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GENEVA: Belarus is crushing dissent and blocking victims of rights abuses from seeking justice, the United Nations said Wednesday, hitting out at a “situation of complete impunity” in the country.

In a new report on the situation inside the authoritarian state, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet found that the government was continuing its massive crackdown on opponents, the media and others, with no accountability for perpetrators of abuses.

“The examination not only lays bare the violations inflicted on people trying to exercise their fundamental human rights, but highlights the inability of victims to access justice,” Bachelet said in a statement.

“The authorities’ extensive and sustained actions to crush dissent and repress civil society, independent media and opposition groups, while at the same time shielding perpetrators, points to a situation of complete impunity in Belarus.”

The report looks at the period from the run-up to contested elections in August 2020, which saw President Alexander Lukashenko remain in power for a sixth term, up until the end of 2021.

The violent crackdown on the massive protests that erupted after the 2020 election saw broad use of “unnecessary and disproportionate force”, with at least 37,000 people detained between May 2020 and May 2021, the report said.

By the end of 2021, 969 people were in prison on what the UN rights office said were reasonably believed to be “politically motivated charges”. Several individuals had been given sentences of 10 years or more.

The report does not touch on Minsk’s role supporting Russia’s ongoing full-scale invasion of Ukraine, or the impact that might have on rights inside Belarus.

But in its statement Wednesday, the UN rights office said the number of people detained on what was believed to be politically motivated charges had swelled to 1,084 by March 4.

In addition to the mass detentions, the report found that civil society organisations, rights groups and independent media continued to be targeted in Belarus.

By last October, 270 non-governmental organisations had been closed down, and by the end of 2021, 32 journalists were detained and 13 media outlets declared “extremist”, it said.

In addition, lawyers who defend dissidents, speak out about rights violations or bring cases into the UN system were detained, intimidated, faced disciplinary sanctions or were disbarred. By November, 36 lawyers had lost their licences.

The report found that Belarus not only failed to investigate alleged rights violations, but also had an “active policy to shield perpetrators and prevent accountability.”

This, it said, was “reflected in the level of reprisals, intimidation of victims and witnesses, attacks on lawyers and human rights defenders.”

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