Belarus crisis: Top UN official concerned over torture allegations

Joanna Kazana-Wisniowiecki, UN Resident Coordinator, has expressed serious concern over allegations of torture and other ill treatment of people, including minors, who were detained after demonstrations connected to elections held on 9 August.

“Torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are absolutely prohibited and can never be justified,” she said in a statement issued late last week.

‘Deeply troubling’ testimonies

While welcoming the release of many detainees on Thursday, Ms. Kazana-Wisniowiecki said testimonies about their treatment in custody are “deeply troubling”, adding that “if confirmed, these reports would point to systemic problems in the management and oversight of detention facilities in Belarus.”

Thousands of people were arrested in protests that erupted across Belarus after preliminary results for the election showed President Alexander Lukashenko had secured a majority of the votes, giving him a sixth term in power.

UN reactions and recommendations

Senior UN officials have been monitoring the ongoing situation.

On Friday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said torture allegations must be investigated, while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, earlier condemned the violent response to the demonstrations.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Violence against Children has also expressed deep concern over the torture and mistreatment allegations.

Najat Maalla M’jid recounted a “particularly shocking” case in which a 16-year-old boy was allegedly beaten while in detention, resulting in brain injuries. The teenager reportedly was hospitalized and put in an induced coma but has since regained consciousness.

“Special Representative Maalla M’jid welcomes the release of a large number of detainees on the night of 13 August, but recalls that detention of children should only be used as a measure of last resort, for the shortest period possible and that legal support should be provided to all children in contact with the justice system”, according to a statement issued on Friday.

Assistance and access

The UN Resident Coordinator has requested an urgent meeting with Belarus’s Minister of Interior to discuss human rights concerns and to offer broader UN support and other assistance, according to the statement.

Ms. Kazana-Wisniowiecki has also requested that the UN visit two detention facilities in the capital, Minsk, to see conditions there.

The authorities also are urged to take immediate measures to prevent any instances of torture or other ill treatment in detention.

Support and accountability

Meanwhile, detainees and those released from custody should receive adequate medical care, including rehabilitation and psychosocial support, she added.

The specific needs of children and young victims of torture or other ill treatment, or who have witnessed violence, also should be addressed.

“As we receive increasing numbers of reports of torture and other ill-treatment, it will be important to ensure that when possible these are well documented, also to allow for the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation of and future accountability for such acts,” said Ms. Kazana-Wisniowiecki.

“Timely medical examinations will be crucial in this regard, alongside the important work of human rights organizations gathering information on these cases”.