The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has presented an oral report on human rights abuses in Belarus, which it admits was based on second-hand information gathered in Geneva due to an inability to meet with government and civil society representatives in Belarus.

The report, presented to the 19th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 20th, noted that the human rights situation in Belarus deteriorated sharply after the December 19 elections of 2010.  The European election monitoring group, the OSCE, had criticized the elections for failing to meet its standards for democratic elections, citing a restrictive media environment and a lack of transparency and impartiality in the electoral process. The OSCE office in Minsk was later closed by the authorities.

Information collected from secondary sources and compiled by the OHCHR in Geneva cited credible accounts of a police crackdown in Minsk that resulted in the arrest of seven out of ten presidential candidates and over 600 protestors, journalists and innocent bystanders.  Some 40 opposition leaders and journalists received prison sentences for “the organization of mass riots” but the rest have yet to be brought before a court.

The permanent representative from Belarus to the UN in Geneva, Mikhail Khvostov, said his government did not agree with the OHCHR’s oral report which he compared to a ‘micromanagement’ of his country. Ambassador Khvostov noted that “the report was based on secondary sources which required confirmation.”

According to Khvostov the December 19 protests were not peaceful since they called for the government to fall. “This was not democracy, but a crime against the people and against the State,” he said.

The High Commissioner’s report made several recommendations which it urged Belarus to undertake before the next formal session of the Human Rights Council in 2012.  The recommendations included allowing an OHCHR mission into the country, releasing all political opponents and journalists, conducting an independent investigation and reviewing the Belarus criminal code. Belarus is only country in Europe to still have the death penalty and it executed two prisoners in July this year.