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The fight for jailed Belarusian trade unionists continues

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5 June, 2024Yesterday global unions, trade union activists and delegates in attendance at the 112th International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva gathered at the Broken Chair to call for the immediate release of imprisoned Belarusian trade unionists and an end to the repression of workers’ rights.

Delegates at the demonstration demanded that the imprisoned leaders be released and stressed that they will continue to fight for trade union rights in Belarus until leaders are free. 
Maksim Pazniakou, acting president of the the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BKDP) said: 

“We thank you for your support. Thank you for keeping the Belarusian agenda a priority. We are aware that Belarusian state unions are trying to fool you and giving you a different picture of what is happening. They failed to tell you the truth, but the truth is being recorded in the UN reports. Long live Belarus.” 

Khaing Zar Aung, president of IndustriALL affiliate the Industrial Workers’ Federation of Myanmar (IWFM), said:

“Us in Myanmar understand your struggle. We stand with the Belarusian trade unions. We will continue to fight for your freedom and democracy. We stand with you in solidarity.” 

“I don’t know how many times we have come here to make the voices of Belarusian workers and trade union leaders heard. Our message has always been clear we will not give up. The only thing that the imprisoned leaders did is fight for their country, defend workers’ rights and defend their people and if that is a crime then we are also guilty. We will continue to fight, we will never give up. Our struggle, our fight will continue until justice prevails in Belarus,”

said Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.  
Last year the ILC adopted a resolution under Article 33 of the ILO constitution, challenging Belarus’ continued disregard for workers’ rights and imprisonment of over 50 trade unionists. Article 33 tackles non-compliance with a report of an ILO commission of inquiry. This commission was established in 2003 regarding violations of ILO Conventions 87 and 98 and produced a set of recommendations many of which still remained non-fulfilled.
To implement the resolution, the ILO held a high-level roundtable to discuss freedom of association in Belarus on 28 May 2024, in Geneva. During the roundtable Anaïs Marin, special rapporteur on Belarus characterized the situation of freedom of association in Belarus as catastrophic. She referred to the violations of the right to freedom of association having become massive over the past four years. 

Her colleague, Gina Romero, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association echoed her and called on ILO Member States to provide humanitarian assistance to the persons forced into exile and to their relatives. While Margaret Satterthwaite, special rapporteur on independence of judges and lawyers spoke about rise of political interference with the administration of justice, the absence of an independent bar association, systemic violations of the right to a fair trial, and the use of criminal law to punish trade unionists for the exercise of basic rights and to dissolve independent trade unions.
Kemal Özkan, who participated in the session on behalf of IndustriALL, commented

“Labour issues are not isolated in the democratic space of the country and the independent union movement has tried to do its best to democratize at least economic space of the country. Due to this role the authorities tried to discredit, delegitimize and criminalize independent trade unions via their international activities and ties with us.”

The government of Belarus indicated that it would not participate in the event.