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TITLE:  BELARUS HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1994
AUTHOR:  U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
DATE:  FEBRUARY 1995




                            BELARUS


On July 10, Belarus elected its first President, Aleksandr 
Lukashenko, who convincingly defeated incumbent Prime Minister 
Vyacheslav Kebich in what international observers generally 
considered to be a free and fair election.  Popular frustration 
with economic conditions contributed to the heavy vote for 
Lukashenko, who ran on a populist, anticorruption platform.

Under the new Constitution, adopted by the Supreme Soviet 
(parliament) in March, the President exercises executive power 
and appoints the Cabinet of Ministers and all executive heads 
of Belarus' six provinces.  Presidential decrees have the force 
of law, except in those cases restricted by the Constitution 
and Parliament.  A Constitutional Court was created and has 
begun to adjudicate serious constitutional issues.

The Committee for State Security (KDB) and Ministry of Internal 
Affairs (MVS), both organs answerable to the President, 
remained the chief law enforcement and police organs.  Although 
the security services reportedly still monitored closely the 
population's activities, they reduced overt interference in the 
private lives of citizens.  However, special formations of MVS 
troops intimidated some opposition gatherings, and police 
reportedly used excessive force on detainees.  The armed forces,
which are not involved in law enforcement, continue the practice
of hazing as it was practiced in the former Soviet Union.

Belarus' economy is still largely state controlled; however, 
the Lukashenko administration freed prices of most goods and 
cut subsidies to many state industries.  Little privatization 
has occurred thus far, and foreign trade is still oriented 
towards other parts of the former Soviet Union.  Industry and 
construction employ 40 percent of the labor force, and 
agriculture 20 percent.  Major exports include machinery, 
transport equipment, and chemicals.

Belarus' transition from Soviet-era authoritarian institutions 
toward fully democratic ones remains uneven, and human rights 
abuses continue.  The presidential election, as noted, was free 
and fair, but the judiciary is not independent and is unable to 
act as a check on the executive branch and its agents.  Police 
and prison officials regularly beat detainees and inmates 
without fear of punishment, and prison facilities are 
substandard and dangerous to inmates' health.  The Government 
continued to restrict freedom of speech and press, peaceful 
assembly, religion, and movement to varying degrees, and to 
impede the formation of independent trade unions.  
Discrimination and violence toward women remained significant 
problems.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of politically motivated killings.

     b.  Disappearance

On January 15, members of the Lithuanian security services, who 
reportedly acted in collusion with the Belarusian MVS, abducted 
in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, where they had been visiting, 
two Lithuanians wanted by Lithuanian authorities for their 
alleged involvement in the January 1991 coup attempt in 
Vilnius, Lithuania.  The pair were transported to Lithuania, 
reportedly without permission from the Belarusian Procurator 
General's office and in apparent violation of the bilateral 
extradition treaty between Lithuania and Belarus.

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

The new Constitution provides for the inviolability of the 
person, and specifically prohibits torture, as well as cruel, 
inhuman, or degrading punishment.  Law enforcement and prison 
officials may use physical force against detainees and 
prisoners if the latter are violent, have refused to obey the 
instructions of the prison administration, or have "maliciously 
violated the terms of their sentences."  Beatings by police and 
prison guards reportedly were regular occurrences in detention 
centers and prisons.  Although such behavior is against the 
law, the Government seldom, if ever, punishes people who commit 
such abuses.

In the armed forces, the practice of hazing new recruits 
continues unchanged.  Hazing, or dedovshchina, is the practice 
of severe harassment and abuse of new draftees by senior 
soldiers to maintain strict discipline.  Officers do not 
interfere with the practice, since it precludes them from 
having to become involved in disciplining troops.

Conditions in prison hospitals near Brest and Orsha were 
substandard.  Prisoners with tuberculosis were crowded into 
closed cells with little ventilation.  Extreme overcrowding in 
the tuberculosis hospital near Brest prevented prisoners from 
avoiding the disease.  A women's prison near Orsha suffered an 
outbreak of dysentery, which spread throughout the camp.

