In the wake of a new wave of prison sentences against union leaders and other activists arrested earlier this year, new Belarus worker rights organization Salidarnast is tracking and disseminating updates on union political prisoners’ legal cases, and providing other worker rights news.
Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) President Aliaksandr Yarashuk, jailed since April and facing 14 years in prison, was elected in absentia to an ITUC vice-presidency at the organization’s 5th World Congress last month, reports Salidarnast.
Extraordinary mistreatment of two jailed union leaders, Leanid Sudalenka and Volha Brytsikava, for which Brytsikava reportedly started a hunger strike on November 8 and was released last week after having spent more than 105 days behind bars this year–including 75 consecutive days in the spring
Continuation of a ten-person trial associated with worker organization Rabochy Rukh for which the accused are facing prison sentences of up to 15 years for high treason, among other charges
Grodno Azot fertilizer factory worker and chairperson of the independent trade union there, Andrei Khanevich, whose phone was tapped by Belarusian special service, sentenced to five years in prison for speaking with a BelSat TV reporter
Belarusian Independent Trade Union (BNP) Vice Chairperson and Chairperson of the Local Trade Union at Belaruskali fertilizer factory, Aliaksandr Mishuk—detained since May—sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment
Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM) Deputy for Organizational Work Yanina Malash—mother of a minor child and detained since April—sentenced to one and a half years’ imprisonment
Vital Chychmarou, a former engineer fired in 2020 for trade union activities and manager of an SPM organization, sentenced to three years of home confinement
Free Trade Union of Metalworkers (SPM) Trade Union Council Secretary Mikhail Hromau—detained since April—sentenced to two and a half years of home confinement
Genadz Bedzeneu, who attempted to start a local union for Polotsk stall market workers, arrested.
Salidarnast is filling an information void created after the Lukashenko government in July forcibly shut down the BDKP and its affiliates, compounded by the detention of dozens of journalists and media workers with other civil society defenders. The number of political prisoners in Belarus stood at almost 1,500 in November, reports the European Federation of Journalists (EFJ); up from 1,000 in February. The Belarus Supreme Court in July dissolved the BKDP and its four affiliates: BNP, the Union of Radio and Electronics Workers (REP), Free Trade Union of Belarus (SPB) and SPM.
Salidarnast on December 1 flagged the arrest of at least five people at the Miory steel plant, warning of imprisonment risk for up to ten thousand people who contributed to the “Black Book of Belarus” which identified riot police.
“Despite the destruction of the independent trade union movement, workers in Belarus remain the force which can resist the dictatorship,” says Salidarnast.
The repression and eventual dismantling of the independent Belarus union movement began after hundreds of thousands of people, often led by union members , many of them women, took to the streets in 2020 to protest elections in which President Alexander Lukashenko declared himself winner in a landslide victory amid widespread allegations of fraud. The BKDP—the first Belarus union to be independent of government influence in the post-Soviet era—was founded 29 years ago and has been a member of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) since 2003.
Hear more about workers’ fight for freedom by listening to a Solidarity Center podcast interview in which now-imprisoned BDKP Vice President Sergey Antusevich in 2021 spoke passionately about workers taking to the streets in defense of democracy. Antusevich has been jailed pending trial since April 2022.
“It is the combination of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and the right to freedom of association that strengthens responsive democratic governance systems and ensures the full and meaningful exercise of the right to participate in public affairs,” writes Ciampi in her first report to the UN General Assembly.
Annalisa Ciampi’s first report as UN Special Rapporteur finds that worker rights go hand in hand with democratic development. Credit: UN
Ciampi, whose three-year term as Special Rapporteur began May 1, is an attorney and a professor of International Law at the University of Verona in Italy, and a visiting professor of European Human Rights Law at the Monash University Prato Center in Italy.
Worker rights go hand in hand with democratic development, according to the report, with the Special Rapporteur emphasizing “the mutually reinforcing relationship between freedom of peaceful assembly and of association … and democracy and development.”
(Ciampi is moderating an October 17 panel, “Expanding Space within the United Nations,” an event co-sponsored by the Solidarity Center. The side event at the UN General Assembly meeting in New York City will bring together national representatives, UN bodies and civil society representatives to discuss strategies to more effectively promote and protect civic space in the UN system through the development of responsive and inclusive UN mechanisms and processes.)
In the new report, “Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association,” Ciampi also outlines topics for upcoming reports, which include looking at how the rights to assembly and association are exercised in the context of multilateral institutions, and examining practices that promote and protect the right to form unions.
Ciampi plans to take an active role in strategic litigation cases before national, regional and international courts in cases relating to freedom of peaceful association and of assembly.
“As the Special Rapporteur previously reported, ‘workers face considerable opposition, harassment, stigmatization and even physical attacks’ in the exercise of these fundamental rights,” says Solidarity Center Legal Director Jeff Vogt.
“We welcome the commitment of Prof. Ciampi to use the legal authority of her office to intervene in support of workers’ rights in domestic litigation. Such interventions not only works to provide a remedy to workers, but also builds positive jurisprudence on the right to freedom of association.”
