On August 26, 2020, the everyday activities of thousands of people in 15 countries all around the world were paused, as they took time out of their days to gather for one essential value: solidarity.
In Belarus, hundreds of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest the results of the presidential election of August 9. Since then, the authorities have started violently prosecuting protesters. On September 1, the United Nations Human Rights Office cited 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees showing police abusing and torturing the very citizens they are obliged to defend according to the national legislation and international standards.
Solidarity as a response to torture
The international community has condemned the human rights violations and refused to recognize the election results by declaring them fraudulent. One way citizens around the globe have shown support to protestors is by coming together to express solidarity with Belarusians fighting for freedom.
The #BelarusWatch initiative has coordinated efforts to respond to the crisis and was involved in the organization of the event held on August 26. The date was chosen to commemorate the 26 years the Belarusian people have been living under the oppression of the Lukashenka regime. In total, people in 29 cities, some of which are; Latvia, Lithuania, Sweden, Ukraine, Germany, Belgium, Italy, the US, Ireland, Poland, Switzerland and more participated.
Young brave leaders behind the actions
The initiator of the event, Anastasiya is from Belarus and lives in Ukraine. She explains that her main motivation was to stop the violence and to protect human rights.
“When I saw what happened in Belarus it was impossible for me to keep silent..”
– I started to think of ways to help, me myself not being in Belarus, I decided to organize awareness and advocacy events all around the world. I contacted Olexandra Matviychuk at the Center for Civil Liberties, and she agreed to help me and support this initiative.
Anastasiya explains that international solidarity is important because it shows politicians around the world that they have to make decisions and take action in regard to the situation in Belarus.
Lisa May, a Ukrainian-American living in Washington D.C. and one of the organizers behind #BelarusWatch, argues that the more international pressure and attention is paid to Belarus, the smaller is a chance for an escalation of violence against the protesters. With international attention being directed at the events in Belarus, the Lukashenka regime will think twice before committing the atrocities it would have committed if the international community did not monitor its actions. Still, there is a worry that the attacks will worsen if the international pressure does not remain consistent.
Calling for accountability
On August 26, the international attention was already starting to fade away, and now we are in November with the global media as well as the public turning to look at other things.
Police brutality is a global issue that hits close to home for many, Lisa was one of the participants of the Ukrainian Euromaidan of 2013-2014 and recalls acts of violence committed by the law enforcement officers against peaceful protesters.
– You know for Ukrainians, seeing the events in Belarus brought up very sad memories of what was happening in Ukraine in 2013-14 when the police were beating up the protesters and using force disproportionately.
Lisa and Anastasiya both point out that it was energy-consuming to get people together because of a pandemic and because the date of the event fell on a Wednesday, a working day. Participants went out of their way to join and were following government guidelines to prevent the spread of Covid-19. While it took great efforts to organize the events, Lisa says it was worth it as indifference can be dangerous.
– The easiest thing to do is just to say: ‘I am not going to get involved, and it is the internal issue of Belarus’. You must always think ahead and consider the broader implications of such events. Given where Belarus is located, the outcome of the protests has the potential to greatly influence the region and paying attention to what is happening there is crucial, especially now, since it can potentially become a pivotal moment in the history of Belarus.
Lisa adds that the event was an important sign of solidarity with the people of Belarus. The activist indicates that it is crucial to speak out about torture against people held in detention, as well as the use of gas and grenades against peaceful protestors.
– We would organize this event even if it didn’t have consequences for the region. We would organize it because we care about what is going to happen to the people. This event was us showing the people of Belarus that we stand with them, that we see them, and that we believe in their victory, Lisa says.
Video Appeal of the #BelarusWatch initiative to the international community *warning contains graphic images*
Do you want to get involved? It is not too late. Join the #BelarusWatch community for the next phase and push for justice, now! by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was written by guest writer Louise Nilsson, with support from the Swedish Institute and Center for Civil Liberties