of the Public Institution the Belarusian Documentation Center
Based on the strategy of interaction with the general population, in order to increase awareness of the objectives, tasks and methods of activities of the Belarusian Documentation Centre (hereinafter BDC) among citizens, state bodies and public organizations we publish the report.
At the beginning of this report we particularly thank to individuals, public organizations and foundations that have supported our initiatives in 2015, owing to which we have achieved these results.
We hope that this report will not only acquaint public with the results of our work, but also allow to discuss them, form and take to a new level the relations between NGOs and society for effective and mutually beneficial cooperation.
Belarusian Documentation Center is open to any suggestions and invites volunteers into their ranks – creative and hard-working people - to develop innovative human rights methods.
Issue of enforced disappearances in activities of the BDC
Problem. Within a short time in 1999 unexplained disappearances of the former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenko, Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Gonchar and prominent businessman Anatoly Krasovsky took place in Belarus. A year later, in July 2000, the cameraman of Belarusian office of a Russian TV channel Dmitry Zavadsky disappeared. The official investigation into the disappearances did not practically have any results. Moreover, the investigating agencies deliberately delay the investigation and sending the investigative files to the court. The relatives and public are completely in the dark about the fate of the missing politicians. The recommendations of international structures to the Government of Belarus to conduct a complete effective investigation into the disappearances are ignored.
The issue of enforced disappearances of the opponents of the regime remains one of key issues in our activity. We constantly provide legal assistance to the relatives of the disappeared politicians, represent them in national and international bodies (UN Human Rights Committee, the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus), draw public attention to this issue by participating in public events, shows of the documentary Gang, publishing information on our website.
1. At the end of 2014, the BDC completed the creation of the documentary Gang about the enforced disappearances of political opponents of the regime in Belarus. Its premiere was in December 2014 in Washington (USA). The film was showing throughout 2015 in Belarus, Lithuania and Poland (14 public shows). At the moment, there are three versions of the documentary created - English, Russian and Polish.
2. In September 2015, the film was broadcasted by the TV channel Belsat. There were 40,437 views of the documentary Gang on the Belsat youtube at the end of 2015. https://bydc.info/video/75-15-let-i-polnoe-molchanie
3. In May-August 2015, the BDC participated in the preparation of a shadow report of Belarusian NGOs for the Universal Periodic Review on the Right to Life issue (in the context of the enforced disappearances of political opponents of the regime). In addition, the BDC`s lawyers prepared an individual submission to the UPR on this issue to indicate the concrete facts of the Republic of Belarus failure to implement the appropriate recommendations of the 2010 Universal Periodic Review.
4. In July-August 2015, the BDC`s lawyers began communication with the United Nations Human Rights Committee on individual communications on behalf of Ulyana and Elena Zakharenko in relation to the disappearance of the former Interior Minister of Belarus Yury Zakharenko. The communication was registered by the HRC as № 2586/2015. Comments for the HRC on the submission of the state prepared contain a complete list and analysis of evidence to refute the arguments of the authorities that the applicants have not exhausted domestic remedies and there is no legal basis for consideration of the individual communication on merits and communicating with the Committee to be terminated.
5. In 2015, the petitions on behalf of relatives of the disappeared politicians and opponents of the authorities were prepared and sent by the BDC to the law enforcement agencies of Belarus for combining into a single procedure the criminal cases initiated on the enforced disappearances of Y.Zakharenko, D. Zavadsky, V. Gonchar, A. Krasovsky and qualifying the crimes against them under Art. 128 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus as criminal acts against the security of mankind (systematic extrajudicial executions, kidnapping followed by their disappearance). The petitions were dismissed.
6. In October 2015, the complaints of Ulyana Zakharenko against unlawful actions (inaction) of the investigator Y.Varavko regarding preliminary investigation of the criminal case by him were prepared and sent to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus and the General Prosecutor`s Office. On 2 November 2015, First Deputy Chairperson of the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus A.A.Volkov dismissed the U. Zakharenko`s complaint without indicating the grounds for this and references to the rules of criminal procedural law. On 30 October 2015, the Chief of the Department of the General Prosecutor`s Office of the Republic of Belarus I.G.Sevruk refused to consider the complaint on merits and sent it for consideration to the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus. Owing to the received responses the BDC`s lawyers prepared proper complaints to the Prosecutor General of the Republic of Belarus Alexandr Koniuk and the Chairperson of the Investigative Committee of Republic of Belarus I. Noskevich in accordance with Art. 138 of the Code of Criminal Procedure of the Republic of Belarus.
