Estonia and the United States initiated a discussion about the situation in Belarus and its possible effects on peace and security in Europe at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Tuesday.
In his speech, Minister of Foreign Affairs Urmas Reinsalu (Isamaa) expressed deep concern about the use of excessive force by the Belarusian authorities towards peaceful protesters triggered by the falsification of election results.
Reinsalu said now is the right time to raise the issue in the Security Council. "The Security Council has an important responsibility to prevent violent conflicts. Therefore, it is our duty to provide an early warning and raise awareness."
The council has previously said a serious violation of human rights could be an early sign of a conflict of international concern.
Estonia & U.S. raised situation in #Belarus at #UNSC.— Urmas Reinsalu (@UrmasReinsalu) August 18, 2020
It's the Council's duty to prevent conflicts & address #humanrights violations.Excessive use of force by ???????? authorities is deeply concerning. Any outside interference would threaten peace & security of Belarus & wider region. pic.twitter.com/tvEZHKbgj8
"Maintaining peace depends on how countries treat their citizens. This is shown by the tragedy taking place in Belarus," Reinsalu told the council. "The election results were falsified, there were no independent international observers. We have seen in many parts of the world what happens when free and fair elections fail and people's legitimate dissatisfaction is not heard."
The foreign minister said today's meeting sends a signal that we are closely following the events in Belarus and are making sure the Secretary-General receives the necessary support for using his preventive diplomacy toolbox where necessary.
Any outside interference threatens the peace and security of Belarus and that of the wider region, he said.
The foreign minister proposed for the UN Resident Coordinator to update the Council on events in Belarus if the developments so require.
"Estonia will continue to closely monitor the events in Belarus and, if necessary, will keep the UN Security Council focused on them in various and appropriate ways," Reinsalu said, stressing Estonia's commitment to raising issues related to the security of Europe at the UN Security Council.
Today #EstoniaUNSC w/ @USUN raised the issue of #Belarus under #UNSC AOB - the situation is very vulnerable w/ unprecedented number of people on the streets, thousands unlawfully imprisoned after elections.#UNSC has key responsibility in the prevention of violent conflict.???????? pic.twitter.com/fEsnaYnOwv— Estonia in UN ???????? (@EstoniaUN) August 18, 2020
The Estonian government does not accept the result of the election as legitimate.
A statement issued on Tuesday afternoon said: "Estonia does not recognise the results of the presidential elections in Belarus on 9 August, which were neither free nor fair. Estonia is of the opinion that Alexander Lukashenko has lost his mandate due to widespread falsification of election results."
Tomorrow, the situation in Belarus will be discussed by the Heads of State and Government of the European Union at an extraordinary video meeting of the European Council, on the proposal of the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
The Belarusian elections took place on August 9 without international observers present and with the majority of opposition candidates banned from running. The country's election committee said that President Alexander Lukashenko had secured a sixth term in office and won 80 percent of the vote. His rival Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was said to have received only 10 percent of the vote and has now fled to Lithuania after being detained.
Following the announcement of the election results, mass peaceful protests have broken out across the country. The security forces have detained thousands of people, beaten protestors and there are allegations of torture taking place in prisons.
Reinsalu's full speech is published below:
"We are deeply concerned with the situation in Belarus – the excessive use of force by the authorities in response to peaceful demonstrations in Minsk triggered by fraudulent elections.
"The UN High Commissioner on Human Rights issued a strong statement: "State authorities must allow and facilitate the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and of peaceful assembly and not repress it. People have the right to speak up and express dissent, even more in the context of elections, when democratic freedoms should be upheld, not suppressed."
"The situation is highly vulnerable. Some detainees have been released, but thousands remain imprisoned, hundreds are still missing. Hospitals are filled with people critically injured. An unprecedented number of people keep marching on the streets, many factories and public media workers are on strike.
"The election results were faked, international independent observers were not present. We have seen what happens in many parts of the world were free and fair elections fail and where legitimate grievances of people are not met. That is why this Council has often made calls for free and fair elections.
"The road to a less violent world is paved with relations of accountability between a state and a society. Maintaining peace depends on how states treat their own citizens. The unfolding tragedy in Belarus is proof of that.
"Grave human rights violations are threatening peace and security – this Council has made that link stating that severe human rights violations are an early warning indicator of conflict with international implication. The Council has also said that repression could amount to threats to international peace and security.
"The UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus in her statement yesterday sent out an early warning when she expressed serious concern over allegations of torture and other ill-treatment of people, including minors, who were detained after demonstrations connected to elections. She said testimonies about their treatment in custody are deeply troubling.
"The UN Security Council has a key responsibility in the prevention of violent conflict and mass atrocities. Therefore, an early warning and awareness-raising is our job. That is why we are discussing Belarus here today.
"Using preventive diplomacy at all levels is of utmost importance for avoiding the escalation into violent conflict. Today's meeting sends a signal that we are closely following the events in Belarus and make sure the Secretary-General receives the support necessary to use his preventive diplomacy toolbox where necessary.
"This Council shall remain engaged with the situation and receive updates of events if the developments so require. The Council shall hear direct information from the ground. The UN Resident Coordinator would be an appropriate person for this.
"We hope that all relevant stakeholders send out a clear message to the Belarusian authorities to end destructive and hostile rhetoric towards the outside world.
"Lukashenko is framing the peaceful protests as an extremist rebellion and is asking for foreign interference to help. Any outside interference threatens the peace and security of Belarus and that of the wider region.
"The peaceful demonstrators had clear demands – have a dialogue with the people, release all unlawfully detained people, prosecute those responsible for police brutality and holding new elections.
"The EU has decided on new listings for restrictive measures against those responsible for the violence. The EU convenes for a special session at the heads of states and government level tomorrow."
Editor: Helen Wright