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Title:  Belarus Human Rights Practices, 1995
Author:  U.S. Department of State 
Date:  March 1996 
 
 
 
 
                             BELARUS 
 
 
Belarus has a constitutional government with executive, legislative, and 
judicial branches.  Since his election as the first President in July 
1994, Aleksandr Lukashenko has steadily amassed power in the executive 
branch.  May parliamentary elections, which international observers 
described as "less than free and fair," failed to elect enough members 
for a quorum.  Repeat parliamentary elections held in December seated 
enough new members for the new legislature to begin deliberations in 
early 1996.  Although the Constitution provides that the old Parliament 
retains its competency until replaced, President Lukashenko described it 
as illegitimate, and refused to work with it, leaving the country 
without an effective legislative body.  The President repeatedly ignored 
limits on the authority of the executive branch, and the frequency and 
scope of his decrees increased as the year progressed.  The President 
exercises executive power and appoints the Cabinet of Ministers and all 
executive heads of the six provinces.  Presidential decrees have the 
force of law, except in those cases restricted by the Constitution and 
Parliament.  A Constitutional Court was established in 1994 to 
adjudicate serious constitutional issues, but has no means to enforce 
its decisions. 
 
The Committee for State Security (KDB) and Ministry of Internal Affairs 
(MVS), both answerable to the President, remained the chief law 
enforcement and police organs.  Special formations of MVS troops on 
occasion used force against members of Parliament, opposition political 
gatherings, and union activities.  The armed forces, which are not 
involved in law enforcement, continue to engage in hazing of recruits as 
it was practiced in the former Soviet Union.  Members of the security 
forces committed numerous human rights abuses. 
 
The economy is still largely state controlled, and it continued its 
steady decline since the breakup of the Soviet Union.  Little 
privatization occurred, but prices on most goods were liberalized and 
subsidies to state enterprises were further cut.  Industry and 
construction employ 40 percent of the labor force, and agriculture 20 
percent.  Major exports include machinery, transport equipment, and 
chemicals. 
 
The government's human rights record worsened markedly as Belarus turned 
back toward Soviet-era authoritarian practices.  The right of citizens 
to change their government was severely limited in the May parliamentary 
elections.  However, as a result of the November and December polling a 
fully functioning Parliament was seated.  Candidates nevertheless were 
hampered by presidential decrees limiting the activity of political 
parties and access to the media.  The security services reportedly still 
closely monitored the activities of opposition politicians and other 
segments of the population.  Security forces reportedly regularly beat 
detainees and prisoners.   
 
Government restrictions on freedom of speech and the press, peaceful 
assembly, religions and movement all increased.  The Government sharply 
curtailed the rights of workers to organize and bargain collectively.  
The judiciary is not independent and has encountered difficulty acting 
as a check on the executive branch and its agents.  Prolonged detention 
and delays in trials were common.  Discrimination in employment and 
domestic violence against 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 political killings.   
 
  b.  Disappearance 
 
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. 
 
  c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or 
Punishment 
 
The Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person and 
specifically prohibits torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading 
punishment.  However, beatings by police and prison guards reportedly 
occurred regularly in detention centers and prisons.  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."  Law enforcement sources as well as 
former detainees report that investigators physically abused detainees 
in order to secure confessions.  Although such behavior is against the 
law, the Government seldom, if ever, punishes people who commit such 
abuses. 
 
In the armed forces hazing, the practice of severe harassment and abuse 
of new draftees by senior soldiers to maintain strict discipline, 
continues unchanged.  Officers do not interfere with the practice.   
 
Conditions in prison hospitals worsened, and the infection rate for 
tuberculosis in the prison population continued to climb.  The MVS's 
single tuberculosis hospital was reportedly overcrowded, and patients 
were crowded into closed cells with little ventilation.  One prisoner 
reported making repeated attempts to seek treatment for tuberculosis, 
but prison health officials allegedly misdiagnosed him on purpose so as 
not to be forced to send him to the already overcrowded hospital.   
 
The Government limited prison visits by international humanitarian 
groups.  The United Kingdom-based group Penal Reform International was 
granted access to a pretrial detention prison near Minsk but was denied 
access to maximum security facilities.   
 
  d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile 
 
Belarus has only slightly amended its Soviet-era law on detention.  The 
Criminal Procedure Code provides that 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's office.  According to judicial sources, 
nearly 90 percent of all arrests are now 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 must 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.  Some detainees 
reported that investigators coerced them to sign statements waiving the 
right to an attorney during interrogation.  The Government has failed to 
budget sufficient funds for defense attorneys to represent the indigent.  
Defense attorneys' fees 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. 
 
