Executive Council, Stanislav Shidlovskiy, filed 
suit in March, demanding a public apology and 10 million 
rubles.  The court ruled that the deputies must apologize but 
dropped the monetary part of the suit.

The law on the status of people's deputies grants them immunity 
from criminal prosecution but does not protect them from 
prosecution under the Civil Code, of which the slander laws, 
particularly the "Law on Honor and Dignity," are a part.  The 
writer Svetlana Aleksievich was sued under these statutes (with 
reported backing from high-ranking military officials) by a 
group of mothers who lost sons in Afghanistan for her book on 
the Soviet-Afghan war.  Aleksievich wrote about atrocities 
committed by Soviet soldiers during the war.  There were 
actually two suits which were tried concurrently--one brought 
by the mothers and one brought by an Afghan war veteran.  The 
court dismissed the first suit in December.  In the second 
suit, the court ruled that Aleksievich must publish an apology 
in the newspaper (Komsomolskaya Pravda) which originally 
published excerpts of her book.

High-ranking officials also sued the Belarusian correspondent 
of the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Alexandr Starikevich.  A 
court sentenced him in absentia to 15 days in prison for 
failing to appear in court in March.  The court apparently 
ignored Starikevich's written appeal, reportedly submitted 
according to proper procedures, to postpone proceedings by 
4 days.  As a consequence, Starikevich spent much of the year 
in Russia and was forced to hide from Belarusian authorities 
while in Minsk.  Police reportedly made repeated and harassing 
visits to his home in Minsk.

The Government retains a near monopoly on the forms of mass 
communication.  It remained the owner and chief financial 
backer of nine major publications.  There are approximately 30 
newspapers in Belarus completely independent of government 
control.  Most, however, are small and poorly funded.  Of the 
six major daily newspapers, all are at least partially 
government controlled.  The Council of Ministers' information 
division continued to exercise direct control over them, for 
example, by discussing editorial content and policy in meetings 
with government-sponsored newspaper editors.  In one instance, 
the Parliament-sponsored newspaper Narodnaya Gazeta was 
reportedly threatened with loss of its lease in a government 
building for refusing orders to print an interview given by 
Prime Minister Kebich.  All national and most local papers were 
told to publish the article.  Draft legislation to reduce the 
degree of government control over the press failed to win the 
approval of the Supreme Soviet.  A group of independent 
journalists, in an open letter to Prime Minister Kebich, 
claimed they were often not informed of Council of Ministers 
press conferences, while journalists more sympathetic to the 
Government were always invited and given information not 
provided to independent journalists.  The Belarusian 
legislature has given preliminary attention to a draft law on 
the press, which incorporates to a significant degree parts of 
the opposition's original draft law.  The draft law has been 
passed in the first reading, but it still requires a second 
reading before it becomes law.

The State owns all radio and television stations, with the 
exception of a few cable stations that generally do not air 
news programs and are dependent on government-owned 
facilities.  Radio and television generally avoid criticism of 
the Government and its leadership.  The "Nika" news program, 
which sometimes aired the views of government critics, had its 
management changed in 1992; the program took a considerably 
softer line toward the Government in 1993.  Minsk's most 
popular nonstate cable television station, Channel 8, was 
closed by the Government over a registration dispute in 
January.  The Government delayed the reopening of the station 
for most of 1993.  On December 20, the Ministry of 
Communications allowed the station to begin rebroadcasting "on 
a trial basis."  Broadcasts were scheduled to last until 
mid-January 1994 when a reevaluation of the station was 
scheduled to occur.  Other local radio and television stations 
also were closed.  Belarusians continued to receive television 
and radio broadcasts from the Russian Federation, including the 
television station Ostankino from Moscow, and can receive 
British Broadcasting Corporation news once a day over state 
facilities.  In September the State Television-Radio Company of 
Belarus granted the opposition BNF a longstanding request for 
air time.  The BNF received about an hour of television air 
time with no conditions attached.  BNF leaders regularly are 
interviewed on Belarusian radio and somewhat more sporadically 
on Belarusian television.  A partially American-owned religious 
radio station began FM broadcasts in cooperation with a 
Belarusian partner in 1993.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Demonstrations are still governed by the Soviet law on 
demonstrations.  Application to local officials is required 
10 days in advance.  Public demonstrations occurred 
frequently.  Both the BNF and the pro-Communist opposition 
often use Minsk's independence square to demonstrate their 
disagreements with the Government, despite a city government 
ban on demonstrations in that square due, allegedly, to the 
completion of a renewal project.  Political parties--including 
the Communist Party--are allowed to function freely in Belarus, 
as are ethnic and professional organizations.  The ban on the 
Communist Party was lifted in February.  In May the Communist 
Party of Belarus (KPB) merged with the Party of Communists of 
Belarus (PKB) and adopted the latter name.

The Supreme Soviet instituted a ban on political activity in 
the military, including membership by military personnel in 
political parties.  The chairman of the Belarusian Military 
Association (BZV), Nikolay Statkevich, was dishonorably 
discharged from the armed forces for failing to resign from the 
organization he helped found.  The BZV is a "nonpolitical 
patriotic military organization" which attempts to instill 
Belarusian soldiers and officers with a sense of pride in 
Belarusian history, language, and culture.  Statkevich's 
supporters said that he was dismissed for his nationalist 
political views.  Statkevich argued that his organization is 
not a political but a social and professional one.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is generally respected.  A 1992 law on 
freedom of religious beliefs and organizations provides broad 
guarantees for freedom of religion.  Religious organizations 
are allowed to engage in cultural, educational, and charitable 
activities.  However, there is still some bureaucratic 
resistance to religion in general and toward the major churches 
and the Jewish community in particular.

The majority of Belarusians are Eastern Orthodox Christians.  
The Orthodox Church remains formally linked to the Russian 
Orthodox Church and recognizes the primacy of the Moscow 
Patriarch.  Some Belarusian nationalists have criticized the 
Church for being too closely tied to Moscow and not doing 
enough to serve the national interests of Belarus.

The Roman Catholic Church in Belarus claims some 1.5 million 
members, roughly 15 percent of the population.  Relations 
between the Catholic Church and the Government remain strained 
because of the historical association of the Church with 
Poland, which ruled the western part of Belarus as recently as 
1939.  The Government still has not officially recognized 
Archbishop Kazimir Svyontek, a Belarusian of Polish origin, as 
the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus.  In May, however, 
the Government received the first Papal Nuncio to Belarus.  
Belarus' one Catholic seminary, in Grodno, has not been able to 
meet the increasing demand for priests.  As a consequence, over 
90 Polish priests were brought in and are working in Belarus.  

The Government continues to return churches previously 
confiscated by the Soviet government to the Orthodox and Roman 
Catholic Churches.  This slow process, marked by numerous 
property disputes between the Churches and the State and 
between the two Churches, continues.  Organizations that occupy 
what once was church property are also involved.  A sit-in by 
congregation members in a Minsk Catholic church that had become 
a chamber music concert hall failed to resolve the ownership 

In addition to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, 16 other 
religious organizations and sects freely function in Belarus.  
Visits of missionaries from many countries are frequent, and 
religious work is generally unimpeded.  During 1993, however, 
several government officials expressed their concern at the 
growing number of foreign Christian missionaries in Belarus.  
Some Belarusians interpreted frequent Protestant proselytizing 
as harmful to Belarusian national interests.  The Government 
began to require all persons wishing to engage in religious 
work in Belarus to present a formal invitation from a 
Belarusian religious organization in order to receive visas.  
Subsequently, two American Baptist missionaries waited for 
3 months to receive extensions of their visas until they found 
a registered Minsk church willing to sponsor their visit.

