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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Belarus

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Belarus, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3a3c.html [accessed 1 September 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
 

Belarus, which declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, has yet to hold elections or to approve a new constitution. Belarus' form of government continues to parallel closely that of the former Soviet Union. The Supreme Soviet, the legislative branch, is technically the highest ruling body of the country; its chairman, Stanislav Shushkevich, is considered Head of State. Most power, however, continues to remain in the hands of the Council of Ministers, headed by Prime Minister Vyacheslav Kebich. The Council is the executive branch of government, and its decrees have the force of law. It is still dominated by ex-Communist party members, as is the Supreme Soviet. The nationalist Belarusian Popular Front (BNF), the principal opposition group, holds less than 10 percent of the seats in Parliament. Political parties as such have yet to develop as a political force in Belarus. Shushkevich is supported by the democratic opposition, including the opposition Popular Front, in addition to many deputies in the mainstream. Shushkevich's major source of support is his personal popularity among the Belarusian people. Kebich has the support of the "Belarus" faction in Parliament.

The Belarusian Committee for State Security (KGB), while legally under parliamentary supervision, in practice reports to the Council of Ministers as well as to the Supreme Soviet. Attempts in Parliament in 1993 to restore exclusive Council of Ministers' control over the KGB were not successful. Opponents of the Government reported no overt harassment from security services in 1993. Electronic monitoring of residences and telephones, however, reportedly continued. There were no reported human rights violations on the part of the military with the exception of hazing, which reportedly continues much the way it was practiced in the former Soviet Union.

Belarus' economy is in decline. Many factories cut workweeks back to 4 days or less and continued the policy of giving workers mandatory unpaid vacations. The Government continued to pursue cautious reform of the state-owned sector with the stated aim of developing a "socially oriented market economy." Parliament passed additional privatization laws, but the executive branch was slow to implement privatization plans.

Respect for human rights was mixed. Progress continued in some areas but flagged in others. Although little progress was made on political reform, the Government did not attempt to suppress political activity. Freedom of the press was restricted through the Government's virtual monopoly over forms of mass communication and its desire to limit media criticism of its actions. It controlled the editorial content and policy of the largest circulation daily newspapers and of radio and television broadcasts. The Government did honor a longstanding request from the opposition for television air time. In a marked contrast to the Soviet era, freedom of religion is generally observed, although bureaucratic impediments remain. A government dispute with the Roman Catholic Church over its status in Belarus (and the status of Polish priests) eased somewhat. The Government, however, still has not recognized Archbishop Svyontek, a Belarusian of Polish origin, as the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus. Svyontek had been charged in the past by the Government as being an agent of Polish agitation, particularly in Western Belarus where Polish influence is strong.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajuridical Killing.

Such killings are not known to have occurred.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of abductions, disappearances, or secret arrests.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The current Soviet-era Constitution provides for the inviolability of the person but contains no explicit ban on torture and other degrading forms of punishment. Police beatings were reported in detention centers and prisons. Credible sources report that the police severely beat up Gennadiy Shpak on March 19, 1993, when they detained him. The use of force is officially sanctioned in some instances. For example, it may be employed on prisoners found harming or threatening to harm other prisoners or prison personnel. The Government claims to monitor and keep statistics on the use of force by prison guards. Prison authorities are required to report each such use of force by prison guards to the Prosecutor General's office. A medical evaluation of the prisoner is also required when force has been used.

There were continued reports that prison conditions were substandard and treatment degrading. Inhumane prison conditions were reported in Grodno, Minsk, and Orsha. Amnesty International observers were officially denied access to the Grodno prison in March. The Government's justification was that the visit would provoke chaos and riots in the prison. A vice minister of internal affairs stated publicly that a radio broadcast about the prison had at the time created "a very complicated situation" in the prison. He suggested that the delegation visit "any other prison but Grodno."

