Non-Governmental Organisations

Document VIII prepared by the Chair of the Civil Society and Democracy Committee
(in English only)

Preparatory documents for the Civil Society and Democracy Division meeting
Session of INGOs, April 2009

Strasbourg, 23rd of March 2009

Paper for the support of the Civil Society in Belarus,
proposed to the Civil Society and Democracy Committee

The Civil Society and Democracy Committee

    Reminding the decisions and steps undertaking so far :

Regarding the Belarus in the Activity Report of the Liaison Committee in 2006 the Vice-President Jean-Marie Heydt affirmed the participation of NGOs from Belarus in the NGO regional conference on “Civil Society Involvement in Building Democracy” in the March of the same year in Warsaw.

In the same year the Activity Report of the Groupings was more specific about the Belarus since, the paragraph on “civil society and consolidation of democracy in Europe”, dealt with the support of the INGOs of the Council of Europe to Belarusian associations persecuted or sidelined outside the Council of Europe. Besides, the Education and Culture Grouping, which put forward the first motion of support the NGOs in Belarus, has carried forward its major work on education for democratic citizenship.

There were been, among others, two statement, one by the Chairman of the Committee of Ministers of the CoE (on 17 March 2006) and one by the Secretary General of CoE (on 8 November 2007) concerning the deteriorating human right situation in Belaruss seen as a bad signal about the prospects for future relations between Belaruss and Council of Europe.
Specifically the first statement concerning the situation in which has taken place the Presidential elections and the second one called on Belaruss President to stop three imminent executions.

A Resolution on the situation of civil society in Belarus was adopted by the Conference of INGOs of the CoE on 30 January 2007. Specified that the Conference of INGOS is concerned with the continuing and serious violation of Human rights, the flawing of the local elections on 14 January 2007, the increasingly restrictive legislation on NGOs, trade unions, media, internet and the ongoing repression of civil society activists, was reaffirmed the necessity of a real dialogue on both sides remembering the readiness of the CoE in this sense (visit of PACE President, Rene van der Linden). However it was underlined that there are almost two condition indispensable for this dialogue: the release of all political prisoners and the finalising of investigations of cases of “disappeared persons”. There was also an appeal to the Belarusian authorities to start the process of dialogue with the representatives of civil society especially since the implementation of CoE Plan of Assistance activities for Belarus was of substantial support to civil society there. Considering all these assumptions the Conference declared its strong support to the Plan of Assistance of the CoE; called on the Committee of Ministers and all Governments to provide additional resources for the full implementation of this Action Plan; expressed the will to facilitate the participation of Belarusian delegation in the Forum for Future Democracy of June 2007; proposed to the future Expert Council on NGO legislation to deal with the situation in Belarus and encouraged the organisation of new activities.

On 22 January 2008, in the report of the meeting, the Director of Democratic Institutions, Philip Blair, invited as many members of the Conference of INGOs as possible to attend the meeting on Belaruss in which, as maintained Annelise Oeschger, should has been adopted a Resolution.

In 2008 there was a more specific document that took in account the practical support to belarussian civil society and it was the Activity Report of the Conference of INGOs which expressed the straightforward will to assist the NGOs, the human rights defenders and the indipendent media and which underline the purpose to allow further visits by representatives of Belarusian civil society in the plenary sessions of the Conference of INGOs.

The draft recommendation on 27 January 2009 based on the first report of the Expert Council on NGO law is addressed also to Belarus, remarking that the Conference is actively there in order to contribute to improve their situation for the access in the CoE.
The recommendations maintained that legislative restrictions on the establishment of informal groupings should be repealed and their legitimacy should be recognized and that
the requirement for securing registration or acquiring legal personality should be simplified.
Besides, the restrictions on children should be brought into line with the requirements of international standards, the formal time limits for decision-making by relevent authories should be no more than two or three weeks and steps should be taken to ensure their observance, the legal grounds for refusal should be reformulated where they are insufficiently precise and they should be reviwed and modified and the decision-making with respect to the registration of NGOs granting them legal personality should be assured.
Finally effective and timely judicial control over decisions concerning registration and the grant of legal personality should be assured.

The Action plan on Belarus of the Council of Europe on Media, civil society and Human Rights have been implemented in these last years.

    Confirms :

    the wish of the Committee on Democracy and Civil Society to support civil society in Belarus in order to support the general process of democracy and citizens’ participation
    the need for European Civil Society to come closer to civil society in Belarus

    Proposes :

    To encourage the Committee and the Conference of the INGOs to organise events in Belarus to support civil society;
    To aspire to have a regional event proposed by the action plan 2009 of the Committee in Belarus ;
    To continue to support activities for a better understanding of the local situation in Belarus;
    To establish a special working group of the Committee to support and study the situation of civil society in Belarus
    To confirm the need to involve the Committee of Democracy and Civil Society in the decision making policies of the Council of Europe and of the Conference of the INGOs concerning Belarus.