The constitutional right of access to counsel and the requirement to 
charge detainees are frequently ignored.  Free Trade Union President 
Gennady Bykov and Member of Parliament Sergei Antonchik were detained on 
August 21 and held incommunicado at an MVS military base for 3 days.  
Bykov and Antonchik, who were held in connection with the Government's 
breakup of a Minsk metro workers' strike, were neither arrested nor 
charged and were denied access to counsel for the period of their 
detention.  The law does not provide for the right to a prompt judicial 
determination of the legality of detention. 
 
Exile is not practiced. 
 
  e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial 
 
The judiciary is not independent and is largely unable to act as a check 
on the executive branch and its agents.  The Supreme Council passed 
legislation to support the independence of the judiciary, but these 
reforms are not scheduled to be implemented until 1996.  Without major 
structural reforms, the independence of the judiciary from outside 
pressure cannot be achieved.  Even the Constitutional Court, which 
according to the Constitution has an autonomous existence, has no means 
of enforcing its decisions.  In December President Lukashenko issued an 
instruction to executive branch agencies that all of his decrees--even 
those struck down by the court as unconstitutional--must continue to be 
obeyed.   
 
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.  The President also appoints the 
chairmen of the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the newly 
created Supreme Economic Court. 
 
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 as it does today.  Judges are dependent on the Ministry 
of Justice for sustaining court infrastructure and on local executive 
branch 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. 
 
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.  On May 22, Procurator-General Vasily 
Sholodonov resigned, following press reports that the President's 
administration held information implicating him in financial misconduct.  
President Lukashenko appointed his successor, whose candidacy had not 
been presented to Parliament for debate by year's end. 
 
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.  However, 
during their August 23 trial, Minsk metro strike organizers were denied 
the right to call witnesses on their behalf.  According to the 
Constitution, the court appoints an attorney for defendants who do not 
have one, but defendants and judges alike report that court-appointed 
lawyers are frequently absent at interrogations and trials. 
 
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 withdraw cases not likely to 
result in conviction. 
 
Both defendants and prosecutors have the right of appeal, and nearly 60 
percent of all criminal cases are appealed.  On appeals, neither 
defendants nor witnesses appear before the court; the court merely 
reviews documents from the lower court's trial, and appeals rarely 
result in reversals of verdicts. 
 
There were no reports of political prisoners. 
 
  f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or 
Correspondence 
 
Electronic monitoring of residences and telephones reportedly continues.  
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 installation.  The Government makes no 
secret of the KDB's activities or capabilities.  On August 30 in a 
televised interview, President Lukashenko boasted of receiving 
intelligence service reports on opposition member of Parliament Gennady 
Karpenko's activities.  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 the Government 
often does not respect this right in practice.  The executive branch of 
government, through the head of the president's chief directorate for 
public information, increased direct suppression of freedom of 
expression through its near total monopoly on the means of production 
and distribution of mass media and through its use of laws on slander.  
A defamation law makes no distinction between private and public persons 
for the purpose of lawsuits for 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 Svaboda was sued four times for publishing material 
critical of the Government.  In late May Svaboda's bank accounts were 
frozen pending payment of a 45 million ruble fine assessed during a 
trial in which the newspaper was not represented.  At year's end, the 
newspaper's official accounts remained frozen, although the newspaper 
has managed to continue publishing.  After pressing criminal charges 
against the newspaper, deputy procurator general Kondratyev sent Svaboda 
an official warning that criticism of government employees in the 
performance of their duties would result in lawsuits and the closing of 
the newspaper.  When Svaboda criticized a judge's decision as "not 
objective" in a case against opposition member of Parliament Sergei 
Antonchik, the judge in the case, Lyubov' Zholnerchik, sued the paper 
for one billion rubles for defamation of character. 
 
Despite the passage of a press law in 1994 prohibiting the existence of 
a press monopoly, the Government maintained a virtual 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 some private newspapers printed in Belarusian and Russian.  
However, in December, on instructions from the Lukashenko 
administration, the monopolist state printing house cancelled the 
contracts of the leading independent newspapers Belorusskaya Delovaya 
Gazeta, Imya, and Svaboda.  The newspapers contracted with a Lithuanian 
printing concern and continue to publish, but the state postal service, 
which distributes all other periodicals to suscribers, refused to 
distribute these newspapers.   
 