Government officials claim that lack of space remains the chief obstacle to improving prison conditions: the rising crime rate means more prisoners, and this fact, coupled with a decaying physical plant and local neighborhood movements opposed to the construction of new prisons, results in overcrowded prisons.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Criminal procedures remain essentially unchanged from those in the former Soviet Union. Persons may be detained arbitrarily and without an arrest warrant. The Criminal Code requires that detainees be charged or arrested within 72 hours. Once arrested and charged, defendants often spend many months awaiting trial. At the request of the state prosecutor, a detainee may be kept in pretrial detention for up to 3 months. This period may be extended at the request of either the regional or the state prosecutor for up to a maximum period of 1 1/2 years. Detainees may be allowed unlimited visits from their legal counsel. However, there were reports that some detainees had difficulty in gaining access to a lawyer. There is no provision for bail, and detainees may not correspond or receive family visitors without the express permission of the state prosecutor.

Ministry of Internal Affairs' special forces staged a large-scale raid on February 5 on the hotel Agat on the outskirts of Minsk, allegedly looking for persons involved in narcotics dealing and other illicit activity. Witnesses indicated that occupants (including some foreigners) were arbitrarily beaten and detained.

Exile is not practiced.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system, retaining much of the Soviet structure, has three tiers: district, city or oblast (province), and republic. Higher courts serve as appellate courts, but many also hear trials in the first instance.

Trials are generally public, although they may be closed on grounds of national security. In practice, however, attendance at open trials may be arbitrarily restricted. Defendants have the right to attend proceedings, confront witnesses, and present evidence on their behalf. The court appoints an attorney for defendants who do not have one. Some defendants reportedly had difficulty in gaining access to lawyers and court materials. Sergey Golubev, arrested for stealing, was denied access to an attorney by an investigator in the Pervomaiskiy region of Minsk. Although technically the burden of proof is on the prosecutor, as a practical matter the presumption of innocence is not always strictly observed.

There were no reports of political prisoners in 1993.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Electronic monitoring of residences and telephones continues. A law, revised in 1992, gives the KGB, the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and certain border guard detachments the right to request permission to install wiretaps. Permission of a prosecutor is legally required before a wiretap may be installed. Except in cases of pursuit, a search warrant, issued by the prosecutor, is needed in order to enter a private home.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of the press is provided for by existing legislation but is not yet fully observed in practice.

The executive branch of the Government continued to use laws on slander to clamp down on criticism of government officials. According to the Belarusian League of Human Rights, government officials sued Supreme Soviet deputies Evgeniy Novikov, Pavel Kholod, and Alexandr Shut for their public criticism of the Government.

The chairman of the regional council of the Logoisk region, Aleksander Kresik, sued Kholod and Shut for a newspaper article they published in Narodnaya Gazeta in March 1992 criticizing Kresik for corruption in his dealings with local government property. Kholod and Shut claimed that Kresik sold school buildings to his friends at prices well below market value. The suit was brought in December 1992 and, despite numerous hearings in 1993, remained unresolved at year's end. Both opposition party members, Kholod and Shut stated that they feel there has been a concentrated effort on the part of the Government to single out opposition deputies for such suits. They assert only opposition deputies have been objects of such legal action.

Novikov was sued by a state enterprise (Belgosstrakh) for his disclosures of corruption at this company. Novikov was fined in 1992. He was subsequently sued in 1993 by the same Judge Gorodnicheva who presided over his trial in a personal suit for a political statement he made that called into question the court's decision in the earlier case. This case was also unresolved at year's end.

A deputy of the Borisov city soviet, Sergey Kolesnik, was reportedly fined by the courts for criticism of local executive branch officials. He was sued by deputy Borisov city administrator Galina Kuchuk in 1993 for his appeal alleging irregularities in the privatization process in Borisov. The suit was eventually dropped. Subsequently Kolesnik and a group of other city-level deputies were sued for a public appeal they made in September to Supreme Soviet Chairman Shushkevich about corruption in housing in the Borisov city region. The Chairman of the City Executive Council, Stanislav Shidlovskiy, filed suit in March, demanding a public apology and 10 million rubles. The court ruled that the deputies must apologize but dropped the monetary part of the suit.

