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Human rights in the legislation of the Republic of Belarus

Human rights are a set of terms, principles, norms, rules, and methods defined by the nature of the individual that provide a person an opportunity for a decent life in society.

Human rights shall be protected on international and national levels. International law plays a leading role in the protection of human rights and includes a number of transnational documents which contain the generally accepted human rights and freedoms. Currently more than 60 different agreements in the sphere of human rights are signed within the United Nations system. These documents contain a wide range of issues that concerned the humankind.

The International Bill of Human Rights is concerned as the basic document in the sphere of the protection of human rights. This document consists of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1966), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966), and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (1989).

The rights proclaimed in these documents are comprehensive. They are acceptable for all people regardless of political and economic development of a state.

The state plays the main role in the national system of protection of human rights and freedoms, it is aimed to provide equal opportunities for all members of the society to develop and implement their creative potential. The state is the main guarantor of the whole complex of rights and freedoms - civil, political, economic, social and cultural. It is not possible to implement human rights and freedoms declared by the state without creation of the social state.

The social state takes aim at protection of people on the base of the concept that guarantees a person the opportunity to enjoy at the same time the rights, freedoms, spiritual and material values. It is aimed primarily at the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights. The primary task of the state is to provide social guarantees to every citizen.

The legal basis for regulation of human rights in Belarus includes the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (hereinafter referred to as the Constitution), international treaties of the Republic of Belarus and other acts of legislation regulating human rights.

From the first days of independence the Republic of Belarus has announced its adherence to the international law. Since gaining independence and strengthening as a democratic state the legal safeguards for the individual, the issue of the protection of human rights has become an issue of special significance.

It should be noted that in the sphere of human rights the Constitution in its content complies with the international legal standards. According to the Constitution the Republic of Belarus is a social state based on the rule of law. It reflects all of the generally accepted human rights and freedoms that are enshrined in international covenants, and provides the necessary guarantees for their implementation.

The legal status of citizen of the Republic of Belarus is defined in Section II of the Constitution – “Individual, Society and the State”.

According to Article 21 of the Constitution safeguarding the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall be the supreme goal of the State. The State shall guarantee the rights and freedoms of citizens of Belarus that are enshrined in the Constitution and laws, and specified by the State's international obligations.

Another principle position on human rights enshrined in the Constitution is that law applies to everyone without discrimination and everyone has the right to equal protection of their rights and legitimate interests without any discrimination (Article 22 of the Constitution).

The basic rights of citizens in the socio-cultural sphere are:

  • right to work, to rest, to a fair remuneration for the work done (Articles 41, 42 and 43 of the Constitution);
  • right to health care, including free treatment at state health care institutions (Article 45 of the Constitution);
  • the right to social security in old age, in the event of illness, disability, incapability to work, loss of the bread-winner and in other cases specified by law (Article 47 of the Constitution);
  • right to housing (Article 48 of the Constitution);
  • the right to education (Article 49 of the Constitution);
  • the right to take part in cultural life (Article 51 of the Constitution).

In the Republic of Belarus a number of regulatory legal acts intended to manage issues related to human rights and their protection and reflected rules of international agreements in this sphere have been adopted since 1990.

In particular, the basic rights of workers secured by the Article 11 of the Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus are:

  • to work as the worthiest means of self-affirmation, which means the right to choose a profession, occupation and work in accordance with inclinations, abilities, education, training and taking into account social needs;
  • to safe and healthy working conditions;
  • to protect the economic and social rights and interests, including the right to form trade unions, conclude collective agreements;
  • to guarantee a fair remuneration for the work done in accordance with the quantity, quality and social value, and a daily, weekly rest and vacation;
  • social security, pensions and assurance in the case of occupational disease, industrial injury, disability and job loss.

The above-mentioned provisions of the Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus are specified and developed in a number of legislative acts of the Republic of Belarus, as well as in the decisions of the Government of the Republic of Belarus.

In accordance with the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Employment of the population of the Republic of Belarus” it is determined the legal, economic, social and institutional framework regulating employment and state guarantees in this sphere (free training and retraining, assistance in finding suitable work and employment, the opportunity to participate in paid public works and receive free information about available jobs, etc.).

Under the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On pension security” the citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the right to social security in old age, in the event of disability, loss of the bread-winner and in other instances specified by law. There is also special pension legislation for specific categories of citizens.

According to the law of the Republic of Belarus “On social services” it is established the legal basis of the regulation of social service, the order of providing and possessing of social service. This sphere is constantly evolving and improving. Recently, the system of institutions that provide various kinds of social services has increased significantly, the list of such services has been also extended. The system is developing in the direction of social assistance for vulnerable groups of society.