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Belarus has only slightly amended its Soviet-era law on 
detentions.  The Criminal Procedure Code provides that police 
authorities may detain a person suspected of a crime for 3 days 
without a warrant.  This period may be extended for up to 10 
days, pending further investigation of a crime.  On the basis 
of a local prosecutor's authority, detainees may be kept in 
pretrial detention for up to 3 months.  Regional and republic-
level prosecutors may request extensions up to a maximum of 
18 months.  The law permits citizens to appeal the legality of 
an arrest either to the court or to the prosecutor.  According 
to judicial sources, nearly 60 percent of arrests are contested.

By law, a judge must initiate a trial within 3 weeks from the 
time charges are filed.  However, the overloaded court system 
often does not meet this requirement, and months may pass 
before a defendant is finally brought to court.

Detainees may be allowed unlimited access to their legal 
counsel, and, according to the new Constitution, if they cannot 
afford counsel, a lawyer will be appointed free of charge.  
However, prisoners and lawyers alike report restrictions on 
consultations, and investigators may prohibit consultations 
between a lawyer and a client.  The Government has failed to 
budget sufficient funds for defense attorneys representing the 
indigent.  Defense attorneys' fees also are prohibitively 
expensive for many defendants.  Since there are no legal 
provisions for bail and because there is no effective judicial 
oversight of prosecutors' actions, pretrial detention has in 
some instances lasted longer than 2 years.

Exile is not practiced.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

The criminal justice system, following the former Soviet model, 
has three tiers:  district courts, regional courts, and the 
Supreme Court.  Several modifications have been made, brought 
about by passage of the new Constitution, including direct 
presidential appointment of all local-level and military judges.

Parliament selects judges for republic-level courts on the 
basis of recommendations from the Ministry of Justice, based in 
part on examination results.  However, many current judges and 
prosecutors were appointed in Soviet times when political 
influence pervaded the criminal justice system.  Judges are 
dependent on the Ministry of Justice for sustaining the court 
infrastructure, and on local officials for providing their 
personal housing.  Organized crime has had a significant impact 
on court decisions.  There have been reports of judges granting 
lenient sentences to "connected" defendants.  Without further 
major structural reforms, the independence of the judiciary 
from outside pressure cannot be realized.

Prosecutors, like the courts, are organized into offices at the 
district, regional, and republic levels.  They are ultimately 
responsible to, and serve at the pleasure of, the Procurator 
General, who is appointed by Parliament.  Prosecutors as a rule 
are very influential because they supervise all criminal 
investigations and because court proceedings are not conducted 
in an adversarial manner.  Moreover, courts are still extremely 
deferential to prosecutors' actions, petitions, and conclusions.

Trials are generally public, although they may be closed on 
grounds of national security.  Defendants have the right to 
attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on 
their own behalf.  The court appoints an attorney for 
defendants who do not have one.

While the Constitution establishes a presumption of innocence, 
conviction rates have not changed from the Soviet era.  Nearly 
99 percent of completed cases result in convictions.  Judges 
frequently send cases unlikely to end in convictions back to 
the prosecutor for "additional investigation," and prosecutors 
also withdraw cases not likely to result in conviction.

Both defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal.  On 
appeals, neither defendants nor witnesses appear before the 
court; the court merely reviews the protocol and other 
documents from the lower court's trial.  Less than 4 percent of 
cases in one province were overturned.

There were no known political prisoners.

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

Electronic monitoring of residences and telephones reportedly 
continued.  The KDB, the MVS, and certain border guard 
detachments have the right to request permission to install 
wiretaps but must legally obtain a prosecutor's permission 
before installing it.  Except in cases of pursuit, a 
prosecutorial search warrant is needed in order to enter a 
private home.

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech, but it is not 
observed in practice.  The executive branch of government 
continued to use laws on slander to suppress freedom of speech, 
particularly criticism of its policies and of government 
officials.  The defamation law makes no distinction between 
private and public persons for the purposes of lawsuits on 
defamation of character.  A public figure who has been 
criticized for poor performance in office may ask a public 
prosecutor to sue the newspaper that printed the criticism.  
The newspaper Femida was sued for printing the text of deputy 
Evgeniy Novikov's speech in Parliament.  Although Novikov was a 
deputy speaking from the Parliament's podium, the procurator 
said that Novikov was expressing a personal opinion at the time 
and that the newspaper was liable for printing slander.

