Human Rights

Rights groups file suit against Belarus officials

Published : November 02, 2021 17:00 IST

Fraudulent elections in August last year triggered widespread protests across Belarus. Photo: picture-alliance/AP Photo

A lawsuit has been filed against a group of Belarusian security officials for crimes against humanity.

Two human rights organizations filed a complaint in Germany on November 1 against six members of the Belarusian security service for crimes against humanity. The Geneva-based World Organization Against Torture (OMCT) and the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) accused Belarusian authorities of carrying out mass detentions, torture, disappearances, sexual violence and political persecution.

"There is clear evidence that torture was used intentionally and that it was widespread and systematic, thus reaching the threshold of crimes against humanity," OMCT Secretary-General Gerald Staberock said in the statement.

Why was the lawsuit filed in Germany?

The two groups chose to file their lawsuit in Germany due to its principle of universal jurisdiction, meaning German courts can prosecute crimes against humanity that have been committed anywhere in the world.

"We expect the initiation of preliminary proceedings by the Federal Prosecutor General against those responsible, as there is no foreseeable investigation into these violations of international law in Belarus itself," ECCHR Program Director for international crimes and accountability, Andreas Schüller, said. "Those affected must be able to exercise their rights, and Germany should take a leading role in this. The securing of evidence should also bolster a European approach toward the criminal prosecution, as well as measures within the U.N. framework," he added.

Increasing authoritarianism

The joint statement put out by the two organizations accused Belarus of using violence to bring an end to the anti-government protests that broke out last year following an election — won by longtime dictator Alexander Lukashenko — that was widely considered fraudulent. The statement also seeks to highlight what the two groups see as a "worldwide phenomena, in which authoritarian states work to restrict the public realm of civic action."

The ECCHR brought a similar lawsuit against human rights abuses in Syria which led to arrest warrants for several defendants and an ongoing trial at the Koblenz Higher Regional Court.

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