Belarus: Amid vicious crackdown on peaceful protests, businesses bear responsibility to respect human rights

The unfolding human rights crisis in Belarus caused by the vicious crackdown on peaceful protesters requires businesses, both foreign and national, to exercise particular diligence when operating in the country and upholding their responsibility to respect human rights, Amnesty International said in a statement today.

The near-total blackout of mobile Internet during the first three days of protests in Belarus - widely believed to be the result of government interference with the work of telecom service providers - adversely impacted the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and people’s ability to freely seek, receive and impart information.

“The terrible events unfolding in Belarus serve as a stark reminder: businesses have a role and direct responsibilities where it comes to human rights,” said Denis Krivosheev, Amnesty International’s acting Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

“People in Belarus are facing appalling human rights violations on a scale unseen since the country’s independence. Thousands have been arbitrarily detained, and torture and other ill-treatment have been widespread and severe, and at least four protesters have died. The stakes are high, and business enterprises have to be aware of their responsibility to respect human rights. They must take pro-active steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses.

“As the authorities in Belarus demonstrate complete disregard for human rights, they may place demands on businesses that would clearly lead to human rights violations. Should this be the case, business enterprises need to make their opposition to the required decisions known to the government and to the public, and pursue all legal options to challenge it.”

It remains the Belarusian authorities’ obligation first and foremost to fully respect and protect human rights in the country. Amnesty International reiterates its call on the authorities to immediately stop arbitrary arrests and put an end to the abusive use of force by police. All reported violations of human rights should be promptly investigated in an impartial and effective manner, and all those found responsible should be brought to justice in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty.

Background

According to the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UN Guiding Principles), business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights wherever they operate in the world, including throughout their operations and supply chains. The UN Guiding Principles require that business enterprises take pro-active steps to ensure that they do not cause or contribute to human rights abuses within their global operations and respond to any human rights abuses when they do occur.