UIA emphasizes an alarming deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus since the spring of 2020 and underlines a particular concern as to the consistent persecution of lawyers, including at the disciplinary level, in relation to, or as a reprisal for, their professional activities and human rights work and/or the legitimate exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, peaceful dissent, and assembly.
It is claimed that arbitrary disciplinary proceedings have been systematically used as a tool to silence lawyers. UIA addresses the March 2022 report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights: “since [the 2020] election and as at November 2021, 36 lawyers have been deprived of their licenses either through disbarment or loss of certification.”
The statement refers also to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Anaïs Marin, who reported in May 2022 that “(n)o fewer than 50 lawyers have been prevented from practicing their profession through disbarment and the revoking of licences, and this trend continues''. The latest reported figures indicate that as many as 60 Belarusian lawyers have been subjected to disciplinary sanctions following the presidential elections.
The UIA draws particular attention to the fact that the Belarusian National Bar Association and its regional bars not only have failed to fulfill their function of protecting their members from persecution, unjustified interference, and improper restrictions, but they instead appear to have enabled these arbitrary procedures as a result of their lack of independence and the extensive control that the Belarussian Minister of Justice has over the legal profession, following, inter alia, amendments introduced to the legislation on the bar.
The UIA has also expressed its concern as to the wave of reprisals against lawyers in the context of Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine. On March 10 and 11, the Council of the Minsk City Bar Association and the Council of the Minsk Regional Bar Association reportedly initiated disciplinary proceedings against some of those lawyers in connection with their signatures on this statement. Other legal practitioners have reportedly suffered from additional kinds of pressure or intimidation from the bar associations as a result of their signatures on this statement, including requests for explanation or demands to withdraw their signature.
The statement mentions as well the situation of the attorney Alexander Danilevich. The Association urges Belarusian authorities to take urgent steps to immediately and unconditionally release Mr. Alexander Danilevich and dismiss all potential criminal charges brought against him and any other Belarusian lawyers who are currently detained with respect to the exercise of their rights to freedom of expression as to the rule of law and other matters of public concern.
The UIA demands that the Belarusian Ministry of Justice, the Bar Association of Belarus, and the relevant regional bar associations take all necessary steps to reinstate lawyers that have been unfairly deprived of their license to practice law, as well as to put an end to the practice of arbitrary disciplinary proceedings and disbarments as a means of reprisals against lawyers who, in defense of the rights and interests of their clients, are perceived as being critical of, or opposed to, the government.
“Now, more than ever, the role of our Belarussian legal colleagues is crucial to defend and support the Rule of Law in Belarus.”