The law on the status of people's deputies grants them immunity from criminal prosecution but does not protect them from prosecution under the Civil Code, of which the slander laws, particularly the "Law on Honor and Dignity," are a part. The writer Svetlana Aleksievich was sued under these statutes (with reported backing from high-ranking military officials) by a group of mothers who lost sons in Afghanistan for her book on the Soviet-Afghan war. Aleksievich wrote about atrocities committed by Soviet soldiers during the war. There were actually two suits which were tried concurrently – one brought by the mothers and one brought by an Afghan war veteran. The court dismissed the first suit in December. In the second suit, the court ruled that Aleksievich must publish an apology in the newspaper (Komsomolskaya Pravda) which originally published excerpts of her book.

High-ranking officials also sued the Belarusian correspondent of the Russian newspaper Kommersant, Alexandr Starikevich. A court sentenced him in absentia to 15 days in prison for failing to appear in court in March. The court apparently ignored Starikevich's written appeal, reportedly submitted according to proper procedures, to postpone proceedings by 4 days. As a consequence, Starikevich spent much of the year in Russia and was forced to hide from Belarusian authorities while in Minsk. Police reportedly made repeated and harassing visits to his home in Minsk.

The Government retains a near monopoly on the forms of mass communication. It remained the owner and chief financial backer of nine major publications. There are approximately 30 newspapers in Belarus completely independent of government control. Most, however, are small and poorly funded. Of the six major daily newspapers, all are at least partially government controlled. The Council of Ministers' information division continued to exercise direct control over them, for example, by discussing editorial content and policy in meetings with government-sponsored newspaper editors. In one instance, the Parliament-sponsored newspaper Narodnaya Gazeta was reportedly threatened with loss of its lease in a government building for refusing orders to print an interview given by Prime Minister Kebich. All national and most local papers were told to publish the article. Draft legislation to reduce the degree of government control over the press failed to win the approval of the Supreme Soviet. A group of independent journalists, in an open letter to Prime Minister Kebich, claimed they were often not informed of Council of Ministers press conferences, while journalists more sympathetic to the Government were always invited and given information not provided to independent journalists. The Belarusian legislature has given preliminary attention to a draft law on the press, which incorporates to a significant degree parts of the opposition's original draft law. The draft law has been passed in the first reading, but it still requires a second reading before it becomes law.

The State owns all radio and television stations, with the exception of a few cable stations that generally do not air news programs and are dependent on government-owned facilities. Radio and television generally avoid criticism of the Government and its leadership. The "Nika" news program, which sometimes aired the views of government critics, had its management changed in 1992; the program took a considerably softer line toward the Government in 1993. Minsk's most popular nonstate cable television station, Channel 8, was closed by the Government over a registration dispute in January. The Government delayed the reopening of the station for most of 1993. On December 20, the Ministry of Communications allowed the station to begin rebroadcasting "on a trial basis." Broadcasts were scheduled to last until mid-January 1994 when a reevaluation of the station was scheduled to occur. Other local radio and television stations also were closed. Belarusians continued to receive television and radio broadcasts from the Russian Federation, including the television station Ostankino from Moscow, and can receive British Broadcasting Corporation news once a day over state facilities. In September the State Television-Radio Company of Belarus granted the opposition BNF a longstanding request for air time. The BNF received about an hour of television air time with no conditions attached. BNF leaders regularly are interviewed on Belarusian radio and somewhat more sporadically on Belarusian television. A partially American-owned religious radio station began FM broadcasts in cooperation with a Belarusian partner in 1993.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Demonstrations are still governed by the Soviet law on demonstrations. Application to local officials is required 10 days in advance. Public demonstrations occurred frequently. Both the BNF and the pro-Communist opposition often use Minsk's independence square to demonstrate their disagreements with the Government, despite a city government ban on demonstrations in that square due, allegedly, to the completion of a renewal project. Political parties – including the Communist Party – are allowed to function freely in Belarus, as are ethnic and professional organizations. The ban on the Communist Party was lifted in February. In May the Communist Party of Belarus (KPB) merged with the Party of Communists of Belarus (PKB) and adopted the latter name.

The Supreme Soviet instituted a ban on political activity in the military, including membership by military personnel in political parties. The chairman of the Belarusian Military Association (BZV), Nikolay Statkevich, was dishonorably discharged from the armed forces for failing to resign from the organization he helped found. The BZV is a "nonpolitical patriotic military organization" which attempts to instill Belarusian soldiers and officers with a sense of pride in Belarusian history, language, and culture. Statkevich's supporters said that he was dismissed for his nationalist political views. Statkevich argued that his organization is not a political but a social and professional one.

c. Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is generally respected. A 1992 law on freedom of religious beliefs and organizations provides broad guarantees for freedom of religion. Religious organizations are allowed to engage in cultural, educational, and charitable activities. However, there is still some bureaucratic resistance to religion in general and toward the major churches and the Jewish community in particular.

