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Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouvskaya address the UN Human Rights Council Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanouvskaya address the UN Human Rights Council  (AFP or licensors)

Belarus opposition leader addresses tense UN debate

Belarus opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has spoken to the United Nations Human Rights Council despite the Belarussian envoy's efforts to prevent her and other critics from giving speeches. During a turbulent session of the Geneva-based U.N. body, she demanded that the country's authorities end violence against protestors and organize a free and fair presidential election.

By Stefan J. Bos  

The urgent debate of the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council on alleged rights violations in Belarus didn't go smoothly.

Till the last moment, a representative of Belarus, backed by Russia, China, and Venezuela, tried to limit speeches.

That also happened when opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya tried to talk about her supporters' reported suffering under longtime leader Alexander Lukashenko.

But the president of the Human Rights Council, Elisabeth Tichy-Fisslberger, put an end to the repeated interruptions. "If anybody doesn't agree with this, we would have to take a vote. But I would at this stage ask the secretariat to show us the rest of the video," she said.  

In it, opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya appealed for a change in Belarus. "We demand to cease violence against peaceful citizens immediately. We demand the immediate release of all political prisoners," she said.

Free elections

Tsikhanouskaya added: "We demand to allow entry and free movement to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. Finally, we demand free and fair elections. So the citizens of Belarus can freely choose their government according to the laws of the country".  

She and others believe that President Lukashenko rigged the August 9 presidential election. Among those protesting against Lukashenko are women who have reported torture and assault by security forces.

With riot police given carte blanche by president Lukashenko, they have responded by grabbing their masks and balaclavas. That forced officers to hide their faces and retreat for fear of being identified.

Back at the United Nations Security Council, U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said observers witness thousands of arrests. Hundreds of reports of torture and other ill-treatment, including sexual violence and the reported torture of children.

Bachelet said it was vital for the future of Belarus and "break these cycles of increasing repression and violence."

Listen to the report by Stefan Bos
18 September 2020, 16:09