Galina Naumchik was sued for printing an interview with Novikov 
in the newspaper Dobryj Vecher.  Novikov was also sued for his 
remarks.  Prime Minister Kebich's security advisor, Gennadiy 
Danilov, successfully sued publications that had printed 
accounts critical of his activities and was awarded about $500 
(5 million rubles).

Despite the passage of a press law in 1994 prohibiting the 
existence of a press monopoly, the Government maintained a 
virtual economic monopoly over the press since it owns nearly 
all printing and broadcasting facilities and manages the 
distribution of all print media through official outlets.  
There are, however, some private newspapers printed in 
Belarusian and Russian.

The Government's direction of the issuance of radio frequencies 
and cable television licenses and the registration of radio 
stations, as well as its ownership of the country's only 
broadcast television station, amount essentially to complete 
control over the media.  All mass media must register with the 
Government, which can use the registration requirements as an 
instrument of censorship since it can revoke registration at 
any time.  This absence of independence encourages editors to 
practice self-censorship.

In March the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied accreditation 
for Aleksandr Starinkevich, Belarusian correspondent for the 
Russian newspaper Izvestia.  Izvestia, widely read by elite 
Belarusians, was carrying critical reports concerning a 
proposed monetary union with Russia.  In May, 17 journalists 
protesting the Ministry's decision signed an appeal which was 
published in the parliamentary newspaper Narodnaya Gazeta.  The 
incoming Lukashenko Government later approved Starinkevich's 
accreditation.

President Lukashenko said he supports a free press as long as 
it is responsible and helps his presidency.  During the first 
round of presidential elections, the government of Prime 
Minister Kebich tried to stop the printing and distribution of 
the opposition newspaper Svabada, which printed articles 
critical of the incumbent Prime Minister, and closed two radio 
stations which criticized him.  The free trade union newspaper 
Svobodnyj Profsoyuz also had difficulty in getting its editions 
printed on a regular basis.

On November 25, Belarus declared two Turkish diplomats persona 
non grata, accusing them of activities not in accordance with 
their diplomatic duties.  In connection with this activity, two 
Belarusian journalists were detained at KDB headquarters and 
questioned, one for 4 hours, and the other for 5 hours.  
Although they were released without being charged, they were 
warned that providing "sensitive" information to foreign 
diplomats for a fee could carry criminal penalities.

Belarusian newspapers were prevented from publishing the text 
of a sensationalist report delivered on December 20 in open 
session of Parliament by deputy Sergei Antonchik, who accused 
members of the Lukashenko Government of corruption.  The text 
of the report was excised from the newpapers during 
typesetting, and the papers were published with blank columns 
where the Antonchik report was to have been printed.  
Subsequently, the Government canceled the printing contracts of 
eight major independent newspapers, causing them to cease 
publication for the remainder of the year.  The Lukashenko 
Government asserted that since these newspapers received state 
subsidies, they were not part of the free press and were 
subject to state control.  Igor Ossinsky, the editor of 
Sovietskaya Belorussia, which first attempted to print the 
report, was removed from his position by Presidential decree on 
December 23.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Soviet law on demonstrations, which is still valid, 
requires an application at least 10 days in advance to local 
officials.  They must respond either positively or negatively 
not later than 5 days prior to the scheduled event.  Public 
demonstrations occurred frequently.  A march by strikers in 
February proceeded without incident despite very heavy police 
presence in the streets of Minsk.  During Victory Day 
celebrations in July, formations of special "Omon" police 
forces physically prevented members of the opposition 
Belarusian National Front (BNF) from laying wreaths at the 
Minsk victory monument.  The Supreme Soviet Chairman requested 
an investigation into the action, but no results have been made 
public.