The majority of Belarusians are Eastern Orthodox Christians. The Orthodox Church remains formally linked to the Russian Orthodox Church and recognizes the primacy of the Moscow Patriarch. Some Belarusian nationalists have criticized the Church for being too closely tied to Moscow and not doing enough to serve the national interests of Belarus.

The Roman Catholic Church in Belarus claims some 1.5 million members, roughly 15 percent of the population. Relations between the Catholic Church and the Government remain strained because of the historical association of the Church with Poland, which ruled the western part of Belarus as recently as 1939. The Government still has not officially recognized Archbishop Kazimir Svyontek, a Belarusian of Polish origin, as the head of the Catholic Church in Belarus. In May, however, the Government received the first Papal Nuncio to Belarus. Belarus' one Catholic seminary, in Grodno, has not been able to meet the increasing demand for priests. As a consequence, over 90 Polish priests were brought in and are working in Belarus.

The Government continues to return churches previously confiscated by the Soviet government to the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches. This slow process, marked by numerous property disputes between the Churches and the State and between the two Churches, continues. Organizations that occupy what once was church property are also involved. A sit-in by congregation members in a Minsk Catholic church that had become a chamber music concert hall failed to resolve the ownership dispute.

In addition to the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, 16 other religious organizations and sects freely function in Belarus. Visits of missionaries from many countries are frequent, and religious work is generally unimpeded. During 1993, however, several government officials expressed their concern at the growing number of foreign Christian missionaries in Belarus. Some Belarusians interpreted frequent Protestant proselytizing as harmful to Belarusian national interests. The Government began to require all persons wishing to engage in religious work in Belarus to present a formal invitation from a Belarusian religious organization in order to receive visas. Subsequently, two American Baptist missionaries waited for 3 months to receive extensions of their visas until they found a registered Minsk church willing to sponsor their visit.

Despite occasional bureaucratic difficulties, religious rallies were held without interference in conference halls and in stadiums, and proselytizing also occurred. Bibles and other religious materials are available for sale in the Belarusian, Russian, and Polish languages.

The Jewish community retains concerns over several main issues. The Jewish community is concerned, as are Christian churches, with the return of previously confiscated buildings and synagogues which have been turned into theaters, warehouses, and meeting halls. Minsk continues to lack an adequate building for a synagogue. Authorities promised to return a former synagogue to the Jewish community in Mogilev by the end of 1993. Another concern is the construction of a group of apartment buildings on the old Jewish cemetery in Pinsk. Following international protest, government authorities ordered local officials to cease construction at the site. Major construction was reportedly terminated, although certain underground construction for plumbing, electricity, and other facilities continued on the buildings already erected.

Government officials, national and local, held a commemoration on October 20 of the 50th anniversary of the destruction of the Minsk Jewish ghetto.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Soviet procedures remained in effect, at least on paper, for many aspects of freedom of movement.

Belarusian citizens were generally free to travel within the country. However, all adults are still issued internal passports, which serve as primary identity documents and are required for travel, permanent housing, and hotel registration.

The right to choose one's place of residence, although guaranteed by law, remains restricted in practice. Despite its formal abolition by the Soviet government in October 1991, the "propiska" (pass) system survives in Belarus. All Belarusians are officially required to register their places of residence and may not change them without official permission. The authorities limit the number of residence permits in Minsk and the five regional centers of Brest, Grodno, Mogilev, Vitebsk, and Gomel. However, according to government officials and other reliable sources, official permission was increasingly granted or denied to persons seeking to change their place of residence according to the availability of housing, with fewer denials than previously.