In accordance with the Code of Education citizens of the Republic of Belarus are guaranteed the right to free general, secondary, vocational and technical education and on a competitive basis to specialized secondary and higher education. The Code provides a variety of forms of education, including distance education; it defines the different types and kinds of educational institutions, the opportunity to receive education for a fee. For financial support of citizens of the Republic of Belarus a system of lending to people who studied for a fee was created (the Decree of the President of the Republic of Belarus of December 17, 2002 No.616 “On providing the citizens of the Republic of Belarus loans on favorable terms for payment for the first higher education provided in public institutions of higher education, institutions of higher education of consumer cooperatives and institutions of higher education of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus on a paid basis”). It should be noted that graduates who studied at the expense of the national and (or) local budgets in institutions of vocational and technical, special secondary and higher education, have a guarantee for the first job provision.

Under the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On public health” citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the right to health care, which is provided with the provision of affordable medical care to the population, including free treatment at public health organizations.

In addition, according to the Law it is granted to the public health organizations the right to provide paid medical services that are additional to the guaranteed free medical care (for example, cosmetology, plastic surgery with the exception of operations performed for medical reasons, etc.).

Under the Housing Code of the Republic of Belarus it is provided the legal guarantee of receipt or acquisition of housing for the citizens of the Republic of Belarus who are in need of better housing.
State support in this sphere has the form of providing housing premises of social use to certain categories of citizens; it provides office housing premises due to the nature of the employment relationship, usually for a corresponding period of time. In addition, our country has a system of allocation of preferential loans, grants and financial assistance to improve housing conditions.

Development of paid services systems in the spheres of education, health, involvement own citizens’ assets to improve their living conditions does not violate the basic principles enshrined in the Constitution but promotes satisfaction of growing needs of citizens, depending on their material welfare.

In order to achieve the main goals of the social state according to the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On the state minimum social standards” it is guaranteed the state minimum social standards ensuring the fulfillment of social rights enshrined in the Constitution. These standards represent the minimum level of state guarantees of social protection that provides basic human needs. It is expressed in the norms and regulations for the provision of cash payments, free and public social services, social security benefits and payments.

The system of standards in the Republic of Belarus includes state minimum social standards in the sphere of payment for labor, pensions, education, health, culture, housing and communal services, social support and social services.

In accordance with Article 32 of the Constitution marriage, family, motherhood, fatherhood and childhood are under state protection. These norms were enshrined in the Code of the Marriage and Family. It contains the basic areas of the state policy in the field of marriage and family relations. The state policy is aimed at protection of the family in order to strengthen it and reduce or prevent the destruction of family ties, at the establishment of equal rights of spouses, child care etc.

In accordance with Article 193 of the Code of Marriage and Family it is determined that the most important events in human life (birth, marriage, death, change of name, paternity, adoption) are the subject to compulsory registration. The State has assigned the responsibility for the registration of these events on the state bodies. In the territory of the Republic of Belarus this activity is provided by the registry offices of the local executive and administrative bodies, or the relevant executive and administrative bodies, Houses (Palaces) of civil ceremonies, and abroad – by consular institutions of our country.

For example in 2012 registry offices registered more than 339 thousand acts of civil status. However, the number of vital records of birth in comparison with 2011 increased by 5%, the vital records of death - decreased by 6.5%.

In accordance with Article 196 of the CMF, the basic principles of state offices, registering acts of civil status are: strict observance of law, timely, correct and complete registration of acts of civil status in order to protect personal and property rights of citizens, government institutions and organizations.
The political rights and freedoms respect and guaranteeing beside the Constitution are also enshrined in the relevant laws of the Republic of Belarus.

Under Article 31 of the Constitution and paragraphs 1 and 2 of Article 5 of the Law the Republic of Belarus “On Freedom of Religion and Religious Organizations”, everyone shall have the right to determine independently the attitude towards religion, to express and spread beliefs connected with the attitude towards religion, and to participate in the performance of acts of worship and religious rituals and rites, which are not prohibited by law. No one is required to report his or her attitude towards religion and can not be enforced in determining his or her attitude towards religion, to the practice of religion, to participate or not to participate in the activities of religious organizations.

In concordance with Article 34 of the Constitution and Article 5 of the Law the Law the Republic of Belarus “On Mass Media” citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall be guaranteed the right to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely information on the activities of state bodies and public associations, on political, economic, cultural and international life, and on the state of the environment.