On September 8, the BNF held a public demonstration in Minsk to 
commemorate the anniversary of the 1514 battle of Orsha.  
Although it had applied for a permit a month in advance, 
officials denied permission for the rally after all 
preparations had been made.  Since the city council did not 
inform the BNF of the prohibition 5 days before the event as 
required by law, the BNF went ahead with its plans for the 
rally.  Although the police presence was heavy and 
intimidating, the demonstration took place with minimal 
conflict between police and demonstrators.

The Constitution provides for freedom of association.  By the 
end of 1994, the Ministry of Justice had registered 26 
political parties.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

The new Constitution provides for freedom of religion, which is 
generally respected in Belarus, including the freedom to 
proselytize.  Citizens practice the two mainstream religions in 
Belarus--Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism--without any 
interference from the Government.

However, religions which the Government considers to be outside 
the mainstream have had to overcome bureaucratic roadblocks as 
well as explicit prohibition.  The Salvation Army had a 
representative in Minsk from January until July 1994, who 
departed from Minsk claiming that the Government, citing 
Soviet-era laws that prevent social service organizations from 
engaging in religious activities as well as the converse, had 
refused to register the Salvation Army as a religious group.  
One missionary group reportedly circumvented this law by 
claiming that it was a book-study group, even though only one 
book was studied.  Hare Krishna members were accused of being a 
cult, not a religion.  A member of President Lukashenko's staff 
accused them of subverting the youth of Belarus, but opposition 
to their registration was later dropped.

Some difficulties still exist in transferring church property 
from state control back to the former owners.  Minsk's Jewish 
community received a more suitable building for its synagogue, 
although it failed to reacquire the former main synagogue of 
the city which remains the home of the Russian Drama Theater. 

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

According to the Constitution, citizens are free to travel 
within the country and live and work where they wish.  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 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 sources, 
officials based their decisions primarily on the availability 
of housing, with fewer denials than previously.

The MVS' law on entry and exit, which took effect on January 1, 
1994, authorized the issuance to all Belarusians of "global" 
exit visas, good for from 1 to 5 years and valid for travel to 
all countries.  Shortly after the new law took effect, the 
authorities received so many applications for exit visas that 
an enormous clerical backlog ensued.  On March 14, the 
Government temporarily suspended the requirement for exit 
visas, so all citizens who had passports could travel freely.  
This suspension of exit visa requirements was scheduled to end 
on December 31, 1994.

According to data for the first 9 months of the year, no 
citizen was denied permission to emigrate.  Legislation 
restricting emigration by those with access to "state secrets" 
remained in effect, and any citizen involved in a criminal 
investigation was also ineligible to emigrate.  Emigrants who 
have been refused the right to emigrate may appeal to the 
courts.

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

Citizens began to have the right to change their government 
when in July they elected Aleksandr Lukashenko as the first 
President of Belarus for a term of 5 years in generally free 
and fair elections.  Power was transferred peacefully from the 
incumbent Prime Minister to the new President.  Parliamentary 
elections are scheduled for March 1995.  Suffrage is universal 
for all citizens over the age of 18, but participation is not 
mandatory.  Since the Constitution requires that a presidential 
candidate obtain at least 50 percent of the votes cast, two 
rounds were necessary for President Lukashenko to win.  Turnout 
was over 70 percent for both rounds.

The new Constitution outlines the structure of a presidential 
type of government.  The Supreme Soviet (parliament), unchanged 
since 1990, passed three laws in October, granting the 
President authority to reshape the Cabinet of Ministers, to 
redirect the sluggish economy, and to appoint provincial 
governors who, in turn, appoint subordinate officials.  
Previously, governors were directly elected by the voters.

There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in 
politics and government.  However, social barriers to women in 
politics are strong, and men hold virtually all leadership 
positions.  Out of the 360 members of Parliament, 9 are women.  
There are two female ministers in the Lukashenko Government, 
the Minister of Health and the Minister of Social Welfare.

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

Human rights monitors reported that the Government presented 
obstacles when they tried to investigate alleged human rights 
violations.  The Belarusian League of Human Rights, founded in 
1992, reported that the courts continued, on the pretext of 
procedural grounds, to refuse to review its appeals to 
investigate alleged human rights violations.  The League has 
close contacts with a variety of international organizations 
involved in human rights, but its president reported having 
difficulty in obtaining permission to travel outside of Belarus 
to attend international symposia on human rights.

