The ICC must act now in Belarus for justice and accountability

 

On 19th May 2021 International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) the Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) Truth Hounds (TH) and Global Diligence (GD) under Article 15(2) of the Rome Statute made a communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague on “The situation in Belarus/Lithuania/ Poland/ Latvia and Ukraine: Crimes against Humanity of Deportation and Persecution” requesting that the ICC Prosecutor launches an investigation into the situation in Belarus. Belarus Free Theatre supports the filing and Natalia Kaliada is acting as witness to historical oppressions and is advocating for the ICC.

The sixty-six page communication filed to the ICC details present and historical human rights abuses and arbitrary detention which began in earnest in 2006 at Lukashenko’s contested presidential election and which were repeated again in 2010 against anyone who protested against the regime. The communication also states that since June 2020 - just before Belarus’ fraudulent elections took place August 9th - Belarusian law enforcers and state security personnel have arrested over 33,000 people, subjecting them to terror, violent torture, abuse and arbitrary imprisonment. The communication avers that this amounts to a “widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population - in other words -  crimes against humanity.” 

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The statement details that journalists, activists, trade unionists and protestors have been forcibly silenced through intimidation and abuse and torture.  As a consequence civilian displacement has occurred and an estimated 14,000 Belarusians have fled to neighbouring countries such as Lithuania, Poland, Latvia and Ukraine, including six opposition leaders forcibly expelled by the Belarusian authorities. Others have fled fearing imminent arrest or through pressures from the violent, manipulative environment that has been created by the regime. Some have fled in fear of their children’s lives. 

Historical- Natalia Kaliada acting as public witness

The statement also cites historical occurrences of the Belarusian diaspora and witnesses, detailing that the co-directors of BFT, Natalia Kaliada and Nicolai Khalezin, were themselves declared public enemies of Belarus in 2011 whilst they were on tour in NYC, as cited on page 9 in the document. They sought refuge in the UK where they are still based and from where they co-run BFT. Kaliada will be acting as a public witness amongst many anonymous witnesses. There are details concerning the tortures experienced by oppositional candidate Ales Mikhalevich, who was tortured and forced to flee to a neighbouring country in 2010. Details about Natalya Radzina, chief editor of media opposition platform Charter ’97 are also listed - Radzina was charged with organising mass disorder and fled to Russia, Poland and then Lithuania. The filing parties therefore aver that these oppressions amount to crimes against humanity of deportation and persecution.

The communication details that whilst “Belarus is not a state party to the ICC, the ICC has jurisdiction over Rome Statute crimes that take place – at least in part – on the territory of its neighbours: Lithuania, Latvia, Poland and Ukraine” and “Following the precedent set by the ICC in the situation in Myanmar/Bangladesh, the ICC is able to investigate and prosecute the crimes against humanity of deportation and persecution, where civilians are forced to flee to the territory of a State Party.”

Under Article 15(2) of the Rome Statute, non-governmental organisations may provide the prosecutor with further information to deepen his or her understanding of information already received. 

Ryanair Flight FR4978 23rd May 2021

Subsequent to the state-hijacking of Ryanair flight FR4978 at Minsk Airport by Belarusian authorities and the enforced detainment of opposition blogger Roman Protasevich and his partner Sofia Sapega, the filing parties have issued a Supplementary Communication for which Kaliada is also advocating. This is as an EU ban on flights to and from Belarus is currently underway. The filing parties state that the “purpose of this supplementary information is to establish that this reprehensible conduct by the Lukashenko regime: (1) falls within the jurisdiction of the ICC pursuant to Article 12(2)(a) of the ICC Statute and should be considered as part of the Prosecutor’s preliminary examination of the situation in Belarus; and (2) constitutes relevant contextual information that should form part of the Prosecutor’s decision to open a full investigation.”

It is a matter of extreme urgency that the ICC Prosector launches a preliminary investigation into Belarus and the filing parties and Belarus Free Theatre urge the ICC to do so to deter such future conduct from Belarus and its oppressive regime.

A press release issued by BFT, the IPHR, the NHC, TH and GD ends with this request:

asking  “the ICC Prosecutor to open a preliminary examination into the situation in Belarus (and Lithuania, Poland, Latvia, Ukraine) with a view to investigating and prosecuting the alleged crimes. In the absence of a fair and independent judiciary in Belarus, the ICC represents the victim’s best and only chance of obtaining justice and accountability.”