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 of the broadcast 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 November President 
Lukashenko attempted to halt broadcasting of television programs 
featuring candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections.  The 
candidate made efforts to obtain air time on other television channels.  
Some succeeded.   
 
President Lukashenko also issued decrees replacing the editors-in-chief 
of the four leading daily newspapers following the former editors' 
attempts to publish excerpts of a sensationalistic December 1994 report 
on corruption within the Lukashenko Government.  According to both the 
press law and the newspapers' charters, the President had no authority 
to take such action.  In the final week before the December 10 round of 
elections, Speaker of the old Parliament Myacheslav Grib sought to 
broadcast an apolitical get-out-the-vote message via state television, 
but was denied air time.  Grib then attempted to broadcast his message 
via two independent Russian television stations which are rebroadcast in 
Belarus.  However, the Ministry of Communications shut down the 
transmitters of these two television stations "for repairs."   
 
The state-owned Belarusian Television and Radio Company (B-TR) runs the 
only nationwide television station and also controls frequencies and 
licenses for all broadcast media.  The B-TR closed Minsk's independent 
Cable Channel 8 for the 3 months leading up to the parliamentary 
elections "for transmitter repairs."  B-TR issued the station a license 
to reopen only after both rounds of elections were over and after 
station management officials agreed to a clause in their contract that 
the station would never broadcast political reporting.  B-TR management 
on one occasion censored the remarks of two foreign  Ambassadors on the 
independently produced television show "Praskpekt," a weekly political 
television newsmagazine broadcast on B-TR.  The independent television 
studio Fit, which produced the program, was informed by B-TR management 
that if it did not censor the program, the B-TR would restrict the 
studio's access for the five other programs it produced for broadcast on 
B-TR. 
 
The observance of academic freedom is mixed.  University students and 
academics alike are free to pursue virtually any course of study or 
research.  After enjoying considerable freedom to develop curriculums in 
the first years following independence, educators are now more 
restrained.   
 
In August, 2 weeks prior to the start of the 1995-96 school year, 
President Lukashenko reportedly signed a decree ordering schools to 
return to Soviet-era textbooks.  The decree claimed that post-Soviet 
textbooks were politicized and required their replacement with Soviet-
era textbooks pending development of new curriculums.  After educators 
and intelligentsia strongly objected to the move, President Lukashenko 
denied having signed the decree.  Moreover, in response to their 
outspoken criticism of the decree, two deputy ministers of education, 
Tatiana Galko and Gennadiy Petrovsky, were fired.  Following these 
actions, educators appear to be less outspoken in pursuit of academic 
reform.   
 
  b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association 
 
The Government restricts freedom of assembly.  The Soviet law on 
demonstrations, which is still valid, requires an application at least 
10 days in advance to local officials.  The local government must 
respond either positively or negatively not later than 5 days prior to 
the scheduled event.  Public demonstrations occurred frequently, but 
always under strict Government control. 
 
On April 12, 16 hunger-striking members of Parliament were beaten by 
masked special police forces as they were forcibly ejected from the 
Parliament hall.  Opposition members of Parliament were protesting the 
President's attempt to push through the legislature language for the May 
14 referendum that they claimed would seriously jeopardize Belarusian 
sovereignty and give him the power to disband Parliament.  In an April 
20 televised press conference, the President warned that political 
groups could expect similar treatment if they incited political 
disturbances during the parliamentary election campaign.  In addition, 
black-bereted special police troops roughly dispersed a small crowd 
which had gathered to protest the ouster outside Minsk's government 
house . 
 
Police used truncheons in an attempt to disperse a crowd in independence 
square on July 27, Belarusian independence day.  Following instructions 
that they claimed came from President Lukashenko, police detained five 
protestors for displaying the former Belarus flag and national emblem.  
(The flag and national emblem had been changed to resemble those of the 
Belarusian Soviet Socialist Republic as a result of a May 14 
referendum.)  After initial attempts to disperse the crowd failed, the 
protesters were allowed, under heavy guard by special police forces, to 
march down Minsk's main street to join a rally in a nearby city park, 
which was not further impeded. 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of association.  By the end of 
1995, there were 36 registered political parties. 
 
  c.  Freedom of Religion 
 
The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government 
generally respects this right in practice.  However, a Cabinet of 
Ministers directive published on July 22 sharply limits the activity of 
foreign religious workers in Belarus.  Citizens are not prohibited from 
proselytizing, but foreign missionaries may not engage in religious 
activities outside the institutions which invited them.  Only religious 
organizations already registered in Belarus may invite foreign clergy.  
This new directive is already beginning to hamper foreign religious 
workers' efforts to proselytize; it seeks to limit them to providing 
humanitarian aid only. 
 