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 who arrived in 
Belarus after that date and wish to become citizens are 
required to submit an application for citizenship, know the 
Belarusian language ("enough for communication"), take an oath 
to support the Constitution, have a legal source of income, and 
have lived in the country for 7 years.  Parliament debated new 
laws on immigration and migration which would provide numerical 
limits on new citizens.

     Women

Although statistics are not available, domestic violence 
against women continues to be a significant problem.  
Knowledgeable sources indicate that police generally are not 
hesitant to enforce laws against violence and that the courts 
are not reluctant to impose sentences.  The problem, according 
to women's groups, is a general reluctance among women to 
report incidents of domestic violence.

The law requires equal wages for equal work, and in practice 
women are paid the same as men.  However, they have 
significantly less opportunity for advancement to the upper 
ranks of management and government.

     Children

The Government is committed to children's welfare and health, 
particularly as related to the consequences of the nuclear 
accident at Chernobyl, and, with the help of foreign donors, 
gives them special attention.  Families with children receive 
government benefits.

     People with Disabilities

A law mandating accessibility to transport, residences, 
businesses, and offices for the disabled came into force in 
1992.  However, facilities, including transport and office 
buildings, often are not accessible to the disabled.  The 
Government, facing a deteriorating economic situation, failed 
to budget sufficient funds to implement these laws.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Constitution upholds the right of workers, except state 
security and military personnel, 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.  However, 
the independent trade union movement in still in its infancy.  
Although several independent trade unions exist, the Belarusian 
branch of the former 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 trade union of 5 million members is not 
considered independent in practice since it often follows 
government orders.

In practice, workers are often automatically inducted into the 
FTUB, and their union dues are deducted from their wages.  
Independent labor leaders believe that the official trade 
unions' control over social functions usually performed by the 
State (such as pension funds) is an obstacle to the growth of 
true, independent trade unions.

The two major independent trade unions are the Free Trade Union 
of Belarus (SPB), and the Belarusian Independent Trade Union 
(BNP).  The BNP (formerly the Independent Miners Union of 
Belarus) and the SPB formed the Congress of Free Trade Unions 
of Belarus, which coordinates the activities of the two largest 
unions' nearly 16,000 members.

No major strikes occurred in 1994.  According to the Chairman 
of the BNP, a number of small-scale strikes did occur, but they 
were not planned.  Government regulations requiring notice of 
at least 100 days in advance of a strike has prevented the 
Congress of Free Trade Unions from acting on a larger scale.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

Legislation dating from the Soviet era 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 N.A. Grinchik, the full-time union chairman at 
the Minsk Tranzistor factory, was denied regular access to the 
union offices at the plant.  Police and the plant's management 
reportedly harassed the free trade union leadership, as when 
local free trade union chairman Ramaev was detained for over a 
month while they investigated the alleged embezzlement of 
10,000 rubles (about $1).  When workers at the firm Fondok 
(formerly the Bobruiskdrev Wood Products Plant) chose to change 
allegiance from the official trade union to the free trade 
union, the management continued to deduct union dues from 
workers' wages for the official trade union.  Workers and 
independent unions have recourse to the court system.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1994 Constitution prohibits forced labor, and 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.  With the written 
consent of one parent (or legal guardian), a child of 14 years 
may conclude a labor contract.  Reportedly, the Procurator 
General's office enforces this law effectively.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Supreme Soviet sets a minimum wage, periodically raised in 
response to inflation, which is effectively enforced.  At 
year's end, the monthly minimum wage was $3 (30,000 Belarusian 
rubles).  The minimum wage is too low to provide a decent 
standard of living.

The Labor Code sets a limit of 40 hours of work 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 furloughs due to shortages of raw materials and 
energy and lack of demand for factory output.

The law establishes minimum conditions for workplace safety and 
worker health; however, these standards are often ignored.  A 
State Labor Inspectorate exists but does not have the authority 
to enforce compliance, and violations are often ignored.


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