Responding to the passing of amendments to the Lithuanian Law on the State Border and its Protection which effectively enshrine in domestic legislation the ongoing practice of border pushbacks, Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks, said:
“Today is a dark day for justice as Lithuania’s Parliament has voted to enshrine in law illegal and abusive practices. By codifying what is illegal and forcibly returning refugees and migrants to places where they face a risk of torture and other ill-treatment, the government is trampling on their rights and on Lithuania’s own international obligations.
“Rather than taking the urgent steps necessary to stop these unlawful returns to widespread violence, intimidation and ill-treatment in Belarus, this law effectively green-lights pushing people back to torture.
“By passing this law, Lithuania has set itself on a collision course with EU law and the EU Court of Justice, which has already censured the member state over previous legislation. Lithuania cannot claim to be a rights-abiding country when it circumvents the rule of law.”
The amendment was passed 69 votes to 7 with 24 abstentions. There will be a final formal approval given by the Parliament next Tuesday.
The vote comes just weeks after Europe’s top anti-torture body, the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture, published a report that found that authorities in countries across Europe have used practices that amount to torture when targeting refugees and migrants who tried to cross Europe’s borders.
Research by Amnesty International published in June 2022 found that Lithuanian border guards subjected non-European refugees and migrants arriving from Belarus to thousands of violent pushbacks to Belarus, despite the risk of torture and other ill-treatment by Belarusian authorities, as well as to arbitrary detention and other violations.
International law prohibits collective expulsions and the return of anyone to a country where they could face serious human rights violations.