Population: 9,662,000
Capital: Minsk

Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6
Status: Not Free

Ten-Year Ratings Timeline for Year under Review
(Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Status)
Year Under Review2000200120022003200420052006200720082009

2009 Key Developments: Despite incentives from the European Union to introduce reforms, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka maintained a tight grip over Belarus's political and economic systems in 2009. His government continued to use police violence and other forms of harassment against the political opposition, and blocked independent media from covering demonstrations through systematic intimidation. After releasing all of its political prisoners in 2008, the regime incarcerated more activists in 2009. The country made no substantial progress in reforming its electoral code, and overall hopes for an improvement in the political situation went unrealized.

Political Rights: Belarus is not an electoral democracy. Serious and widespread irregularities have marred all recent elections. The constitution vests most power in the president, giving him control over the government, courts, and even the legislative process by stating that presidential decrees have a higher legal force than the laws. The National Assembly serves largely as a rubber-stamp body. The president is elected for five-year terms, and there are no term limits. As a result of the concentration of power in the hands of the president, political parties play a negligible role in the political process. Amendments to the electoral law adopted in 2009 give the parties more opportunities to campaign but still do not provide for a transparent vote count. Corruption is a serious problem and is fed by the state's dominance over the economy and the overall lack of transparency and accountability in government.

Civil Liberties: President Alyaksandr Lukashenka systematically curtails press freedom. Libel is both a civil and criminal offense, and an August 2008 media law gives the state a monopoly over information about political, social, and economic affairs. The law gives the cabinet control over internet media. State media are subordinated to the president, and harassment and censorship of independent media are routine. Despite constitutional guarantees that "all religions and faiths shall be equal before the law," government decrees and registration requirements have increasingly restricted religious activity. The Lukashenka government restricts freedom of assembly for critical independent groups. Protests and rallies require authorization from local authorities, who can arbitrarily withhold or revoke permission. When public demonstrations do occur, police frequently break them up and arrest participants, a pattern that was repeated in 2009. Freedom of association is severely restricted, with more than a hundred of the most active nongovernmental organizations forced to close down between 2003 and 2005. Although the country's constitution calls for judicial independence, courts are subject to significant executive influence. The right to a fair trial is often not respected in cases with political overtones. An internal passport system, in which a passport is required for domestic travel and to secure permanent housing, limits freedom of movement and choice of residence. There are significant discrepancies in income between men and women, and women are poorly represented in leading government positions. As a result of extreme poverty, many women have become victims of the international sex trade.

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