Valiantsin Stefanovich, Deputy Chairman of the Human Rights Center “Viasna”, submitted a petition to the Constitutional Court to highlight the issue of discrimination on linguistic grounds, as there is virtually no lawmaking in the Belarusian language. This complicates the process of protecting the interests of Belarusian-speaking citizens in courts and other state bodies.
The human rights defender stresses that Belarusian human rights organizations keep receiving reports of discrimination on linguistic grounds. The Law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus” in its new edition of July 13, 1998 does not guarantee equality of the two official languages and, according to Stefanovich, is contrary to Art. 17 of the Constitution.
“According to the Law, proceedings are carried out in Belarusian and (or) in Russian, which in most cases results in representatives of the Belarusian minority having to take part in Russian-language hearings,” notes the human rights defender.
Human rights activists have repeatedly recorded cases when judges refused to deal with a case in the Belarusian language. Noteworthy is the administrative trial of Henik Loika, who in March 2013 was tried for an unauthorized picket in defense of the Belarusian language. Judge of Frunzenski District Court Liudmila Lapo not only refused to carry out the trial in the Belarusian language, but also forbade the defendant to respond in Belarusian. When appealing the verdict at the Minsk City Court, Judge Aliaksei Bychko also refused to hear the complaint in the Belarusian language, referring to Art. 2:11 of Procedural Executive Code of Administrative Offences, which supposedly allows the conduct of a trial in Russian.
Valiantsin Stefanovich also notes that the legal portal pravo.by has no regulations in the Belarusian language. The resource contains current information in Russian and English only, and the texts of legal acts and laws are exclusively in Russian.
Discrimination on linguistic grounds contradicts both national and international laws. In particular, according to Art. 26 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall prohibit any discrimination and guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection against discrimination on any ground.” The international standards for the protection of human rights view discrimination as any exclusion, restriction or preference based on certain criteria, including on linguistic grounds.
Therefore, Valiantsin Stefanovich urges the Constitutional Court to invalidate Art. 7 of the Law “On Languages in the Republic of Belarus”, as it is contrary to Art. 17 of the Constitution, as well as to recommend the House of Representatives to amend the article, in order to legislate the duty of the public authorities to issue all regulations (including the texts of bill) in the two state languages - Russian and Belarusian.
The petition was also sent to the House of Representatives, the Council of the Republic, the Supreme Court, the Supreme Economic Court, the Council of Ministers and the President’s Administration.