Historical memory preservation. Work with the Database Remembering
Problem. Studying the process of rehabilitation of Stalin's regime victims, the international experience of rehabilitation of victims of political repression proved how important is to create in time a unified database of victims of totalitarianism. The need to meet the challenges of rehabilitation points at Belarusian human rights defenders` special responsibility for the fate of the people suffered from the current regime, for preparation of the documentary basis for a future democratic government to act. Information about illegal actions of the authorities also needs today - to choice prompt measures to counter repression.
The Database Remembering has been created by the BDC in order to keep legal documents confirming massive violations of human rights in Belarus for the subsequent restoration of historical and social justice.
To achieve the above mentioned goals the BDC:
- Gathers, keeps, classifies and processes information concerning gross violations of human rights, international humanitarian law and national legislation of Belarus, as well as other types of information of historical interest;
- Advises national and international non-governmental organizations how to consolidate their efforts to protect human rights in Belarus;
- Cooperates with governmental, non-governmental actors, such as national and international courts, legal agencies, universities and research institutes that can contribute to the promotion of democracy, truth and the rule of law in Belarus.
14 Belarusian human rights organizations and initiatives joined to the work with the Database Remembering.
As of 4 January 2016, there are 274 cases and 7239 multipage documents in the Database Remembering.
Number of Cases in the Database per Articles of the ICCPR
Some statistics on Database Remembering
Number of victims of human rights violations
Number of state officials – violators
Total number of pages of documents in the Database
Registers of victims of human rights violations and persons involved in political persecution
The information generating by the Database Remembering is exported in the relevant registers on the BDC's public website to inform public.
Register of victims of human rights violations
Register of persons involved in political persecution
Effective use of the Database for legal assistance to repressed citizens, political prisoners and their family members
The Database Remembering is not only an archive of documents and information, but also a powerful tool for the work of lawyers and human rights defenders. On the basis of created files and documents lawyers of the organization draw up various procedural documents for the protection of victims of rights violations to national institutions and international structures. All persons included in our Database have an opportunity to get legal aid from our lawyers.
Throughout 2015, legal assistance to repressed citizens and their family members was provided in national courts, the Prosecutor's Offices, the Investigative Committee of the Republic of Belarus, as well as at the international level (submitting complaints to the UN Human Rights Committee.
Expert assistance in drawing up complaints to UNCHR was provided to six persons.
At the moment, we are communicating with UNCHR on the communications to civic activist F.Mirzayanov, former presidential candidate N. Statkevich, relatives of the disappeared opponent of the regime U. and E. Zakharenko, human rights activist O. Volchek.
In 2015, the BDC has become a member of the International Coalition of sites of Conscience (USA). The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience is a worldwide network of "sites of conscience" - historic sites those are to be a reminder of different episodes of struggle for justice in the past, as well as a reminder of today`s heritage of this struggle. Such sites of conscience as the Apartment House Museum in the Lower East Side (USA), the Museum of GULAG (Russia) and the District Six Museum (South Africa), stimulate public debate on socially significant problems in order to instill a culture of human rights.
Problems. Amendments and additions to the Methodology of the Databases Remembering need due to: 1) transformation of the Belarusian legislation and state bodies structures (courts, prosecutors offices, the Investigative Committee); 2) development of fundamental human rights definitions (eg. "political prisoner"); 3) necessity to develop criteria for working with the Database. A comparative analysis of laws and their application in the Republic of Belarus with the international standards and regulations is not in favor of Belarusian laws and therefore demands them to be improved and to be amended in accordance with legislative proceeding.
• During 2015, we worked to develop the Methodology for the Database Remembering due to further modification of the system for work with digital documents.
• Lawyers gave a great deal of attention to improving the legislation of the Republic of Belarus and law enforcement concerning independence of judges and lawyers.
