Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections

Праваабарончы цэнтр «Вясна» беларускі хельсінкскі камітэт

HRD’s: Grant the right of Belarusians to participate in the referendum, regardless of their location

On February 2, the Central Commission for Elections and Referendum stated that polling stations will not be set up outside Belarus for the national referendum. The reasons are “epidemiological situation, inability to ensure health safety during the voting, and the lack of the required number of citizens on consular registration.” In connection with the announced plans of the authorities to refuse to set up polling stations outside Belarus, the "Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections" campaign states the following.

The decision obviously contradicts both the international obligations of Belarus and the current Constitution and Electoral Code. As enshrined in article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any discrimination and without unreasonable restrictions: (a)To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the voters. The state has a positive obligation to take reasonable steps to ensure that the electors are able to exercise their rights.

No comprehensible and acceptable arguments were given by the authorities for depriving hundreds of thousands of Belarusians of the right to vote. The statement that there is only a small number of Belarusian citizens on the consular registry has no merit. The polling stations at embassies were set up in all previous election campaigns, and after the events of August 2020, the number of Belarusians who left for other countries increased significantly.

Article 76 of the Constitution stipulates that referendums are held by universal, free, equal, and secret ballot. Citizens of the Republic of Belarus who have the right to vote take part in referendums. Thus, both the Constitution and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights clearly and unambiguously stipulate that all citizens have the right to participate in a referendum without any discrimination, including for the reason of their temporary stay abroad.

The Electoral Code, developing the norms of the Constitution, establishes only the procedure for holding a referendum. It clearly stipulates in Article 18 that polling stations outside the Republic of Belarus are formed, and not can be formed, at the same time establishing only the procedure for their formation. That is, the creation or non-creation of polling stations outside Belarus is not the wish of the head of a particular diplomatic mission or the leadership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

If the final decision is made to refuse to set up polling stations outside Belarus, a considerable number of Belarusian voters who for one or another reason will be abroad during the referendum may be deprived of the opportunity to participate in the referendum and, accordingly, of the right to take part in addressing major issues of state and public life.

In this regard, the “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections” campaign calls on the Belarusian authorities to abandon this decision and guarantee all Belarusian voters the right to participate in the referendum, regardless of their location.

The main day of the nationwide voting on amendments and additions to the Constitution is February 27. Early voting will be held from February 22 to February 26 inclusive. The only question for the referendum is: "Do you accept the amendments and additions to the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus?"

"Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections"