GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations on Friday agreed to intensify surveillance of reported violations of rights during Belarus’ crackdown on protests, angered Minsk and its ally Moscow and lift diplomatic efforts in the crisis.
During a very heated debate in the UN Human Rights Council, European ministers condemned the repression of demonstrations since Belarus’s elections on 9 August, and the British envoy said it would support sanctions. Belarus said the Council̵
UN rights investigator Anaïs Marin earlier told a Council meeting that states should act to prevent a major geopolitical divide. “Let’s not let another Iron Curtain come down on the European continent,” she said.
Marin said more than 10,000 people have been “violently arrested” with more than 500 reports of torture and thousands “beaten wildly” since President Alexander Lukashenko claimed victory in the vote.
Protesters say the election was fraudulent. Lukashenko says he won the vote with a landslide and denies allegations of abuse as part of a Western smear campaign.
In Belarus, the detained opposition politician and prominent protest leader Maxim Znak started a hunger strike in prison on Friday, the opposition coordination council said.
There were no reports of large-scale demonstrations in Minsk, although the opposition has announced marches on Saturday and Sunday.
A man set himself on fire outside a police station in the town of Smolevichi on Friday, the Interior Ministry said, although it was not immediately clear if it was linked to the unrest. The ministry said the man had a history of mental illness.
The UN debate in Geneva, which was called for a vote on an EU proposal for increased surveillance, was repeatedly interrupted by delegations in Belarus, Russia, China and Venezuela, which raised procedural objections.
Russia – which, as a non-voting observer – proposed 17 amendments to the proposal, but they were all rejected.
The Council decided – by 23 votes to two (Venezuela, Eritrea) and 22 abstentions – to give UNHCR Michelle Bachelet a mandate to monitor the situation in Belarus and to present an oral report with recommendations before the end of the year.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry described the vote as a “dangerous precedent” and accused the Council of interfering in its internal affairs.
Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya had earlier summoned a video message to the surveillance mission, but said she was still open to talks with the government to try to resolve the crisis.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lukashenko’s main ally, agreed to lend Belarus $ 1.5 billion at a summit on Monday, and the two countries will conduct joint military training exercises in Belarus.
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Friday that special forces from Russia and Belarus had practiced a counter-terrorism scenario involving the release of hostages from a building in their “Slavic Brotherhood 2020” exercises.
It said more than 800 military personnel from the two countries attended the training near the Belarusian city of Brest.
During the UN debate, Ukraine’s Foreign Minister warned Russia against taking steps that could undermine Belarus’s sovereignty and destabilize the region.
“It is heartbreaking to see the footage of our close neighbors viciously beaten down and arbitrarily detained on the streets of their hometowns,” Dmytro Kuleba told the debate.
Denmark’s foreign minister, Jeppe Kofod, said the situation in Belarus had “worsened alarmingly” in recent months.
Wendy Morton, Britain’s junior foreign secretary, told the talks: “Britain also supports sanctions against those responsible. We are working with our international partners to hold the Belarusian authorities to account. ”
Internal divisions have so far hampered an EU push to impose sanctions on Belarus.
(This story has been rewritten to correct a typo in the first paragraph)
Further reporting by Maxim Rodionov and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Heavens; Clip by Peter Graff, Gareth Jones, William Maclean