Raisa Mikhailovskaya: "We are gathering documents
Our work is to gather documented information about rights violations of citizens. It is neither somebody's sentiments, nor recollections, nor somebody's reflection - only legal materials.
- The name itself - The Documentation Center - suggests collection of numerous documents from various fields of activity. One would think it's quite boring, if you see the documents as pieces of paper that are stored "for the sake of history". Why are you gathering all these materials and is there any issue-related restriction?
- There are already about 20 thousand documents in our database. There are no theme-based limitations, the only thing we are interested in is that the document must prove rights abuse relating to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. I wouldn't call these "pieces of paper" boring. Many our materials don't have an open profile, but they are so amazing that one will make movies and write articles based on them one day. And when the button Contact us starts functioning on the BDC website, new and "fresh" stories will appear.
- Why do you think people will start sending you their documents?
- Because we are ready to disclose all cases of violations of their rights on the ground. What is more, we are going to do it making use of modern information technologies, info-graphics. Eventually we will create 'a visual aid' - a map of human rights violations in Belarus with the names of all officials, civil servants accessory to these violations (if there is documentary evidence). The information about them will also be stored in our registries. The violations in the country are so numerous that I don't doubt that the map of Belarus will be full of information! It is very important for the transformation of psychology of an average Belarusian. In general, at first our people usually resent, then get offended and then throw in the towel. And almost in any case they are afraid of messing with the officials. We must repeat it over and over again, that there is the law, inform us about violations, get in our website, send your legal documents! Only this way you can make officials on all levels to keep the Law.
- Why would "an average Belarusian" need this?
Firstly, it's needed for the history. Secondly, for publicity. Our officials are not afraid of people, but they are scared of their superiors, and together they are afraid of publicity. Why do Western authorities much more seldom act against the law? Because there it easily becomes known and influences public opinion. With all that it entails. Gradually it became normal there - you mustn't violate the law. And here you can, because no one, apart from the person aggrieved, will know and undertake anything.
If the official who has broken the law knows that a document with their signature recording his act related to some citizen will be published and the case will remain in history (will be added to the map of violations and to the registry), they will think twice before signing it. This will not happen at once, but I am sure that it's all about time. Our task is to convince people, to combine facts, to trace tendencies, cause-and-effect links, tell stories, that is to work more impressively. The officials will sooner get that they should think before they blindly fulfill somebody's order - am I breaking the law doing so?
- Why do you think officials will be afraid of getting into your registries?
- An acquaintance of mine told me one story. When her husband was unlawfully sentenced, she began to go up the chain and couldn't compel anything. And in one of the offices a quite top-rank official suggested to contact... us - the human rights defenders, who would give publicity to the case! He really said it: I can't do it, but they can! Do you understand? He hinted at something that the state officials are afraid of.
In fact, life is changing fast today. Many things can change drastically. And I don't even mean the political situation. Right now we can remind the Ministry of Justice of a document that has been born inside the institution. In 2011 the Ministry canceled the license of attorneys who had defended candidates for presidency and members of their teams. If we look at the reasons for judgment - everything is documented, I have these documents - the reason for cancellation of license lies in the fact that the attorneys have "represented the rioters". It is really written. And there are signatures. If we look at the date, we'll see that the document has appeared before the court ruling! That is, the Ministry of Justice itself has violated the assumption of innocence by expressing opinion about the participants of the action calling them criminals! Another thing: whoever the attorneys' clients are, LEGALLY they have the right to defense. Attorneys must defend everybody! Murderers, child abusers and other villainous criminals have defense attorneys. The Constitution guarantees the right to defense, to have an attorney to everyone. But it appears that according to the Justice Ministry those who are only suspected in taking part in some riots cannot defend themselves! Attorneys are forbidden to represent them!.. It is a very interesting document for the history. Because it's nonsense according to the LAW which the Justice Ministry should protect!
Sometimes documents uncover such facts that it's impossible to remain untouched. Especially when we can speak about tendencies.
For example, here are the same documents related to the cancellation of licenses of attorneys who had represented candidates for presidency at the last election. It's interesting to connect those with recent trial of members of the Qualification Commission of the Justice Ministry itself. In April Minsk City Court read out the verdict: Ms. Grishkovets, ex-head of the Board of Bar and Legal Activity Licensing of the Justice Ministry, was sentenced to 8 years of prison with confiscation of property for bribery and abuse of official position. Her deputy Ms. Berezovskaya got 4 years. It were these criminals who had deprived the attorneys of a possibility to work! They've canceled licenses for... honest professional activity! Grishkovets and Berezovskaya already were bribers back then. (There are about 30 proved cases of bribery in several years.) A year later nobody will remember about this connection between the officiaries and the attorneys' case. And nobody will remember them. But we must remember - who exactly and for what reason has taken decision to commit such an outrage upon justice relating to attorneys, who has put their signature on behalf of the state under the assumed honesty of bribe-givers. If you compare facts, make conclusions, sometimes the results can shock. And we all need this emotional aspect. Only when we are shocked, surprised, stunned, we draw conclusions.
- What if you won't be able to shock every day?
- It's enough if people just think of it. Take the documents about Pavlichenko's arrest - grand material! Can you not be shocked if it turns out the law is not written for everybody? There is an arrest warrant, but no release certificate. And the person is still walking freely without the release certificate. Was the release legal? Issue a certificate then! If you don't - he must be wanted now according to the law. Why can't other arrestees just go home? Why then? Nobody has paused to think about it in 15 years!
...With such abundance of information which is thrown at us every day, covering the previous layers, it is extremely difficult to concentrate, to draw conclusions or to cough up an emotion. I believe the time for our documents will come: documentary investigation will be back and give us the necessary emotional punch and become very relevant and high-demand.
- What is the ultimate aim - gathering of information or its processing?
- Our goal is documentary confirmation of human rights violations. The authorities will always change. Sooner of later there will be other people who won't cover anybody. There will be no sense in it. And if the document is retained... I want to believe that this simple thought might stop somebody. Then I will consider that our website is some kind of preventive measure. I'm sure that the documents that we retain will be used in processes of rehabilitation, maybe purging, in restitution of historical justice.
- Are there time frames for the documents?
- We accumulate legal evidence of recent history, starting from 1994.
- Why specifically 1994? Is it connected with the beginning of the presidential rule?
- No. It appears that the earliest real (documentary conformed) violations of law and human rights date back to that year. So we decided to start from that year. We know how purging procedures took place with the change of regimes in post-Soviet countries: in Poland, in Germany, even in the Ukraine - documents were destroyed, archived burnt down in tons. Unfortunately, it can happen with every change of power. There will be a separate section dedicated to it on our website. And human memory is short, there are a lot of objective force majeures, people die, testimonies may disappear - it all doesn't facilitate the restitution of historical justice. Administrative records are retained just for three years. That's why we must gather everything important in time, on-line - then the descendants will be grateful to us. And now, while we are sorting out our bags of documents the cases of human rights violations strive to reach the public.