The Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign announces the launch of an expert mission to monitor the elections* of deputies of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the eighth convocation and local Councils of Deputies of the twenty-ninth convocation, which will be held in Belarus on February 25, 2024.
Since 2008, the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign unites the efforts of the oldest human rights organizations in Belarus, the human rights center Viasna and the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, to monitor the observance of the electoral rights of Belarusian citizens.
On February 25, 2024, it will be the first time when the authorities will hold a "single voting day", introduced as a result of the amendment of the Constitution of Belarus in 2022. The formation of the lower house of parliament and local Councils of Deputies will be the first electoral campaign after the 2020 presidential elections. Having suppressed the 2020 protests by force, the authorities continue to harshly stifle any manifestations of what they consider a political alternative. The political landscape of the country is characterized by continuous repression for attempts to exercise such civil and political rights as freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association. The authorities have destroyed thousands of civil society organizations, independent media, opposition political parties; human rights defenders, journalists and civil activists, as well as other opponents of the regime, continue to be in prisons in inhumane conditions. Thousands of citizens convicted for political reasons are deprived of voting rights. Hundreds of thousands of voters were forced to leave the country because of the environment of fear or the threat of politically motivated persecution. At the same time, all of them were deprived of their right to vote due to the decision of the authorities not to create polling stations abroad.
In this regard, the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign states that in such conditions fair and free elections are impossible, as well as real implementation of democracy and electoral rights of citizens of Belarus. Real elections are not just electoral procedures. Any free and fair election campaign implicate, first of all, conditions when rights and freedoms are fully realized, including freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to participate in the management of one's state, and freedom from discrimination.
Monitoring by national and international observers plays an important role in establishing and maintaining confidence in the process of citizens' expression of will and its results. However, the purge of civil society, as well as the environment of fear created by the authorities, has currently ruled out the possibility of proper monitoring of all aspects of the electoral process.
We would like to remind you that the task of human rights defenders in any state is to exercise civil control over the actions of the authorities. That is why the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign considers it necessary to monitor this election campaign in order to be able to document what is happening on the basis of the information collected and continue to evaluate the actions of the authorities in terms of international standards of free and democratic elections.
At the same time, we do not see an opportunity to organize, as before, full-scale monitoring of the election campaign, to send our observers to election commissions and polling stations. This is a forced measure, primarily due to concern for the safety of observers. Therefore, we are announcing the launch of an expert mission, aimed at assessing the compliance of the 2024 election campaign with international standards concerning the conduct of real, free, and democratic elections, and to inform the national and international public about our findings.
The expert mission will collect and analyze information about the election campaign based on open sources and messages from voters from Belarus. We count on information from people in Belarus about violations during the election campaign and at the same time call for following digital hygiene and safe communication rules. Concerned voters will be able to send us information about violations through an anonymous form and other secure information channels. The monitoring results will be published as a series of reports that will be available on the campaign's website and in other open sources. The campaign's website and the information collection form will soon be available to users.
*For the purposes of this statement and other documents of the Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections campaign, the term "elections*" in relation to the election campaign–2024 is used with an asterisk to emphasize the symbolic nature of this term, since any free and fair election campaign implicates, first of all, conditions when rights and freedoms are fully realized including freedom of speech, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, the right to participate in the management of one's state, freedom from discrimination, which is practically absent in Belarus at present.