Sentence and Conviction of Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Signals Bealrus’ Efforts to Deter Human Rights Activists

By: Nathanael Linton

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

            On March 3, 2023, Ales Bialiatski, among other human rights activists, was sentenced by the Lieninski District Court of Minsk, under presiding Judge Maryna Zapasnik, to serve long-term prison terms. Mr. Bialiatski won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022 for his “courageous work and dedication to promoting human rights and democracy in Belarus.” He founded the organization Viasna to “provide support to incarcerated demonstrators and their families” who opposed Belarus’ constitutional amendments made in 2016 to keep then-and-current President Alexander Lukashenko in power.

Ales Bialiatski in cage enclosure during trial. Photo courtesy of Viasna

Mr. Bialiatski is currently serving ten years for being found guilty of “smuggling by an organized group” under Part 4 Article 228 of the Criminal Code, and for “financing of group actions grossly violating the public order” under Part 2 of Article 342 of the Criminal Code. However, this is not his first time being sentenced by the Belarusian government. In 2011, he was sentenced to three years for alleged tax invasion, and again in 2021 for protesting current President Lukashenko’s administration for human rights violations committed by the Belarus government. To date, Mr. Bialiatski has been in Belarusian custody since July 14, 2021.

Human rights activists and opponents of the current Belarusian government have stated that the imprisonment of human rights activists is “politically motivated.” In his defense, Mr. Bialiatski argues that “the activities of Viasna has been completely legal and comply with all international obligations of the Republic of Belarus.” However, Judge Zapasnik has found the allegations against Bailiatski, as well as the other high-level leaders of Viasna organization, to be “fully proven.” During their detainment, Mr. Staradubets, a spokesperson for Viasna, states that the conditions in which Mr. Bialiatski and others are being kept should be considered “torture.” According to Staradubets, ‘We call [it] torture because

they’re being held for several months in a 19th-century building, poorly lit cells with no fresh air, no sunlight, poor food, [and] little to no healthcare.” However, when confronted with allegedly imprisoning activists as a form of oppression, Mr. Lukashenko simply argues that all government opponents, including Mr. Bialiatski, were incarcerated for breaking the law. The recent decision now sends him to a medium-security penal colony.

            The incarceration of Mr. Bialiatski though is not the first time Belarus makes headlines for its troubling human rights issues. According to the Commissioner for Human Rights in the Council of Europe, Belarus made headlines after their 2020 presidential elections in which “various peaceful protestors were arrested, and other individuals reported missing.” The right to life is being troubled by Belarus’ numerous deprivations of liberty. These individuals’ sacrifices should not be in vain, especially those of a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. In a country such as Belarus, whose actions have been condemned by various international bodies, work should be done to prosecute Belarus for its egregious and hostile actions toward workers of human rights. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Bialiatski, his family, and all other human rights activists who still fight for justice despite their current conditions.


For further information, please see:

BBC News – Ales Bialiatski: Nobel Prize-winning activist sentenced to 10 years in jail – 3 Mar. 2023

Council of Europe, Commissioner of Human Rights – Press Statement: Belarus: today’s conviction of Nobel Laureate Bialiatski and other human rights defenders is a blatant attack against justice – 3 Mar. 2023

Council of Europe, Commissioner of Human Rights – Press Statement: Human rights violations in Belarus must stop immediately – 21 Sept. 2020

PBS News – Belarusian court sentences Nobel laureate Bialiatski to 10 years in prison – 3 Mar. 2023.

U.N. Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights – Press Statement: Sentencing of Human Rights defenders in Belarus – 3 Mar. 2023

Viasna – Viasna leadership receives from 7 to 10 years in jail – 3 Mar. 2023

Wall Street Journal – Nobel Laureate and Activist Ales Bialiatski Sentenced to 10 Years in Belarusian Prison – 3 Mar. 2023

ECHR to Hear Case Regarding Allegations Against Russia of Human Rights Violations Pertaining to MH-17 Aircraft Crash

By: Kaylee Searcy

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

 AMSTERDAM, Netherlands – On January 25, 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) announced that a complaint filed by the Netherlands and Ukraine regarding the downing of a Malaysian Airlines flight in 2014 would be “partially admissible.” The complaint met sufficient criteria and presented enough evidence to support many of the allegations and claims against Russia. Proceedings over the next two years will determine the case merits. Only then will the court issue a final ruling.

The verdict session for the case against Russia regarding the downing of flight MH-17. Photo courtesy of The New York Times.

