A group of police officers is lined up behind barbed wire. A group of police officers is lined up behind barbed wire.
Democracy and human rights

"Human rights are not an internal affair"

Youth organizations also affected by repression in Belarus

In Belarus the repression by the Lukashenko regime is increasing. More than 10,000 people have now been arrested and sentenced in questionable trials. There are alarming cases of rape, severe beatings to force disclosure of personal data from mobile phones, and reports of torture in prisons. This also affects the activists of youth organisations. Lavon Marozau is an international law attorney and the international secretary of RADA, the umbrella organisation of independent youth organisations in Belarus. IJAB spoke to him about the current situation.

21.09.2020 / Christian Herrmann

ijab.de: Lavon, what are you responsible for as RADA's international secretary?

Lavon Marozau: I take care of our international contacts and those of our member organisations. This also includes our membership in the European Youth Forum and participation in the round table talks between the EU and Belarus. An important focus of RADA is the human rights situation in Belarus. RADA reported on youth rights to the UN Human Rights Council. In October 2020 I will personally present the Universal Periodic Review – UPR – on behalf of the RADA team. [The Universal Periodic Review is used to review the human rights situation in the UN member states at regular intervals. Editor's note] This year we have developed a resolution against the death penalty in Belarus and will present it to the European Youth Forum.

ijab.de: Thousands of people have been arrested in connection with the protests against the fake presidential election in Belarus. Has that affected RADA and its member organizations as well?

Lavon Marozau: Yes, Irina Sukhy is a member of Ecohome. She is the founder and leader of the environmental movement in Belarus, an outstanding representative of Belarus' civil society. Her organisation Ecohome is one of our member organisations. Irina was arrested and sentenced to prison. She is now free again. Stanislava Gusakova – a board member of RADA from 2017 to 2019 – was also arrested and sentenced to prison. She was released today. One of our current board members, Uladzimer Bulauski, was also arrested and sentenced. We do not yet know the details of his trial, but we will follow the trials and report on our website whether they were fair or not. Our experience so far tells us: These court hearings are a circus, but nothing that has anything to do with international legal standards. Other activists from our affiliates are also affected by the arrests.

ijab.de: State propaganda and Lukashenko say the protests are controlled from abroad. Sometimes Poland, Lithuania, Germany, the EU or NATO are mentioned. Are you as an organisation that has many contacts in western countries in particular danger?

Lavon Marozau: We laugh at such reports. It's time the president got a new scriptwriter. We already know these propaganda stories from all elections. There is constant talk of influence from abroad. Sometimes it's Russian mercenaries, sometimes it's Ukrainian nationalists who are said to be involved. Only people who trust state television can believe that. But people have long had access to other news sources through the Internet. We're talking about a Telegram revolution. [Telegram is a popular messenger service. Editor's note]
Yes, of course we are scared. When I report on human rights, for example the fact that we still have the death penalty here, I feel like an enemy of the state. I worked as a lecturer in human rights and international law at one of the universities of Belarus, was regularly attended by the KGB and eventually lost my job. Now I sometimes teach international law abroad. When I talk to the university administration, I feel like an enemy of the state. That is absurd. We have a situation here like in George Orwell's books.

ijab.de: What has to change in international relations in the near future?

Lavon Marozau: We need more effective EU measures. The EU must clearly identify human rights violations and respond to the crimes that are being committed here. We call for an end to the official partnerships. We also need economic support. Putin recently paid Lukashenko 1.5 billion to save his regime. But Putin is not Superman either and cannot just buy the country. It is essential to set up an international commission to investigate all cases of torture, ill-treatment and murder in Belarus.
We need a visa-free regime for those arrested and tortured. The world needs to understand that human rights are not a country's internal affair. The world must talk openly about what is happening here and not watch Belarus develop into a second Yugoslavia or a second Ukraine.

ijab.de: What can the civil society in Europe, in Germany, do to support you?

Lavon Marozau: We have good relations with Europe and Germany. Nevertheless, our relationships with youth organizations could be closer and we would be happy to see more joint projects.
Many people don't understand how we are living here right now. The police can come at 5 a.m. – without uniform or ID – and arrest us. I know many people who swallow pills or drink alcohol just to get any sleep. Please don't always ask us what you can do. We have our hands full here, raising money, paying fines at trial, or talking to lawyers. Just do something! You can send protest letters to the embassies of Belarus in your countries. You can report what is happening in the media you have. We feel your support! See you in a free and democratic Belarus!

Ein junger Mann spricht in ein Mikrofon
About democracy and human rights

IJAB understands international youth work and youth policy cooperation as contributors towards a strong civil society, a democratic polity, and greater social justice.