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Interview: Holding Lukashenko Accountable

Dienstag, 26.03.2024

If no one is there to document them, crimes against humanity and human rights violations often go unseen and unpunished. In the case of Europe’s last dictatorship, the Belarusian regime, however, there is close scrutiny: Meet our university’s human rights prize winner organization, the NGO-coalition International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB).

The International Accountability Platform for Belarus (IAPB) is a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) tasked with the documentation of human rights violations in Belarus. It was founded in the aftermath of the 2020 parliamentary elections in the country. In the course of these elections, the Belarusian regime under Aleksandr Lukashenko took violent action against political opposition and infringed upon human rights on a massive scale, as reported already by the OSCE’s Moscow Mechanism rapporteur at the time, Wolfgang Benedek (REWI Uni Graz) in November 2020.

Rasmus Grue Christensen, head of the NGO DIGNITY (Danish Institute Against Torture) that is the lead member of IAPB, was so kind as to answer our questions on IAPB’s activities and the situation on the ground in this interview:


Four years after the human rights violations surrounding the 2020 parliamentary elections in Belarus that sparked the foundation of IAPB, how do you assess the platform's progress?

Until now we have been successful in achieving the objectives of the platform. The platform has collected information and evidence from more than 2000 survivors and witnesses located both inside Belarus and elsewhere, and almost one million open-source intelligence files. They are preserved in tailor-made digital archives and analyzed in the context of international criminal and human rights law frameworks. The information and evidence collected to date has assisted a number of accountability bodies and actors, including the UN examination of the human rights situation in Belarus, other relevant UN bodies, the OSCE Moscow Mechanism rapporteur on Belarus, criminal justice authorities in several states, and lawyers representing victims in Europe.


How close is IAPB to bringing a case against Lukashenko and his government in front of an international tribunal?

Criminal investigations have been initiated under the principle of universal jurisdiction in countries in Europe. IAPB supports these efforts by providing comprehensive factual and legal analyses and other relevant inputs. As Belarus is not a state party to the International Criminal Court, the ICC Investigator cannot open investigations into the situation in Belarus. Instead, the platform supports other international instances, including relevant UN human rights bodies.


What does it mean for IAPB and its work to be awarded the human rights prize of our university?

We are honored and humbled to receive the University of Graz’ prestigious human rights prize. This is a strong moral encouragement to the IAPB and to the courageous work of the Belarusian human rights community. The prize is also a very important acknowledgement of the unique and novel features of the IAPB as a civil society-based consortium formed to collect, preserve, and analyze evidence of human rights violations, which constitute international crimes, notably crimes against humanity, and to support accountability bodies, hereby contributing to bringing perpetrators justice. 


Is more visibility always desirable for a platform like yours? In other words: Have there been governmental attempts to hinder your work?

Visibility can be positive as we attempt to bring attention to human rights violations in Belarus and the importance of bringing perpetrators to justice. Visibility is also important for the victims so that they can see progress in the pursuit of accountability for gross human rights violations. On the other hand, the IAPB is an independent and impartial platform and must continue to be perceived as such.

The Belarusian regime is actively trying to hinder the work of independent Belarusian civil society, including Belarusian human rights defenders. Case in point is the criminalization of human rights work and the liquidation of human rights organizations in Belarus.


How has the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the ongoing war altered your activities? Has the support you receive from governments changed because of it? Has your network suffered?

Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, allegedly supported by Belarus, has worsened the human rights situation in Belarus even further, with those protesting Belarus support for Russia reportedly being arbitrarily arrested, detained, and subjected to torture. At the same time, the war in Ukraine has somewhat overshadowed the situation in Belarus for states and international actors.  On the other hand, the war in Ukraine has also prompted a significantly increased international focus on promoting accountability for international crimes in Ukraine and more generally. The IAPB has been able to uphold donor funding since the war broke out in Ukraine.


When would you say that IAPB has fully achieved its mission?

When the perpetrators of gross human rights violations, including those high up in the command structure, have been held accountability for the international crimes committed and when the victims have received redress, including rehabilitation.

Read more about IAPB being awarded the University of Graz’ 2024 human rights prize here.

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