On July 17, 2014, a Malaysian Airlines flight (MH17) was shot down by a surface-to-air missile. With 283 passengers and 15 crew members, the passenger jet was transiting from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. All 298 individuals perished in eastern Ukraine when the plane was hit. At the time, it was the largest loss of civilian life in the intensifying Russia/Ukraine conflict. 196 people on the plane were Dutch, the remaining 102 were from various countries including Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Over eight years after the incident, in November 2022, a Netherlands court convicted three men for the crime and sentenced them to life in prison. All three individuals were found to have significant connections to Russian security forces and had obtained the Russian-made missile from the military. With a desire to hold the orchestrators of the attack accountable, the Netherlands filed a complaint in 2020 with the ECHR arguing Russia’s responsibility for the catastrophic loss of life on MH17. The complaint alleged Russia was involved in the downing of MH17 and failed to investigate or even cooperate with an ongoing investigation resulting in breaching numerous articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. The specific articles include violating Article 2, providing a right to life; violating Article 3, prohibiting torture and inhumane treatment; and violating Article 13, providing the right to an effective remedy. The court acknowledged the amount of time that had passed since the plane crashed and noted that it was in the interest of justice to allow time for “clarity” and “sufficiently credible and specific evidence” to be obtained by the Netherlands before filing.

The ECHR’s willingness to hear the case and imply that Russia may be held accountable has been well received. Anticipated ramifications of the case are largely figurative and political. As of September 2022, Russia is no longer a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. However, since the incident in question occurred prior to the date Russia removed itself as a signatory, the court retains the right to investigate claims against the state. Russia continues to deny any involvement in the incident.

Further confirming the significance of this case are the 7,000 individual cases of Russian aggression in Ukraine pending before the court, hoping to be heard. In an effort to demonstrate that Russia cannot “escape the long arm of international law,” this is one monumental step in the direction of justice and culpability for the MH17.


For further information, please see:

ECHR – Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms  

ECHR- Press Release: Eastern Ukraine and flight MH17 case declared partly admissible – 25 Jan. 2023

ECHR – Press Release: New inter-State application brought by Netherlands against Russia concerning downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 – 15 July 2020  

Government of the Netherlands – Flight MH17: European Court to hand down decision on admissibility of the Netherlands’ inter-state application against Russia – 23 Jan. 2023

NYT – Dutch Court Convicts 3 of Murder for 2014 Downing of Airliner in Ukraine – November 17, 2022

NYT – The Netherlands Brings Russia to Court Over the Downing of MH17 – 23 Sept. 2020

NZ Herald – Russia-Ukraine war, Flight MH17: European court rules cases admissible, downed Malaysia Airlines plane included – 25 Jan. 2023

Reuters – European rights court rules Ukraine, MH-17 cases against Russia are admissible – 25 Jan. 2023

Simple Flying – Simple Flying, European Court of Human Rights Says Yes to Dutch Case Against Russia over MH17 – 25 Jan. 2023

Georgian State Failed to Properly Protect LGBT Demonstrators

By: George Rose

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

STRASBOURG, France — On May 17, 2013, members of the LGBT community in Georgia planned and obtained permits to hold a vigil on the steps of parliament on International Day Against Homophobia. Many former Soviet countries still have laws outlawing homosexuality, with Georgia legalizing same sex marriage in 2015. While the LGBT community was planning their vigil, members of the Orthodox Church began planning a counter demonstration, citing this as a spread of “homosexual propaganda”.

The demonstration when violence broke out.
Photo curtesy of the New York Times.

While a peaceful counterdemonstration may not have been a problem, peace was not the outcome at the demonstration. Once the members of the Orthodox Church’s counterdemonstration arrived, they quickly overrode the police barriers erected around the parliament building. The Orthodox protesters became violent, videos show priests brandishing various weapons, going as far as using stools from bars and shops, shouting “kill them”. One LGBT demonstrator remarked that she had been assaulted by members of the Orthodox Church, she recalled seeing blood on the ground and was unsure if it was hers or not. After the violence broke out, the police loaded the LGBT demonstrators onto a minibus, however, the members from the Orthodox church smashed through the windows to attack those on board. In the aftermath of the attack, eight members of the LGBT demonstration were hospitalized, as well as three police officers. Following the attack on the LGBT demonstrators, Georgia’s Prime Minister, Bidzina Ivanishvili vowed that those who promoted the violence would be punished. However, the LGBT rights groups are still waiting for proof that the government has held those who promoted violence, accountable.

In a case brought against Georgia in the European Court of Human Rights, the court ruled that Georgia had been complacent by failing to properly protect the LGBT groups. The court reasoned that the use of police officers who were unarmed, thus protecting the demonstrators with a thin line of police officers, was not adequate protection. Further, the court found that in video footage, several officers allowed the violent members of the Orthodox Church within reaching distance of the LGBT demonstrators.

The court ordered Georgia to pay €193,500 to the applicants, with €10,000 reserved to an applicant who had suffered a concussion, and €6,000 for an applicant who had been humiliated by police officers.

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Unprecedented Violence against LGBT Demonstrators

The New Yorker – What Was Behind Georgia’s Anti-Gay Rally? – 23 May 2013

The New York Times – Crowd Led by Priests Attacks Gay Rights Marchers in Georgia – 17 May 2013

NPR – Anti-Gay Riot in Tblisi Tests Balance Between Church, State – 30 Jul. 2013

ECHR Demands Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence in Russia

By: Jorge Estacio

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

RUSSIA — The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has recognized that Russian authorities continue to systemically fail to protect victims of domestic violence.

