U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Belarus
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Belarus, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa830.html [accessed 29 August 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
BELARUSBelarus has a government in which nearly all power rests in the hands of the President. Since his election in July 1994 as the country's first President, Aleksandr Lukashenko has steadily amassed power. He held a November 1996 referendum to amend the 1994 Constitution, which broadened his powers and extended his term in office. The President ignored the then Constitutional Court's ruling that the Constitution could not be amended by referendum, and implemented the referendum?s provisions. As a result of the President?s actions, the Government and political system are based on the November 1996 version of the Constitution, which was adopted in an unconstitutional manner. Most members of the internationa1 community criticized the results of the flawed referendum because it violated fundamental democratic principles, and they do not recognize the legitimacy of the 1996 Constitution or the legislature. Although the 1996 Constitution provides for executive, legislative, and judicial branches it does not provide adequate checks and balances and, as a result, nearly all authority rests in the hands of the President. The President appoints the Cabinet of Ministers, the executive heads of the country's 6 provinces, and 6 of the 12 Constitutional Court Justices (including the Chair, as well as the Chairs of the Supreme and Supreme Economic Courts). Presidential decrees made when the legislature is out of session have the force of law, except--in theory--in those cases restricted by the 1996 Constitution. The 1996 Constitution also allows the President to issue decrees having the force of law in circumstances of "specific necessity and urgency," a provision that President Lukashenko has broadly interpreted. Citing the referendum results, which created a bicameral legislature, President Lukashenko urged legislators to defect from the legitimate parliament, which he disbanded in November 1996. The acting legislature was not directly elected but was created out of the remnants of the former parliament through a combination of volunteers, presidential appointments, and regional council elections. The Constitution limits the legislature to meeting twice per year for no more than a total of 170 days. The judiciary is not independent. The Committee for State Security (KGB) and Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), both answerable to the President, continued to be the chief law enforcement and police organs. Under President Lukashenko?s direction, the Presidential Guard--initially created to protect senior officials--continued to act against the President's political enemies, with no judicial or legislative oversight. Members of the security forces committed numerous human rights abuses. The economy grew in 1997, largely due to government credits to state enterprises. Economic experts do not consider this approach to growth sustainable over time. The Government continued limited, small-scale privatization, but did not take steps toward privatizing or restructuring large state enterprises. Most state enterprises and collective farms reportedly operate at a loss. The Government controls the prices of staple food products. The Government's exchange rate policy has resulted in a critical shortage of foreign currency reserves and stifled the export sector. Per capita gross national product was $1,308 in 1996. Leading exports are transport vehicles, mineral products, and machinery. The majority of workers are employed in the industrial and agricultural sectors. While standards of living continue to decline for many segments of society, people sustain themselves through unreported economic activity and kitchen gardens. The Government's human rights record again worsened significantly as the President continued to lead Belarus back toward Soviet-era authoritarian practices. The Government severely limits the right of citizens to change their government. Security forces reportedly beat detainees and prisoners regularly. Severe hazing in military units abated, but was not eradicated. Prison conditions remained poor. Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens. Prolonged detention and delays in trials were common. The security services infringed on citizens? privacy rights and monitored the activities of opposition politicians and other segments of the population closely. Restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, and peaceful assembly all increased and the Government did not respect freedom of association. Formations of MVD troops used force to break up political demonstrations and again made mass arrests. International human rights monitors were closely monitored, and frequently harassed. Discrimination and domestic violence against women remained significant problems. Authorities continued to restrict workers? rights to associate freely and to organize and bargain collectively. The Government continued to restrict worker rights.