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Contact Group on Belarus

The Council of Europe was set up to anchor human rights, democracy and respect for the rule of law throughout the whole of the continent. One European country has never been a member - Belarus: but that hasn’t stopped the Council of Europe from reaching out to spread its values there and to bring the country closer to the standards needed for membership.

From 1992 onwards, Belarus signed up to a number of conventions and was included in various Council of Europe projects. This came to a halt in March 2022 after Russia began its full-scale war of aggression against Ukraine and was expelled from the organisation. The next day, the Committee of Ministers decided to suspend all co-operation with the Belarusian authorities too. But work with Belarusian civil society and the democratic forces in exile continues, particularly young people, independent media and human rights defenders. A decision to launch a Council of Europe Contact Group on Cooperation with Belarusian Democratic Forces and Civil Society was taken in September 2022. It met for the first time two months later, and the momentum continued with the adoption of the 2023 Council of Europe Reykjavík Summit Declaration, which underlined the need for co-operation and the commitment to pursue the work of the contact group.

 Priorities

The list of activities for 2024-2025, agreed by the Contact Group and supported by the Committee of Ministers in January 2024, foresees online and offline training Belarusian lawyers and human rights defenders on European human rights standards and principles, such as equality and non-discrimination; preparation of awareness-raising initiatives on the abolition of death penalty, participation of representatives of Belarusian democratic forces in part-sessions of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and their involvement in the activities of the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. Further activities for Belarusian journalists, civil society and youth organisations in exile are also planned.

The activities follow the work under the previous 15-point plan for Belarus, launched in February 2023, which set up projects to promote human rights and the rule of law; change attitudes to the death penalty; support journalists in exile, political prisoners, women and discriminated minorities, and strengthen pluralist democracy at national and local level, with an emphasis on involving civil society and young people.

Among the priorities of the Contact Group:

  • supporting the development of the rule of law in Belarus by offering study visits for Belarusian lawyers with practice-oriented, one-day workshops on the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights;
  • working with international journalism organisations and European governments to help journalists in exile counter disinformation and propaganda coming from the Belarusian authorities and giving them the means to work – such as encouraging the easing of visa restrictions, providing political or financial backing, and developing algorithms that can distinguish between propaganda and genuine journalism.

 News and events

Towards democratic Belarus with youth leaders and activists for democracy

17 April 2024 Strasbourg

Strengthening the capacities of youth leaders and activists for democracy to play an active role in the democratic future of the country is essential to enable positive change and hope in Belarus. Youth participation in decision-making processes improves their quality and effectiveness and...

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Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya asks the Congress to support democracy in her country

congress of local and regional authorities 28 March 2024 strasbourg

The goal of the Belarusian democratic forces was to decentralise governance and foster greater empowerment and autonomy within local communities, stressed Leader of the Belarusian democratic forces Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya addressing the Congress session on 27 March 2024. Convinced that the...

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For Belarus, the path towards Europe runs through Strasbourg

secretary general 6 March 2024 strasbourg

Euronews publishes opinion article jointly written by Secretary General and Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Read More

 Who is doing what?


Committee of Ministers 

The Committee of Ministers has been at the forefront of work toto support Belarusian democratic forces and human rights defenders. In July 2022 it met de-facto democratic opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya and agreed to hold regular meetings with her and representatives of Belarussian democratic forces in exile. In September 2022, it invited Secretary General Marija Pejčinović Burić to set up a contact group to work with representatives from the Belarusian democratic opposition and report back twice-yearly. The first meeting was held in November that year, and since then the group has met several times a year.


Parliamentary Assembly

The Parliamentary Assembly – which brings together parliamentarians from the Council of Europe’s 46 member states – has been at the forefront of generating support for the democratic forces in Belarus, condemning repression by the Lukashenka regime, and demanding the release of political prisoners.

The leader of Belarus’s democratic forces Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya has addressed PACE on several occasions, while the Assembly has deepened its long-standing dialogue with exiled opposition figures as well as Belarusian civil society and journalists who share Council of Europe values.