Despite occasional bureaucratic difficulties, religious rallies 
were held without interference in conference halls and in 
stadiums, and proselytizing also occurred.  Bibles and other 
religious materials are available for sale in the Belarusian, 
Russian, and Polish languages.

The Jewish community retains concerns over several main 
issues.  The Jewish community is concerned, as are Christian 
churches, with the return of previously confiscated buildings 
and synagogues which have been turned into theaters, 
warehouses, and meeting halls.  Minsk continues to lack an 
adequate building for a synagogue.  Authorities promised to 
return a former synagogue to the Jewish community in Mogilev by 
the end of 1993.  Another concern is the construction of a 
group of apartment buildings on the old Jewish cemetery in 
Pinsk.  Following international protest, government authorities 
ordered local officials to cease construction at the site.  
Major construction was reportedly terminated, although certain 
underground construction for plumbing, electricity, and other 
facilities continued on the buildings already erected.

Government officials, national and local, held a commemoration 
on October 20 of the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the 
Minsk Jewish ghetto.  

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign 
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Soviet procedures remained in effect, at least on paper, for 
many aspects of freedom of movement.  

Belarusian citizens were generally free to travel within the 
country.  However, all adults are still issued internal 
passports, which serve as primary identity documents and are 
required for travel, permanent housing, and hotel registration.

The right to choose one's place of residence, although 
guaranteed by law, remains restricted in practice.  Despite its 
formal abolition by the Soviet government in October 1991, the 
"propiska" (pass) system survives in Belarus.  All Belarusians 
are officially required to register their places of residence 
and may not change them without official permission.  The 
authorities limit the number of residence permits in Minsk and 
the five regional centers of Brest, Grodno, Mogilev, Vitebsk, 
and Gomel.  However, according to government officials and 
other reliable sources, official permission was increasingly 
granted or denied to persons seeking to change their place of 
residence according to the availability of housing, with fewer 
denials than previously.

The Supreme Soviet approved the Interior Ministry's law on 
entry and exit in June.  The law was to come into effect on 
January 1, 1994, and supersedes the 1991 Soviet law on entry 
and exit in force in Belarus during 1993.  The new law 
abolishes the former Soviet requirement of mandatory official 
permission for each trip abroad by authorizing Belarusians to 
receive "global" exit visas good for from 1 to 5 years and 
valid for travel to all countries.  Limited issuance of the 
"global" exit visas began in August but is currently hampered 
by a 1- to 2-month processing period.  Belarusian passports are 
being readied for printing.  Some official passport holders, 
i.e., government officials, are already using the new 
passport.  There are reports that the application process is 
long, with delays of several months reported.  There were no 
reports of unjust or arbitrary refusals.

Emigration from Belarus continued to decline, with fewer people 
applying to emigrate in 1993 than in 1992.  Soviet legislation 
restricting emigration by those with access to "state secrets" 
remained in force.  However, only one would-be emigrant was 
refused an exit visa on grounds of possessing "state secrets," 
as compared to six in 1992, and this person was eventually 
permitted to emigrate to Israel at the end of 1993.  Belarusian 
draft-age men who had not previously received permission to 
travel abroad from the Belarusian military were also officially 
restricted from traveling abroad.  However, there were no cases 
of would-be emigrants refused due to incomplete military 
service in 1993.  

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens 
           to Change Their Government

Political reform in Belarus stagnated in 1993, and the right of 
citizens to change their government, although guaranteed by 
law, remains to be tested in free elections.  The current 
Parliament was chosen for a 5-year term under Soviet election 
rules in 1990.  In theory, voting is secret, and suffrage is 
universal for citizens 18 years of age and older.  In 1992 the 
BNF spearheaded a massive signature-gathering campaign in an 
effort to force a referendum on holding new parliamentary 
elections.  The Supreme Soviet rejected the referendum, 
alleging that both the initiating group and the election 
commission had violated the referendum law.  The opposition 
continued to call for a referendum during 1993, arguing that 
rejection of the referendum undermined the Government's claim 
to legitimacy.

