Pavel Latushka, one of the leaders of the Belarusian democratic opposition, called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to issue an arrest warrant for Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, as it did for Russian President Vladimir Putin last year. He also said the west's sanctions do not work against the regime.
"If Belarus' neighboring countries raise this issue, we believe 100 percent that Lukashenko and his accomplices will be brought before the ICC," Latushka told ERR while in Tallinn to participate in the Conference on Belarus on Friday (November 10).
Latushka, who is deputy head of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and head of National Anti-Crisis Management, said a report authored by the democratic forces shows more than 136,000 crimes against humanity were committed by the regime between May 2020 to May 2023.
More than 100,000 of these were violent deportations.
"We are talking about mass crimes, attacks against civilians, carried out by the Lukashenko regime and personally by the dictator Lukashenko," Latushka noted.
"We have already handed over two packages of information to the court. Last week I had a meeting at the ICC Prosecutor's Office where I handed over the second piece of evidence. More than 3,000 Ukrainian children have been brought from the occupied [Ukrainian] territories to Belarus. And Lukashenko organized this, he has publicly admitted it himself, and we consider that this would be a basis for issuing an arrest warrant against him," Latushka said.
In March 2022, after Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin and the Children's Rights Commissioner Maria Lvova-Belova who is considered personally responsible for the deportation of Ukrainian children.
"We are requesting an investigation in the ICC on this matter, similar to the one that Bangladesh has launched against Myanmar. So the ICC is already considering a similar case," Latushka explained.
West should sanction Belarus
The official also said Western countries have imposed sanctions against Russia which allow Lukashenko's regime can use to its advantage.
"The West does not understand that Putin and Lukashenko have created a federal state, which means that it is a single economic and customs area, and imposing sanctions on Russia, but not on the Lukashenko regime, creates an opportunity to circumvent sanctions. There are huge holes in the sanctions, which benefit Lukashenko economically," he explained.
"That is why an arrest warrant for Lukashenko, a declaration that he is a suspect in crimes against humanity and the deportation of Ukrainian children, strong sanctions to block Lukashenko's financial system – these steps could help to change the situation in Belarus," emphasized Latushka.
"Unfortunately, I know Lukashenko personally. Having been a minister and an ambassador, I have met him personally dozens of times and I know his character. He only reacts to the moves of a stronger partner, but today he feels that Europe is weak and cannot act principled. This is the support we lack today," he said.
Free press works for the preservation of the Belarusian nation
Latushka also recognized the role of the opposition media, which was also represented at the conference.
"Today, we face the existential question of the survival of the Belarusian state and nation. The Lukashenko regime is using all the propaganda tools at its disposal, together with Moscow, together with the Kremlin, to change the mentality of Belarusians, to make us feel like Russians. And this is a huge challenge for us," the former minister said.
"But we are a European country, with a very rich European history. Having been the Minister of Culture responsible for the restoration of all the historic fortresses in the country, I know that our heritage is European. But the Russians want to make us part of Russia."
"Journalism is therefore a fight for the information space. Supporting the activities of independent media can be decisive for the survival of Belarus as a nation. We are fighting a huge Russian propaganda machine, supported by the Kremlin's puppet Lukashenko, who is spending billions of dollars," Latushka added.
Social media is not a safe space either. While the opposition can try and spread its message, the authorities also try to shut down these channels. Even liking a post can lead to arrest.
"The social media networks used by our independent press give us the opportunity to bring information to Belarusians, and here it is very important to use modern technology. On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the regime can arrest and even send to prison those who follow this media," he said.
Latushka is a Belarusian politician and diplomat. He was the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Belarus from 2009 to 2012. In March 2023, a Belarusian court sentenced him in absentia to 18 years imprisonment after he joined the Coordination Council led by opposition presidential candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.
Editor: Helen Wright