In a January 2024 resolution, the Assembly set out wide-ranging proposals to build a democratic future for Belarus, voting – among other things – to welcome a “representative delegation of Belarusian democratic forces” to take part in some of its work. “A future democratic, independent, sovereign, peaceful and prosperous Belarus” will one day be welcomed into the Council of Europe, the parliamentarians declared, encouraging European states to “continue to differentiate between the Lukashenka regime and the people of Belarus”.

A June 2023 resolution on Belarusians in exile hailed their “resilience, courage and determination” and called for legal and practical steps to ease their stay outside Belarus, to keep them safe from reprisals, and to support Belarusian education and culture.

In other resolutions, the Assembly has demanded an international tribunal for Belarusian leaders involved in aggression against Ukraine, and urged a total ban on Belarusian athletes taking part in the Paris Olympics. It awarded the Václav Havel Human Rights Prize to Belarusian human rights activist Maria Kalesnikava in 2021, and to veteran human rights defender Ales Bialiatski in 2013.


Commissioner for Human Rights

As part of this institution’s vital role in protecting human rights defenders, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights consistently called for support for Belarusian civil society following the suspension of relations with the Belarusian authorities. The Commissioner stressed the importance of offering them stable residency in host countries, providing social benefits to them and their families, facilitating their work and easing the process of legal registration for new legal bodies. The Commissioner welcomed the fact that some member states have implemented relocation and protection policies and called on others to follow suit.


Congress of Local and Regional Authorities

The Congress, as an active member of the Contact Group, implements activities aimed at promoting democratic values in line with the principles of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. A specific focus is placed on the key role of local authorities to promote and uphold human rights, and engage with women, youth, and under-represented groups.

In November 2023, the Congress gathered in Strasbourg a group of activists from diverse political affiliations, carefully selected with representatives of the Contact Group, for a first peer exchange on the principles and standards needed to establish an efficient local self-government system.

Future activities in 2024-2025 will focus on reinforcing the Congress’ political support to the Belarusian democratic forces, through their involvement in relevant meetings. In parallel, the Congress will contribute to further incorporating European standards of local democracy into the work of the Belarusian democratic forces, and facilitate exchanges with European local authorities to build capacity and raise awareness of the concept of local self-government and principles of good governance.


Safety of Journalists Platform

The Platform for the Protection of Journalism and Safety of Journalists is a Council of Europe collaboration with 15 international NGOs and journalists’ associations that issues alerts concerning media freedom violations and safety of journalists in Council of Europe member states. It has monitored media freedom violations in Belarus since March 2023 and as of end December 2023 had reported one case of impunity for murder and 38 journalists held in detention.

 Projects / Highlights

2024

 -    A 3-day training seminar for Belarusian lawyers on the right to a fair trial under the ECHR was organised on 3-5 April 2024 jointly with the CEELI Institute (Prague).

2023

  • An online hub on human rights, adapted to the Belarusian context, is now operational, and online training sessions for Belarusian law students are being offered under the Council of Europe Human Rights Education for Legal Professionals programme (HELP).
  • Special efforts during the last two years resulted in stronger political contacts with Belarusian democratic forces, who now take part in the Parliamentary Assembly.
  • The annual Council of Europe World Forum for Democracy 2023 hosted Belarusian youth activists.
  • Workshop “Leaders for change: promoting democracy and human rights at local level”, organised by the Congress of local and regional authorities.
  • Two workshops for Belarusian journalists in exile were held in 2023.

  History

Belarus has ratified twelve of the Council of Europe’s conventions, including the  anti-doping convention, the convention on the recognition of higher education qualifications and the convention against trafficking in human beings. Belarus also participated in various formats in the work of the European Commission for Democracy through Law, known as the Venice Commission, in the Enlarged Partial Agreement on Sport (EPAS) , in the Group of States against Corruption and in the European Pharmacopoeia. This participation has been either stopped or put on hold after 2022.