A group of Belarusian politicians has introduced legislation that, if passed into law, would prevent citizens from being able to appeal religious freedom cases to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Committee.
The legislation comes six months after the UN Committee ruled in favor of Pentecostal pastor Valentin Borovik, who was charged with illegally starting a religious organization in 2008. The “organization” prosecutors referred to was a 13-person Bible study Borovik led in the western town of Mosty.
At the time, Belarus law only required religious groups numbering more than 20 members to register with the government. But somehow Borovik was convicted and fined nine months’ minimum wages for leading an unregistered religious community.
Borovik appealed several times, but even the country’s Supreme Court refused to overturn his conviction.
“This case exemplifies the difficulties faced by Christians in Belarus,” Mervyn Thomas, founder of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said at the time. “The Belarusian government must be pushed to respect its own laws and international commitments and to allow Belarusians to meet together and practice their faith freely.”
In 2021, Borovik tried one more time and took his case to the UN Human Rights Committee. This past March the UN handed down its decision—Borovik was innocent and the Belarusian government owed him reparations.
“The State party is under an obligation to provide [Borovik] with an effective remedy,” the committee ordered. “This requires it to make full reparation to individuals whose rights under [the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] have been violated. Accordingly, the State party is obligated to, inter alia, provide [Borovik] with adequate compensation, including reimbursement for the fines imposed and for court fees related to the cases in question. The State party is also under an obligation to take all steps necessary to prevent similar violations from occurring in the future, including by reviewing its domestic legislation, regulations and/or practices with a view to ensuring that the rights under article 18 [of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] may be fully enjoyed in the State party.”
But now, Belarus’ parliament is considering withdrawing from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights altogether, meaning Belarusians would not have the right to file appeals with the UN.
Lawyer Natllia Matskevich, who was expelled from the Minsk Bar Association in October after defending opposition leaders and now teaches in neighboring Lithuania, noted that “withdrawal from a universal human rights treaty can be a serious blow to the reputation of the state. Judging by the history of international relations, this situation is extraordinary.”
Human rights groups have also warned that this “will close one of the last remaining opportunities to seek justice for human rights violations.”
The bill is set to be debated by the lower house of parliament this fall. If it is approved by both houses and signed into law, Belarus could withdraw from the international civil rights agreement early next year.
Above: The Government House in Minsk, Belarus, with a statue of Vladimir Lenin, former premier of the Soviet Union, in front.
Photo: Andrey Khrobostov/Alamy