The Supreme Soviet approved the Interior Ministry's law on entry and exit in June. The law was to come into effect on January 1, 1994, and supersedes the 1991 Soviet law on entry and exit in force in Belarus during 1993. The new law abolishes the former Soviet requirement of mandatory official permission for each trip abroad by authorizing Belarusians to receive "global" exit visas good for from 1 to 5 years and valid for travel to all countries. Limited issuance of the "global" exit visas began in August but is currently hampered by a 1- to 2-month processing period. Belarusian passports are being readied for printing. Some official passport holders, i.e., government officials, are already using the new passport. There are reports that the application process is long, with delays of several months reported. There were no reports of unjust or arbitrary refusals.

Emigration from Belarus continued to decline, with fewer people applying to emigrate in 1993 than in 1992. Soviet legislation restricting emigration by those with access to "state secrets" remained in force. However, only one would-be emigrant was refused an exit visa on grounds of possessing "state secrets," as compared to six in 1992, and this person was eventually permitted to emigrate to Israel at the end of 1993. Belarusian draft-age men who had not previously received permission to travel abroad from the Belarusian military were also officially restricted from traveling abroad. However, there were no cases of would-be emigrants refused due to incomplete military service in 1993.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Political reform in Belarus stagnated in 1993, and the right of citizens to change their government, although guaranteed by law, remains to be tested in free elections. The current Parliament was chosen for a 5-year term under Soviet election rules in 1990. In theory, voting is secret, and suffrage is universal for citizens 18 years of age and older. In 1992 the BNF spearheaded a massive signature-gathering campaign in an effort to force a referendum on holding new parliamentary elections. The Supreme Soviet rejected the referendum, alleging that both the initiating group and the election commission had violated the referendum law. The opposition continued to call for a referendum during 1993, arguing that rejection of the referendum undermined the Government's claim to legitimacy.

At the same time it rejected the proposed referendum, the Supreme Soviet passed a nonbinding resolution calling for the passage of a new constitution and the holding of new elections in March 1994. The resolution, however, lacked the force of law, and it is unclear whether elections will be held in 1994. A draft of the new constitution is under review in the Supreme Soviet. Foreign legal experts, reviewing the document, found it significantly inadequate in numerous areas, most notably that of citizens' civil and political rights.

There are no legal restrictions on the participation of women in politics and government. Social barriers to women in politics, however, remain fairly strong, and most top leadership positions are held by men. There is one woman in a ministerial-level position, and women hold less than 5 percent of the seats in the Supreme Soviet. A number of women do, however, hold posts at the vice ministerial level.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights monitors reported bureaucratic obstacles and posturing on the part of the Government when investigating alleged human rights violations. The Belarusian League of Human Rights, founded in 1992, reported that the courts refused to review appeals from the League on the pretext of procedural grounds. The League has close contacts with a variety of international organizations involved in human rights.

Amnesty International visited Belarus in February. Except for the denial of permission to visit Grodno prison (see Section 1.c.), international organizations were not hindered in making visits to Belarus.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The law on citizenship, passed by the Supreme Soviet, grants citizenship to any person living permanently on the territory of Belarus as of October 19, 1991. Those coming to Belarus after this date and wishing to become a citizen must submit an application, know the Belarusian language ("enough for communication"), agree to support the Constitution and laws, have a legal source of income, and have lived in the country for 7 years. (The 7-year residence requirement is waived for those who were previously citizens of the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and for those who are currently in the armed forces, who wish to become citizens, and who are prepared to take the oath of allegiance to Belarus.)

Women

Statistics are not available on the incidence of violence against women. Some fledgling women's rights organizations are attempting to increase awareness of women's issues in the country. Domestic violence against women, often alcohol related, continues to be a significant problem in Belarus. Knowledgeable sources indicate that police generally are not hesitant to enforce laws against violence. Likewise, the courts are not against imposing sentences. The problem, according to women's groups, is a reluctance to report incidents of domestic violence. In addition to the regular court system, there are "communal courts" in which women can use pressure from friends, neighbors, and coworkers to help rectify such situations. Certain women activists have pointed to the existence of discrimination in Belarusian legislation. One government decree on the privatization of housing, for example, is disadvantageous to women in terms of the amount of square footage available to them.

