2010 Human Rights Report: Belarus

Belarus is a republic with a population of 9.5 million. The country has a directly elected president, who is chief of state, and a bicameral "parliament," the National Assembly, consisting of the Chamber of Representatives (lower house) and the Council of the Republic (upper house). A prime minister appointed by the president is the nominal head of government. In practice, however, power is concentrated in the presidency. Since his election as president in 1994, Alyaksandr Lukashenka has consolidated his power over all institutions and undermined the rule of law through authoritarian means, including manipulated elections and arbitrary decrees. Subsequent presidential elections, including the one held on December 19, were neither free nor fair, and fell well short of meeting international standards. The 2008 parliamentary elections also failed to meet international standards. Security forces reported to civilian authorities and to the president in particular.

2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices PDF file

During the year authorities continued to commit frequent, serious abuses in a system bereft of checks and balances, and dominated by the president. Authorities denied citizens the right to change their government, manipulating the December 19 presidential election to ensure that the president would not be seriously challenged. The election administration lacked independence and impartiality; opposition candidates faced an uneven playing field and a restrictive media environment, and the vote count was marked by a lack of transparency. The government failed to account for past politically motivated disappearances. Security forces beat detainees and protesters, used excessive force to disperse peaceful demonstrators, and reportedly used torture during investigations. A crackdown on a postelection demonstration led to the arrest of over 700 activists, including criminal charges against five presidential candidates and numerous activist and journalists. Reports of abuse of prisoners continued, and prison conditions remained extremely poor. Authorities arbitrarily arrested, detained, and imprisoned citizens for criticizing officials, participating in demonstrations, and other political reasons. Impunity remained a serious problem. The judiciary lacked independence, and suffered from inefficiency, and political interference; trial outcomes were often predetermined, and many trials were conducted behind closed doors. Authorities continued to infringe on citizens' privacy rights, and to target opposition youth leaders for military conscription. The government further restricted civil liberties, including freedom of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and freedom of movement. The government seized printed materials from civil society activists and prevented independent media from disseminating information and materials. The government continued to hinder or prevent the activities of religious groups other than the Belarusian Orthodox Church, at times fining or deporting their leaders for conducting services. Official corruption in all branches of government continued to be a problem. Authorities harassed, fined, and prosecuted nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and political parties, refusing to register many and then threatening them with criminal prosecution for operating without registration. Violence and some discrimination against women were problems, as was violence against children. Trafficking in persons remained a significant problem, although some progress was made in combating it. There was discrimination against persons with disabilities, Roma, ethnic and sexual minorities, persons with HIV/AIDS, and those who sought to use the Belarusian language. Authorities harassed and at times dismissed members of independent unions, severely limiting the ability of workers to form and join independent trade unions and to organize and bargain collectively.
U.S. Department of State