Distinguished colleagues, guests, audience online and dear people of Belarus,
Allow me first to make a statement in my national capacity.
When we met last time in this format in January this year, we expressed our deep concern about what was and still is happening in the heart of Europe, in a founding member state of the United Nations. The political repressions in Belarus – beatings, torture, imprisonments, intimidations, suppression of free media, internet shutdowns, as well as online content blocking - continue to worsen.
Back in January, we were talking about 170 political prisoners. Today the number is exceeding 700 and still growing, which is deeply worrisome. We share the sorrow of those hundreds behind bars and of those thousands who have been forced to flee the country. We share the disappointment of those who have found their hopes for free elections brutally crushed.
In our last meeting almost 10 months ago, we focused on restrictions on media freedom in Belarus, which threaten peace in the country. Since then we have regrettably seen a further degradation of press freedom: a few months ago, the authorities of Belarus dissolved the Belarusian Association of Journalists, one of Belarus’ most prominent civil society organizations promoting freedom of speech and professional standards of journalism. Today we are in a situation where there is not a single media outlet left in Belarus that can be considered free.
These are just a few examples of the negative developments that have taken place since the beginning of this year.
We have also seen a truly alarming episode, which resulted in a forced landing of an international passenger flight in May. This unprecedented act by the authorities of Belarus did not just put a large number of lives at risk: it was also a clear violation of international law, widely seen as a threat against peace and security, and met with international condemnation.
Dear colleagues, distinguished ministers, briefers and ambassadors,
In June, the authorities of Belarus went even further by launching a politically motivated hybrid action against its neighbors. They have been luring thousands of third country nationals to Belarus, issuing them tourist visas, bringing them to the European Union-Belarus border and forcing them to illegally cross to neighbouring countries.
The objective of the authorities of Belarus with this hybrid action and manipulation of human beings has been to destabilize its neighboring countries and divert attention from increasing human rights violations in Belarus. It is utterly unacceptable to take advantage of vulnerable individuals from third countries and to instrumentalize them for political purposes in this manner.
All of these actions demonstrate that the domestic democracy crisis has started to spill over into a regional threat to peace and security. These developments also highlight the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus.
The international community has not turned a blind eye to this. The EU has deemed it necessary to impose restrictive measures and continues to react in a principled manner. A reversal of EU sanctions will only be possible once the authorities in Belarus fully adhere to the principles of democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights.
The Security Council has informally discussed the situation in Belarus several times since the 2020 fraudulent elections. In March this year, the International Accountability Platform for Belarus was created. Estonia has supported this initiative as one of the donors.
I am glad that Mr Jens Modvig, head of the platform, is here with us today, and highlighted the important work they are doing on the collection and verification of information and evidence of serious violations of international human rights law committed in Belarus in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election and its aftermath.
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate that the politically motivated trials and the severe sentences that followed the brutal suppression of political dissent should not be left unpunished. The people of Belarus are not alone.
We call on Belarus to end the violence, and immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners.
The international community must keep its focus on the situation on the ground until the people of Belarus can truly exercise their rights and freedoms as stipulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.