At the same time it rejected the proposed referendum, the 
Supreme Soviet passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the 
passage of a new constitution and the holding of new elections 
in March 1994.  The resolution, however, lacked the force of 
law, and it is unclear whether elections will be held in 1994.  
A draft of the new constitution is under review in the Supreme 
Soviet.  Foreign legal experts, reviewing the document, found 
it significantly inadequate in numerous areas, most notably 
that of citizens' civil and political rights.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women 
in politics and government.  Social barriers to women in 
politics, however, remain fairly strong, and most top 
leadership positions are held by men.  There is one woman in a  
ministerial-level position, and women hold less than 5 percent 
of the seats in the Supreme Soviet.  A number of women do, 
however, hold posts at the vice ministerial level.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

Human rights monitors reported bureaucratic obstacles and 
posturing on the part of the Government when investigating 
alleged human rights violations.  The Belarusian League of 
Human Rights, founded in 1992, reported that the courts refused 
to review appeals from the League on the pretext of procedural 
grounds.  The League has close contacts with a variety of 
international organizations involved in human rights.

Amnesty International visited Belarus in February.  Except for 
the denial of permission to visit Grodno prison (see Section 
1.c.), international organizations were not hindered in making 
visits to Belarus.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, 
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law on citizenship, passed by the Supreme Soviet, grants 
citizenship to any person living permanently on the territory 
of Belarus as of October 19, 1991.  Those coming to Belarus 
after this date and wishing to become a citizen must submit an 
application, know the Belarusian language ("enough for 
communication"), agree to support the Constitution and laws, 
have a legal source of income, and have lived in the country 
for 7 years.  (The 7-year residence requirement is waived for 
those who were previously citizens of the Byelorussian Soviet 
Socialist Republic and for those who are currently in the armed 
forces, who wish to become citizens, and who are prepared to 
take the oath of allegiance to Belarus.)


Statistics are not available on the incidence of violence 
against women.  Some fledgling women's rights organizations are 
attempting to increase awareness of women's issues in the 
country.  Domestic violence against women, often alcohol 
related, continues to be a significant problem in Belarus.  
Knowledgeable sources indicate that police generally are not 
hesitant to enforce laws against violence.  Likewise, the 
courts are not against imposing sentences.  The problem, 
according to women's groups, is a reluctance to report 
incidents of domestic violence.  In addition to the regular 
court system, there are "communal courts" in which women can 
use pressure from friends, neighbors, and coworkers to help 
rectify such situations.  Certain women activists have pointed 
to the existence of discrimination in Belarusian legislation.  
One government decree on the privatization of housing, for 
example, is disadvantageous to women in terms of the amount of 
square footage available to them.


Belarus ratified the international Convention on the Rights of 
the Child in 1993.  Special benefits to families with children 
are considered substantial by local standards.  Children's 
health--particularly as related to the consequences of the 
nuclear accident at Chernobyl--has been a concern of the 
Government which, with the help of foreign donors, has received 
significant funding.

     National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Belarusians account for about 78 percent of the population of 
over 10 million; 13 percent are Russians, 4 percent Poles, 3 
percent Ukrainians, and there are Lithuanians and Jews among 
the remaining 2 percent.  The Belarusian language was made the 
official language, but Russian remains the predominant working 
language, with most of the population speaking Russian at 
home.  The introduction of Belarusian as the mandatory language 
of instruction in schools is being phased in gradually.  A 
movement is under way to make Russian the second official 
language.  The Supreme Soviet adopted a law on national 
minorities in late 1992 which, in addition to forbidding 
discrimination, expressly prohibits officially asking, in 
written or oral form, about a person's nationality.