The Cabinet of Ministers regulation is seen as a means of enhancing the 
position of the Orthodox Church with respect to the faster growing Roman 
Catholic and Protestant churches and also as a means of preventing 
nonmainstream religious movements from spreading.  Announcement of the 
new rules was delayed to coincide with a visit from the Patriarch of the 
Russian Orthodox Church.  President Lukashenko has declared the 
preservation and development of Orthodox Christianity a "moral 
necessity."  Fifty Polish Roman Catholic priests were  
 
reportedly denied registration as foreign religious workers.  According 
to the new rules, bishops must receive permission from the State 
Committee on Religious Affairs before transferring a foreign priest to 
another parish. 
 
Some difficulties still exist in transferring church property from state 
control back to the former owners.  Progress involving repatriation of 
former Jewish property has been limited and inconsistent.   
 
  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.  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 citizens 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.  
Government officials report that decisions are based solely on 
availability of housing and few citizens are denied permission to change 
their residence.  However, police checkpoints at the approaches to all 
major cities are often manned by soldiers in full combat gear who 
randomly inspect vehicles.  Citizens who appear to be of Central Asian 
descent report that they are stopped much more frequently than others. 
 
The MVS's law on entry and exit requires those who wish to travel abroad 
to first obtain a "global" exit visa, which is valid from 1 to 5 years.  
Once a traveller has a valid visa, the law does not restrict travel.  
However, Free Trade Union President Gennady Bykov was denied permission 
to leave Belarus on September 6 to attend a union conference in another 
country following his detainment in connection with a Minsk metro 
workers' strike. 
 
On September 7, President Lukashenko issued a decree recalling all 
diplomatic and official passports.  The decree sharply limits the number 
of diplomatic and official passports and requires travellers to receive 
permission from the Government prior to their use.  The Ministry of 
Foreign Affairs claimed that the purpose of the recall is to prevent 
abuse of official status, but opposition members of Parliament claimed 
that the decree is intended to limit travel abroad only to trips 
approved by the executive branch--or even by Lukashenko himself.   
 
According to government data, 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.  Persons who 
have been refused the right to emigrate may appeal to the courts. 
 
On September 12, the Belarus military shot down a gas balloon flying in 
an international race that flew over the border from Poland.  The two 
American crewman were killed.  An international commission is conducting 
an investigation into the incident.  Belarus is cooperating with the 
international commission, of which the U.S. is a part.   
 
The Government cooperates with the United Nations High Commisioner for 
Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees.  
There were no reports of forced expulsion of those having a valid claim 
to refugee status. 
 
Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens to 
Change Their Government 
 
The right of citizens to change their Government was severely limited in 
the May parliamentary elections.  International observers termed the 
elections "less than free and fair," citing inappropriate restrictions 
on campaigning and limits on the activity of political parties.  The 
executive branch also influenced the outcome of the elections through 
its control of the mass media and its smearing of the opposition.  
Voters had limited information about the elections, parties, candidates, 
and their platforms.  Only 119 of 260 seats were filled after the first 
two rounds of elections, far fewer than the two-thirds required for the 
Parliament to begin deliberations, because minimum turnout was not 
achieved.  Repeat elections for the vacant seats were held in December, 
and despite what international observers termed "executive branch 
actions to discourage voter turnout," enough voters took part in 
elections to seat an additional 78 members, exceeding the quorum 
requirement.   
 
Campaign spending in May and in the fall parliamentary voting was 
limited to about $50 (600,000 Belarusian rubles), provided by the 
Government, for each candidate.  Political parties were not permitted to 
campaign for candidates, and presidential decrees restricted political 
gatherings and candidates' use of the mass media.  A vicious "smear" 
campaign broadcast on state-run television in the final days of the 
campaign ensured that not a single candidate from the opposition 
Belarusian Popular Front was elected. 
 