Children

Belarus ratified the international Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993. Special benefits to families with children are considered substantial by local standards. Children's health – particularly as related to the consequences of the nuclear accident at Chernobyl – has been a concern of the Government which, with the help of foreign donors, has received significant funding.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Belarusians account for about 78 percent of the population of over 10 million; 13 percent are Russians, 4 percent Poles, 3 percent Ukrainians, and there are Lithuanians and Jews among the remaining 2 percent. The Belarusian language was made the official language, but Russian remains the predominant working language, with most of the population speaking Russian at home. The introduction of Belarusian as the mandatory language of instruction in schools is being phased in gradually. A movement is under way to make Russian the second official language. The Supreme Soviet adopted a law on national minorities in late 1992 which, in addition to forbidding discrimination, expressly prohibits officially asking, in written or oral form, about a person's nationality.

People with Disabilities

Facilities in Belarus, including transport and office buildings, often are not accessible to the disabled. A law mandating accessibility to transport, residences, businesses, and offices for the disabled came into force in late 1992. A multiagency government council is to oversee the implementation of these provisions. The Committee was only recently established and has only started its activities. In addition, the law provides various social and material benefits for the handicapped. One advocacy group claimed that the law is not being enforced, although other groups say it is still too soon to tell how effective the law will be.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The independent trade union movement is still in its infancy. Although several independent trade unions exist, the former Belarusian branch of the U.S.S.R's All-Union Central Council of Trade Unions – currently the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus (FTUB) – is by far the largest trade union organization. This so-called trade union of 5 million members is not considered independent in practice since it often follows government orders.

The 1992 law on trade unions provides that workers have the right to form and join independent unions on a voluntary basis and to carry out actions in defense of workers' rights, including the right to strike. In practice, workers are often automatically inducted into the government-affiliated FTUB. Independent labor leaders believe that the official trade unions' control over social functions (such as pension funds), usually performed by the State, is an obstacle to the growth of true, independent trade unions. The independent trade unions include the Free Trade Union of Belarus (with about 10,000 members), the Independent Miners' Union (about 6,000 members), the Confederation of Labor (3,000), and the Union of Air Traffic Controllers. In September the Free Trade Union of Belarus and the Independent Miners' Union created the Congress of Free Trade Unions of Belarus, an organization that intends to coordinate the actions of the two largest independent trade unions.

No major strikes occurred during 1993. A threatened walk-out in June by the FTUB at a factory that produces specialized automated production equipment (assembly lines) by special order was averted when the Government acceded to the union's demands.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Legislation dating from the Soviet period provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. Since the economy is still largely in the hands of the State, unions usually seek redress at the political level.

The right to organize and bargain collectively was reportedly violated when Evgeniy Vozhik, a worker at the Minsk enterprise Elektronika and a FTUB council member, was fired under the guise of enterprise layoffs. According to union activists, Vladimir Oichlik of the Ordzhenikidze factory was also dismissed for union-related activity under a similar pretext. Mikhail Ustinovich was reportedly badly beaten on the shop floor of the Bobruysk tire factory for trade union-related activism. The Belarusian law on trade unions (1992) prohibits discrimination for trade union activity. The Labor Code includes provisions for reinstatement of an employee (through arbitration and then court action) should it be determined that the firing was for union-related activity.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

While there is no explicit prohibition of forced or compulsory labor, it is not known to occur.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Current labor law establishes 16 years of age as the statutory minimum age for employment of children. In certain cases, such as the death of a family's chief wage earner, a 15-year-old may seek special permission to assume full-time employment. Reportedly, the Procurator General's office enforces this law effectively.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Supreme Soviet sets a minimum wage, periodically raised in response to inflation, which is effectively enforced. The minimum monthly wage is approximately $6 (30,000 Belarusian rubles). With inflation rising rapidly, the minimum wage is considered too low to provide a decent standard of living.

The Labor Code sets a limit of 41 hours per week and provides for at least one 24-hour rest period per week. Because of the difficult economic situation, an increasing number of workers find themselves working considerably less than 40 hours per week. Often factories require workers to take unpaid "vacations" due to shortages of raw materials and energy and lack of demand for factory output.

The law establishes minimum conditions of workplace safety and worker health; however, these standards are often ignored. No central, effective enforcement mechanism exists. Factory safety brigades report directly to plant management and are thus widely considered ineffective.

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