Previous UN Reports Examined Broad Range of Worker Rights Issues
Ciampi takes over from Maina Kiai, whose six-year term as Special Rapporteur saw a broad range of reports on the status of freedom of association in an era of global closing civic space. Among them, “The Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association in the Workplace” found that without assembly and association rights, including the right to strike, workers have little leverage to change the conditions that entrench poverty, fuel inequality and limit democracy. Further, the report stated that discrimination, abuse and relegation to jobs at the bottom of the global economy undermine women workers’ ability to join and form organizations that defend their interests. Previous reports on freedom of association and assembly also looked at worker rights to form unions in countries such as South Korea, Chile and Kazakhstan, and examined issues that include the right to freedom of assembly and association in the context of elections and business.
A Special Rapporteur is an independent expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or country situation. The mandate of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association includes studying trends, developments and challenges in relation to the exercise of these rights; making recommendations on ensuring their promotion and protection; and reporting on their violation, as well as on discrimination, threats or use of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals directed at those exercising these rights.
Workers rights—and the freedom to form unions and freely assemble—are key to achieving human rights, according to a new reportby UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai. The Solidarity Center is among organizations contributing to the research.
“This report is a clear call to action to governments and employers to immediately recognize worker rights, and for the broader human rights community to advocate for them,” says Solidarity Center Executive Director Shawna Bader-Blau.
As the report finds: “The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are … key to the realization of both democracy and dignity, since they enable people to voice and represent their interests, to hold governments accountable and to empower human agency.”
The report, which will be presented to the UN General Assembly on October 20, highlights how the vast majority of the world’s workers are disenfranchised from their rights to assembly and association—rights that are fundamental to all other human rights—either by exclusion or outright oppression.
Among the findings:
Without assembly and association rights, workers have little leverage to change the conditions that entrench poverty, fuel inequality and limit democracy.
Millions of informal workers labor in global supply chains, where some of the worst abuses of freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are found—and where migrant workers are often concentrated.
Discrimination, abuse and relegation to jobs at the bottom of the global economy undermine women workers’ ability to join and form organizations that defend their interests.
October 21 UN Report Launch Event in New York
On October 21, following the official presentation of the report, human rights activists, trade unionists, representatives of UN agencies and other members of civil society from around the world will gather at UN headquarters in New York to discuss this seminal report with Kiai.
Panelists at the launch event at the UN will discuss freedom of association in the global economy against the backdrop of government and employer repression of trade union rights and freedoms, attacks on the right to strike and the disenfranchisement of the vast majority of the world’s workers from their fundamental human rights to organize—with a special focus on women workers, migrant workers, the business and human rights agenda and governance in an era of global supply chains.
Kiai will keynote the event, which will include speakers from unions in Swaziland, Honduras, Mexico and beyond, along with representatives from Human Rights Watch, ITUC, the ILO, UN Women, and members of the business and human rights communities.
The event is co-sponsored by the AFL-CIO, Ford Foundation, Human Rights Watch, International Trade Union Confederation and the Solidarity Center, among others.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur is partnering with the Solidarity Center to research a report on the links between the political, social, and economic exclusion of workers, their associations and trade unions. The following article from the UN Special Rapporteur website describes how you can participate.
The globalization of the world economy in the past half-century has contributed to a dramatic rise in the power of large multinational corporations and has concentrated wealth in fewer hands. State power to regulate these business entities, meanwhile, has been simultaneously eroded and co-opted by elite economic actors themselves.
Unconstrained power – whether public or private in origin – is now, more than ever, a critical threat to the protection of human rights. This power shift has created a challenging environment for the enforcement of human rights, as Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai has documented in his two most recent reports on natural resource exploitation and the imbalance between how States treat businesses and civil society.
For his next report to the UN General Assembly (October 2016), the Special Rapporteur plans to explore a new dimension of this power shift: its effect on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association of workers – specifically the most marginalized portions of the world’s labor force, such as global supply chain workers, informal workers, migrant workers and domestic workers. He will also examine the gender and racial dimensions of the issue.
The Special Rapporteur is particularly interested in the links between the political, social, and economic exclusion of workers, their associations and trade unions, as expressed in:
The limitation and/or criminalization of assembly and association rights in law and in practice (and acquiescence of the State when these rights are breached by state or private actors);
The exclusion of workers in the informal economy from legal frameworks recognizing assembly and association rights;
The strategy to informalize more work for the purpose of limiting or excluding workers from exercising their assembly and association rights;
The lack of effective global governance of migration, which has led to the exploitation of migrant workers
The Special Rapporteur will also explore the interplay between the lack of assembly and association rights for workers and the health of these rights within a society as a whole.
What’s your opinion and experience? The Special Rapporteur convened an expert consultation to discuss this subject in May 2016. But he would also like to hear your views. He is particularly interested in specific, real-world examples of how the assembly and association rights of workers are being both eroded and bolstered. These examples may be included in the report.
How to submit information for the report For more details on the report, please see our concept note. For specific questions that the Special Rapporteur is looking to answer, please see the following questionnaires. Note that each file has three separate questionnaires: One for UN member states, one for businesses and one for civil society/unions/workers. Please answer only the questionnaire that corresponds to your position:
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