The Hague Criminal Court considers investigating “Europe’s Last Dictator”
LiveFEED was provided with a letter sent by The Hague International Criminal Court in response to the appeal of Belarusians worldwide to launch a criminal investigation into Alexander Lukashenko, also known as “Europe’s Last Dictator.” Within just two weeks, over 37,000 Belarusians from 102 countries have signed their names under the appeal. We spoke to the people who started it.
“Starting from mid-July of 2020, Vasilki Initiative of Belarusians in Toronto & Greater Toronto Area started petitions to all the possible organizations, which may influence the situation in Belarus. Those organizations included the Canadian Foreign Ministry, Canadian Parliament, and the UN. We also petitioned directly to the Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau. Starting from September, we started gathering signatures with an appeal to the International Criminal Court,” shared Dmitry Gagarin, co-founder of Vasilki Initiative.
By far, the petition to The Hague International Criminal Court turned out to be the most successful one, receiving the broadest worldwide support, Gagarin emphasized. Within just two weeks, over 37,000 people from over 102 countries have signed their names under the appeal, urging the International Criminal Court to take action. According to Vasilki, most of those signatures came from Belarus itself.
Some met the petition with a certain degree of skepticism. Belarus has not ratified the Rome Statute, and therefore the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in Belarus. According to Vasilki Initiative, the criminal case may start if one of the participating countries appeals for it. Additionally, the court’s prosecutor can initiate an investigation on their own. There have already been such precedents. For instance, in 2008, the International Criminal Court issued the first arrest warrant for the President of Sudan. In 2011, warrants were issued for the arrest of Muammar Gaddafi and his son Saif al-Islam.
According to Vasilki Initiative, their main goal is to draw more international attention to what’s happening in Belarus.
“We want to remind that there will be consequences for those who are responsible for all the lawlessness on the streets of our country,” Gagarin said.
“We feel the EU definitely must toughen up the sanctions. According to the Budapest Memorandum, the US and UK act as guarantors of Belarus’ national security. In 1996, a coup took place in Belarus. The US and UK are responsible for their inaction, and we think they should help Belarusians to reinstate the constitutional order,” Gagarin noted.
As of now, over 285 people are considered political prisoners in Belarus. Among those, there are journalists, doctors, scientists, and political opponents of Alexander Lukashenko. Additionally, there are over 900 criminal cases connected to the participation in the protests against the dictatorship regime. Notably, there are no criminal cases related to police brutality, despite almost 2,000 reports that citizens filed. Overall, since August 9, 2020, more than 35,000 Belarusians were arrested under political motives, and at least eight protesters were killed. According to the UN report, during three weeks in August of 2020 there were at least 450 documented cases of torture in police custody. The exact number of torture and police violence cases is yet to be known.
Since 1994, none of the Belarusian elections were recognized as free and fair by the international community. The widely disputed presidential election of August 9, 2020 brought out a new wave of protests, which now continue for over 200 days despite the increasing repressions.
Professor Ilya Shablinsky, Deputy Head of the Department of Constitutional and Municipal Law at the Higher School of Economics, admitted in his commentary for the Voice of America that if the international tribunal receives the relevant materials against Lukashenko, it may start considering them.
“I’ve read dozens of descriptions of tortures and killings that took place after the August 9 elections: it makes one’s blood run cold. So there are quite enough reasons to hold Lukashenko accountable using the tribunal,” Shablinsky noted.
According to Mark P. Dillon, head of Information & Evidence Unit of the Office of the Prosecutor, the appeal “has been duly entered in the Communications Register of the Office.”
“We will give consideration to this communication, as appropriate, in accordance with the provisions of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. As soon as a decision is reached, we will inform you, in writing, and provide you with reasons for this decision,” wrote Dillon in the letter.
This is a developing story, check back for updates.