     People with Disabilities

Facilities in Belarus, including transport and office 
buildings, often are not accessible to the disabled.  A law 
mandating accessibility to transport, residences, businesses, 
and offices for the disabled came into force in late 1992.  A 
multiagency government council is to oversee the implementation 
of these provisions.  The Committee was only recently 
established and has only started its activities.  In addition, 
the law provides various social and material benefits for the 
handicapped.  One advocacy group claimed that the law is not 
being enforced, although other groups say it is still too soon 
to tell how effective the law will be.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The independent trade union movement is still in its infancy.  
Although several independent trade unions exist, the former 
Belarusian branch of the U.S.S.R's All-Union Central Council of 
Trade Unions--currently the Federation of Trade Unions of 
Belarus (FTUB)--is by far the largest trade union 
organization.  This so-called trade union of 5 million members 
is not considered independent in practice since it often 
follows government orders.

The 1992 law on trade unions provides that workers have the 
right to form and join independent unions on a voluntary basis 
and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, 
including the right to strike.  In practice, workers are often 
automatically inducted into the government-affiliated FTUB.  
Independent labor leaders believe that the official trade 
unions' control over social functions (such as pension funds), 
usually performed by the State, is an obstacle to the growth of 
true, independent trade unions.  The independent trade unions 
include the Free Trade Union of Belarus (with about 10,000 
members), the Independent Miners' Union (about 6,000  members), 
the Confederation of Labor (3,000), and the Union of Air 
Traffic Controllers.  In September the Free Trade Union of 
Belarus and the Independent Miners' Union created the Congress 
of Free Trade Unions of Belarus, an organization that intends 
to coordinate the actions of the two largest independent trade 

No major strikes occurred during 1993.  A threatened walk-out 
in June by the FTUB at a factory that produces specialized 
automated production equipment (assembly lines) by special 
order was averted when the Government acceded to the union's 

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Legislation dating from the Soviet period provides for the 
right to organize and bargain collectively.  Since the economy 
is still largely in the hands of the State, unions usually seek 
redress at the political level.

The right to organize and bargain collectively was reportedly 
violated when Evgeniy Vozhik, a worker at the Minsk enterprise 
Elektronika and a FTUB council member, was fired under the 
guise of enterprise layoffs.  According to union activists, 
Vladimir Oichlik of the Ordzhenikidze factory was also 
dismissed for union-related activity under a similar pretext.  
Mikhail Ustinovich was reportedly badly beaten on the shop 
floor of the Bobruysk tire factory for trade union-related 
activism.  The Belarusian law on trade unions (1992) prohibits 
discrimination for trade union activity.  The Labor Code 
includes provisions for reinstatement of an employee (through 
arbitration and then court action) should it be determined that 
the firing was for union-related activity.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While there is no explicit prohibition of forced or compulsory 
labor, it is not known to occur.

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Current labor law establishes 16 years of age as the statutory 
minimum age for employment of children.  In certain cases, such 
as the death of a family's chief wage earner, a 15-year-old may 
seek special permission to assume full-time employment.  
Reportedly, the Procurator General's office enforces this law 

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Supreme Soviet sets a minimum wage, periodically raised in 
response to inflation, which is effectively enforced.  The 
minimum monthly wage is approximately $6 (30,000 Belarusian 
rubles).  With inflation rising rapidly, the minimum wage is 
considered too low to provide a decent standard of living.

The Labor Code sets a limit of 41 hours per week and provides 
for at least one 24-hour rest period per week.  Because of the 
difficult economic situation, an increasing number of workers 
find themselves working considerably less than 40 hours per 
week.  Often factories require workers to take unpaid 
"vacations" due to shortages of raw materials and energy and 
lack of demand for factory output.  

The law establishes minimum conditions of workplace safety and 
worker health; however, these standards are often ignored.  No 
central, effective enforcement mechanism exists.  Factory 
safety brigades report directly to plant management and are 
thus widely considered ineffective.  (###)

[end of document]


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