According to the Article 35 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and the preamble of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus" the freedom to hold assemblies, rallies, street marches, demonstrations and pickets that do not disturb law and order and the rights of other citizens of the Republic of Belarus, is guaranteed by the State.

In accordance with article 36 of the Constitution and Article 2 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Public Associations”, Article 2 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On Political Parties”, Article 2 of the Law “On Labor Unions” citizens of the Republic of Belarus have the right to establish, on their own initiative, public associations, political parties and labor unions, and to join them.

Under Article 5 of the Constitution it is prohibited the foundation and activities of political parties and other public associations, that aim to change the constitutional system by force or conduct propaganda of war, social, ethnic, religious and racial hatred.

According to Article 38 of the Constitution and the Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus citizens have the right to vote freely and to be elected to state bodies on the basis of universal, equal, direct or indirect suffrage by secret ballot. The Electoral Code of the Republic of Belarus is developed in strict accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. Under development of the Electoral Code were taken into consideration the propositions of European institutions.

Under Article 40 of the Constitution and Article 3 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus “On applications of citizens and legal entities” citizens have the right to appeal to organizations by written, electronic or oral requests, as well as to the individual entrepreneurs by making comments and (or) propositions in the Book of Complaints and Propositions.

According to the Article 50 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and the Article 4 of the Law of the Republic of Belarus "On national minorities in the Republic of Belarus" any direct or indirect restriction of the rights and freedoms of citizens of the Republic of Belarus for their belonging to a national minority, as well as attempts of assimilation against their will, are not allowed.

As can be seen from the above, the Constitution and other laws of the Republic of Belarus contain practically all political rights and freedoms recognized by international community.

In the effort to develop the interstate cooperation and ensure the rights and freedoms of citizens the participating states of the Commonwealth of Independent States adopted the Convention on the Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of the Person (1995). All civil and political, social and economic rights listed in the Universal declaration of human rights and in covenants on human rights are fixed in the mentioned treaty.

State bodies of the Republic of Belarus actively participate in dialogue with the various international organizations on issues concerning human rights in our republic.

Recognizing the priority of generally recognized principles of international law the Republic of Belarus accepted a large number of the UN multilateral treaties relating to specific types of human rights. Thus, Belarus is a member of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1984), International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1965), Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (1948), Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989), etc.

One of the fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus is a right to life.

Human life is recognized in the civilized human society as the most valuable benefit. Right to life is a natural and inalienable right. Everyone receives this right from the moment of his or her birth. When a person is deprived of life all his other natural rights lose significance because of the disappearance of their holder. Therefore the generally accepted provision that everyone has the right to life is comprehensive. It is tightly connected with the question of the lawfulness of deprivation of human life, including use of the death penalty as a criminal punishment.

During the entire period of human history the necessity of the death penalty has been a subject of disputes. At the same time neither opponents nor supporters of the death penalty have sufficient arguments of its impact on the increase or decrease of crimes.

The practice of death penalty abolishment in different states testifies contrary consequences. Each country has its own way in order to abolish this form of punishment. Sometimes the adoption of such decision requires a very long period of time.

On December 21, 2010 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution calling on all states that still maintain the death penalty to “progressively restrict the use of the death penalty and reduce the number of offences for which it may be imposed”, calling for “a moratorium on the death penalty” with a further capital punishment abolishment.

Mentioned resolution has no binding force. The death penalty is not prohibited by international law; indeed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) allows its use for the most serious crimes. However, there is a steady trend in the world towards abolishment of the capital punishment. Thus in 2008 the death penalty was completely abolished by 138 countries, in 2010 there were 140 countries that abolished this punishment. Meanwhile only 25 states use the death penalty mostly just for the commission of certain serious crimes during the war, not for the general crime.

The death penalty abolishment is an internal affair of a state and not its duty. It is a right of the state that can be considered in the framework of the law enforcement problems solution and the normal life of society in accordance with specific national characteristics and traditions.

The Republic of Belarus following international trends consistently taking active steps to limit the death penalty. First of all, it should be noted the legislation development in this direction.

According to the Article 24 of the Constitution “until its abolition” the death penalty may be applied in accordance with law as an exceptional measure of punishment for especially grave crimes and only in accordance with a court sentence. Whereas the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus of 1978 didn’t provide this question at all. This implies that our society and the state aim at the death penalty abolishment.

As compared with the Criminal Code of 1960 under the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus currently in force the sphere of possible use of this kind of punishment has been reduced more than twice (14 instead of 30 elements of crimes). In addition, it’s not applied to persons under 18 years old, women.