Intervention of Souhayr Belhassen who presented the nomination of Ales Bialiatski for the position of FIDH Vice-President at the 38th FIDH Congress on 26 May 2013
Exceptionally, I must present you with a nomination for FIDH’s vice-presidency myself due to the fact that he himself may not do so. He is very far away, and at the same time very close; he is with us all, as you have seen throughout our Congress.
I speak, of course, of Ales Bialiatski: President of the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights Viasna in Belarus, eminent defender of human rights, respected and renowned beyond the borders of Belarus, and indeed beyond eastern Europe. You all know him, especially since the last FIDH Congress in Yerevan, held in eastern Europe for the first time under the leadership and initiative of Ales himself, the first vice-president to hail from that region.
At the start of the 1980’s, Ales Bialiatski, a young Belarusian writer, took part in the creation of a young writers group. He engaged in the national democratic movement and organised the first demonstrations against the Soviet power. This commitment saw him imprisoned in 1988, an event that marked the start of a long series of arrests and harassment.
In 1996, faced with the increasing repression of the Lukashenko regime, Ales established the Centre for the Defence of Human Rights Viasna. This organization helps victims of political repression and campaigns to raise awareness worldwide of the human rights violations committed in Belarus. Like many other associations, Viasna was liquidated in 2003 by the Ministry of Justice and forced into illegality. In 2007, Ales Bialiatski was elected FIDH Vice-President.
Re-elected in 2010 in Yerevan, Ales Bialiatski is even more involved in regional issues. From Armenia to Kazakhstan, Ukraine to Kyrgyzstan, Georgia and Russia, he has performed dozens of field missions, observed political trials, supported families of prisoners, and investigated mass crimes. His experience has been and remains crucial to FIDH’s strategy in the region.
Beyond the region, he participated in solidarity missions and shared his experience with Egyptian, Tunisian and Cuban human rights defenders, amongst others. Many of you have seen action on the ground, and have been seduced by his humanity and commitment.
On 4 August 2011, Ales joined the numerous prisoners he formerly defended with his team. The “tax evasion” charges to which he has been subjected are a shameful pretext for the authorities to rid themselves of a personality who has become too troublesome.
However, thanks to Ales, Viasna has continued an active and effective existence under the direction of Valentin Stefanovich, his vice-president present here with us today. Viasna is a network of 17 branches throughout the country. Hundreds of Belarusian citizens owe the Centre their freedom, health, and dignity, and this is Ales’ greatest victory. We were not surprised when last year, the Nobel Prize short list included our Vice-President Ales Bialiatski.
The conditions of Ales’ detention are harsh. His fellow prisoners are punished if they speak to him.
But from his cell, Ales actively follows FIDH’s life and so carries aloft his title as FIDH Vice-President, a title that is for him now more than ever a form of protection.
Should we follow the path of isolation in which the Belarusian regime wants to lock Ales to end his ability to act?
We must demonstrate to the Lukashenko regime that Ales is more alive than ever and will soon be with us.