Although the Constitution states that the old Parliament retains its 
competence until it is replaced by a new legislature, President 
Lukashenko termed the old Parliament "illegitimate" and refused to 
permit it to take part in the governing of the country.  President 
Lukashenko announced in an October 2 address to the nation that he had 
sent advisers to the provinces to persuade members of Parliament not to 
convene in Minsk the following day.  Those efforts were successful, as 
Parliament was unable to reach a quorum.  Independent press articles 
alleged that strong-arm tactics, such as the threat of losing jobs or 
privileges, kept many parliamentarians home.   
 
There are no legal restrictions on women's participation in politics and 
government.  However, with the exception of the judiciary, social 
barriers to women in politics are strong, and men hold virtually all 
leadership positions.  There are two female ministers in the Lukashenko 
government, the Minister of Health and the Minister of Social Welfare.  
Of the 197 members elected to the new Parliament only 9 are women. 
 
Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights 
 
Human rights monitors reported that the Government presented some 
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.  However, local human rights monitors noted that 
government willingness to discuss human rights problems increased in 
1995, and international organizations were not hindered in visiting 
Belarus. 
 
Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, 
Language, or Social Status 
 
The Law on Citizenship, passed by the Parliament, 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, 
take an oath to support the Constitution, have a legal source of income, 
and have lived in the country for 7 years.  Parliament passed a new Law 
on Immigration and Migration which provides numerical limits on new 
citizens, but failed to budget funds for its implementation. 
 
  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.  Abuse 
of children does not appear to be a general societal problem.   
 
  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.  
When the Government slashed subsidies for most sectors of society, 
however, subsidies for the disabled were largely left in place.   
 
Section 6  Worker Rights 
 
  a.  The Right of Association 
 
The Constitution provides for 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, these rights are not 
generally recognized in practice.  The Government used police and 
imported strikebreakers to break an August strike by Minsk metro 
workers. 
 
The independent trade union movement is 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 and the SPB formed the Congress of Free Trade Unions of Belarus, 
which coordinates the activities of the two largest unions over 16,000 
members and serves as a resource center for the free trade union 
movement. 
 
On January 26, the FTUB staged a 1-day Soviet-style strike in which 
20,000 workers gathered by enterprise, waved Soviet flags, and called 
for a recreation of the Soviet economy with full support for production, 
increased wages, and lower prices. 
 
On August 17, the Minsk metro locals of both the SPB and the FTUB went 
on strike to protest late payment of wages and management's failure to 
abide by the terms of their collective bargaining agreement.  On August 
21, at the President's instruction, 23 striking metro employees were 
detained at gunpoint by special police forces.  Over 60 metro workers 
who continued to support the strike were fired.  SPB trolley bus drivers 
in the southeastern city of Gomel who struck in solidarity with Minsk 
metro workers were also fired. 
 
SPB President Gennady Bykov, Member of Parliament and founding member 
Sergei Antonchik, as well as other metro strike leaders, were detained 
on August 21 for their involvement in the metro strike.  Antonchik was 
released after being held incommunicado for 3 days (despite protection 
from criminal prosecution as a Member of Parliament), and Bykov was 
sentenced to 10 days in jail.  On August 31, President Lukashenko issued 
a decree banning the activities of the SPB and the Minsk metro local of 
the FTUB.  He also rescinded parliamentary immunities in the decree.  
The Constitutional Court ruled in late 1995 that these and other 
presidential decrees are unconstitutional.  President Lukashenko 
instructed the executive branch to ignore this ruling, and the 
activities of the SPB remain sharply restricted.   
 
Unions may freely affiliate with international bodies.   
 
  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.  Workers and independent unions have recourse to the court 
system. 
 
There are no export processing zones.   
 
  c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor 
 
The 1994 Constitution prohibits forced labor, and there were no reports 
that it occurred. 
 
  d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children 
 
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 President's administration sets a minimum wage, which was raised 
once in response to inflation.  On October 1, the monthly minimum wage 
was less than $6 (60,000 Belarusian rubles).  The minimum wage is too 
low to provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. 
 
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.  Workers at many 
heavy machinery plants do not wear even minimal safety gear, such as 
gloves, hard hats, or welding glasses.  A state labor inspectorate 
exists but does not have the authority to enforce compliance, and 
violations are often ignored.  There is no provision in law allowing 
workers to remove themselves from dangerous work without risking their 
jobs.   
 
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[end of document]

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