UN Expert Calls On Belarus Government To End Human Rights Abuses

GENEVA (AP)--The human rights situation in Belarus has deteriorated steadily in the past two years, a U.N.-appointed rights expert said Tuesday, calling the detention and mistreatment of opposition activists and journalists a particular concern.

In his report to the U.N. Human Rights Council, the global body's top rights watchdog, Adrian Severin urged Belarus' government to put an end to the arrests, beatings and expulsions by police forces that have drawn a barrage of criticism from the international community in recent years.

Last month, the E.U. demanded the immediate release of all political prisoners, including opposition presidential candidate Aleksandr Kozulin and four Belarusian election monitors.

"I urge the government of Belarus to put an end to the ongoing human rights violations described in my presentation and to bring those responsible to justice," Severin's report said.

He also urged the 47-nation council to "investigate the responsibility of senior officials of the government of Belarus in the disappearance and murders of several politicians and journalists."

Belarusian officials rejected the report, describing it as part of an "artificial and politically motivated" campaign to put pressure on the country.

"This does nothing to improve the human rights situation in Belarus," Andrei Savinykh of Belarus' U.N. mission in Geneva told The Associated Press. "There are a lot insinuations in the report that are ungrounded, there is a lot of speculation."

Severin, who encouraged Belarusian civil society activists to continue their work toward democratization, also urged the government to let observers visit the country. For the third consecutive year, Belarus failed to allow him to enter the country, he said.

Savinykh said Belarus rejects his mission and considers it biased. "That is why we refused to cooperate with them."

During presidential elections in March, in which Alexander Lukashenko won another five-year term, police repeatedly broke up pro-democracy demonstrations, beating protesters with truncheons. Hundreds were summarily tried without access to lawyers, according to Severin, who reports to the council but is independent of the United Nations.

The U.S. and E.U. have imposed financial sanctions and a visa ban on Lukashenko and other officials, citing political repression and human rights abuses.