• An important step in our work was the holding of the round table "Draft Law on the Bar of Belarus - Necessary Amendments and Additions in the Aspect of Systemic Problems of the Legal Profession" https://bydc.info/news/249-kruglyj-stol-zakonoproekt-ob-advokature-belarusi-neobkhodimye-izmeneniya-i-dopolneniya-v-aspekte-sistemnykh-problem-instituta-advokatury
During the round table, the results of a public debate on the draft law were summarized https://bydc.info/news/214-bdts-otkryvaet-obshchestvennuyu-diskussiyu-po-zakonoproektu-ob-advokature-belarusi, for which our website had provided a platform. In the debate as specialists – practitioners, advocates, human rights defenders and national experts - as citizens who faced with problem aspects of the Bar`s activity (former political prisoners and their relatives, civil society activists) took part. There were ten articles on the website of the BDC dedicated to this issue.
As a result of the public debate and the analysis of existing legislation for the purpose of its compliance with international standards, lawyers of the Belarusian Documentation Centre developed Recommendations on amendments and additions to the draft Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Amendments and Additions to Some Laws of the Republic of Belarus on Improving Activities of the Bar."
On 5 December 2015, the Recommendations developed by the BDC were sent to the House of Representatives and the Council of Republic of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, the Standing Commission on Legislation of the National Assembly, the Constitutional Court, the Council of Ministers and other state bodies having power to initiate legislation, as well as to the Republican (national) and territorial collegia of advocates on behalf of some Belarusian non-profit organizations. The Seven human rights organizations joined the Recommendations and singed the applications – the BDC, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, Viasna, Legal Assistance to People, BAJ, Salidarnasts and the Office for the Rights of People with Disabilities.
- The BDC took part in the international conference "Implementation of Guarantees of Human Rights Activities for Human Rights Advocates" (Kiev-Chernigov, Ukraine), where the BDC`s lawyer presented the above mentioned initiative and the BDC`s phased strategic action plan with the engagement of other human rights organizations to change national legislation on the legal profession and law-enforcement practices in Belarus within the framework of the topic "Lack of independence of professional associations of lawyers."
- Our lawyers participated in the development of the video course Domestic Violence: What Every Expert Must Know by the Lithuanian Human Rights Monitoring Institute. The course objective is to increase knowledge and skills of specialists involved in combating domestic violence how to identify domestic violence cases and provide assistance that necessary for victims of violence. The course is designed for law enforcement agencies (police, prosecutors, judges), as well as lawyers and volunteers working with the victims of domestic violence. The BDC`s lawyer prepared a part "Protection of victims of domestic violence in the Republic of Belarus: regulatory framework."
BDC public website: informing, researches, findings
In early 2015, we have created a public website. All current activities of the organization are covered on it. Both staff members and professional journalists prepared and placed articles on the BDC`s website in various headings: Interviews, Analytics, Lawyer`s Office, BDC in Archives, X-files and others. For a half of year, about 200 articles have been published on the website, the majority of them are the BDC`s unique pieces.
On the website, we attach great importance to a format of feedback with people ‘Contact with Us’
Using this format people can contact with our lawyers promptly, send information and documents about rights violations to be placed in the Database We Remember.
There are as well the Register of Victims of Human Rights Violations and the Register of Persons Involved in Political Persecution imported from the Database We Remember on the website.
Heroes and authors of our pieces became political prisoners, their relatives, politicians, social activists, human rights defenders, lawyers and other well-known people of Belarus - Irina Khalip, Anatoly Lebedko, Pavel Seviarynets, Yuri Rubtsov, Pavel Vinogradov, Dmitri Drozd, Alexandr Frantskevich, Alexandr Molchanov, Marina Lobova, Oleg Volchek, Tatiana Revyako, Nasta Loyka, Maxim Vinyarskiy, Ulyana Zakharenko, Alexandr Makaev, Natalya Goriachko-Basalyga, Leonid Kulakov, Oleg Korban, Yulia Stepanova, Ilya Dobrotvor and others.
Although our website is not a news website but we have learned a lot of news and have published them earlier than any large independent medium in Belarus. Thus, the BDC`s website has become a source of information for many news sites, including regional ones.
The BDC page on Facebook also largely contributes to the website promotion and popularization of the organization`s activities.
Head of the Public Institution Belarusian Documentation Center