Enemies in the eyes of the government
In 2006 the law prohibited the RADA’s activities in the country, but it is still operating in Belarus for young people. One of our main problems after we lost the space for the youth council is related to the activities of GONGOs.
GONGO stands for Government organized or operated NGO. The term refers to the organizations created under or with the support of governmental authorities to lobby certain interests or implement certain programs.
In Belarus, there are many GONGOs. We almost do not have any connection with the government and those proxy organisations. But the interesting thing is that when we go abroad to participate in international meetings, such as with the European Parliament or Council, we meet with our governmental representatives there. Sometimes they approach us or we talk about some things. However, inside our country, we do not have any communication.
We also do not have a registration in Belarus and do not receive any support from the government. Anyway, we do not have any registration as we lost our organization according to the constitutional court’s decision. One of the GONGOs wanted to join us, we said no, as they were not following the principles of human rights and democracy. After that, the government saw danger in RADA, made an investigation on us, made lots of court trials and ended up closing us. Now we are in the shadow situation. Our government does not recognize us. But we believe in peaceful and democratic change, so we do our job.
Also, GONGOs are constantly creating problems for us. For example, recently they sent a letter to the European Youth Forum telling that they should not trust our report on the torture and violations of human rights in Belarus. We submitted an alternative report on youth to the human rights council. So our GONGOs send letters saying not to recognize and trust us in this regard. Of course, the international public is on our side. However, when we were working on the new youth policy for the upcoming 10 years, we called those GONGOs to cooperate to make some joint recommendations. They never came to us to cooperate. As far as we know none of the well-known GONGOs submitted any recommendation to the new youth policy document. Regardless of all this, RADA has joined the human rights company “Abolition of the death penalty in Belarus”, and this year in November we will present a new Resolution in the European Youth Forum on this occasion. In November 2020 we will present the first alternative report on youth rights in Belarus to the UN Human Rights Council, and next year an alternative response on youth rights will be prepared for the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
I was a lecturer for 5 years in Minsk. In 2016 I lost my job for a political reason: I entered the committee of discrimination against women not from the official government’s, but from the NGO side. When I came back, the administration of my university told me they did not agree with my position and activities. To make it clear, we do not have any private universities. Each university, even “officially” the private ones, depends on the response of government’s permission. You cannot work for the University and NGO at the same time. The government considers us an enemy in our own country if one works on human rights protection and in an NGO. I work in the field of youth rights. The only activities we can do now is at the international level. For example, last year we initiated the Resolution on “Combating shrinking space with expanding opportunities for youth organisations, national youth councils and international non-governmental youth organisations” at the European Youth Forum. On the international level, the government responds to our reports and statements. We had EU-Belarus consultation in 2019, where several people came from the government. In Brussels, we talked and they said they wanted to cooperate with us, but when we are back they forget about us.
We do not talk about money, recognition or participation, which we do not have for the past 20 years. We have a situation now where the government makes a special force to deprive NGOs of legal opportunities, such as doing a registration, making an association, opening an account in a bank. Many of our members were arrested and investigated then. We are still alive and operating in the situation of 0 participation with the government in the country. We do not have any legal opportunities to be part of the policymaking of the country. They do not recognize us and pretend we do not exist when we try to talk with our government. Now, all our members and activists are under the danger of being illegally arrested as a result of the situation created after the Belarusian elections in July. With this hard situation, we still try to exist and continue our work.
Lavon Marozau — International Secretary of Belarusian National Youth Council RADA, Human Rights Defender.