Protestors hold banners against domestic violence in Russia. Photo courtesy of

On September 14, 2021, the ECHR rendered a verdict in favor of Valeriya Igorevna Volodina, holding that authorities violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Specifically her right to respect for private life. After separating from her partner, “S.”, Ms. Volodina became a target for cyber violence. Her former partner created faked social media accounts using her name, planted a GPS tracking device within her bag, and sent death threats to her actual social media account. Additionally, S. used the fake social media account to display nude pictures of Ms. Volodina without her consent. The court stated that Russian law failed to provide protection for victims of domestic violence. The authorities had the legal tools to investigate the ongoing cyberviolence but failed to take measures of deterrence. They took two years to open a criminal case for the matter. Which resulted in the perpetrator escaping justice due to a time limit contingency within criminal proceedings. For security reasons Ms. Volodina changed her name to an undisclosed identity as of 2018.

The ECHR is threatening to continue handling Russian domestic violence cases in a simplified and accelerated form if the government does not adopt proper measures. The court refers to Ms. Volodina’s case as an example of the systematic problems that continue to prevent prosecution and convictions for domestic violence.

Displaying their willingness to expedite justice for Russian victims of domestic violence, the ECHR joined the judgment of four cases with similar subject matter. It resulted in Russia paying monetary compensation for each victim. The case noted authorities failed to properly assess the victims’ claims, were not properly trained to do so, and failed to take any action towards the known risk. Additionally, the international court condemned the government for having a legal framework that set a high threshold for injuries to be prosecutable and criminal proceedings that rushed through domestic violence inquiries. One of the victims lost her case in Kuzminskiy District Court because she arrived “sixteen minutes late” for the hearing. On December 14, 2021, in its decision the ECHR noted Russia violated several Articles of the European Convention on Human Rights culminating in discrimination against women.

Although insufficient to fully compensate for gross disregard of Human Rights, the ECHR efforts are certainly making it clear that the Russian government cannot continue to disregard the lack of human protection.  

For further information, please see:

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Violations in authorities’ failure to respond to domestic violence cases; urgent legal changes required – Dec. 14, 2021

Jurist| Legal News & Commentary – Europe human rights court rules Russia must do more to combat domestic violence – Dec. 16, 2021

The European Court of Human Rights – Press Release: Russian authorities failed to protect domestic abuse victim from her partner’s cyberviolence – Sept. 14, 2021

Institute of Modern Russia – Sergei Davidis: “The human rights violations in Russia is fraught with instability in the West” – Jan. 12, 2022

The Polish Power Struggle: Poland’s “Unprecedented” Pushback on EU Primacy and Rule of Law

By: Gabriella Kielbasinski

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Senior Articles Editor

WARSAW, Poland — The current reality: Poland and the European Union (EU) find themselves in a critical tug-of-war with dire implications for the future of rule of law and the primacy of EU law. Before addressing Poland’s latest pushback against EU primacy and rule of law, let’s look back at how the Polish judicial system has changed in order to accommodate such challenges to the most foundational tenants of EU law.

Thousands of Polish protestors group together in opposition of the changes to the Polish judicial system concerned about the threat to judicial independence and the future of rule of law. Photo Courtesy of BBC.

Since 2015, the Eurosceptic, right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) has increasingly taken control of Polish judicial bodies, including the Constitutional Tribunal, Supreme Court, and Prosecutor General’s Office. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch have noted that, under PiS’s influence, these courts “composition, independence, and functioning have been severely compromised.”

As PiS continued to infiltrate the should-be neutral judicial system, judges were replaced with PiS political allies. This raised many concerns about the overall integrity of Poland’s courts as they became increasingly politicized bodies. To reign in the remaining independent judges, PiS created a disciplinary process to sanction, and in some cases even remove, those who rule contrary to the party’s interests. This disciplinary regime continues to exacerbate the deterioration of judicial impartiality across the country.

Notably, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) weighed in on the aforementioned disciplinary system, holding that Poland’s disciplinary regime against judges is not compatible with EU law and should be immediately suspended. However, Poland has failed to comply with the order to disband it.

Looking now to 2021, on October 7th, the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that two core articles of the Treaty on European Union, Article 1 and Article 19, were “incompatible” with the Polish constitution asserting the “primacy of the Polish Constitution over EU Law.” This is a sharp deviation from the founding principles upon which the EU’s legal framework rests. Historically, primacy of European Union law was the precedent. In other words, where a conflict lies between EU law and national law, EU law should still prevail.

Observers have noted that this decision may create a dangerous precedent in which Poland can pick and choose which parts of EU law it will abide by. For independent judges struggling in Poland’s current judicial climate, this ruling inhibits their ability to rely on CJEU rulings or EU law in order to defend their decisions against PiS’s pressures. In other words, the October 7th decision has the power to wholly destabilize the already shaky legal framework of rule of law within Poland’s borders.

Moreover, human rights watchdogs have blown the whistle that this ruling not only curtails democratic interests in Poland, but also has the potential to hinder rule of law across the EU. Some world leaders worry that other EU states may follow suit after Poland, carefully selecting when EU law is binding based on the respective state’s self-interests. Sensing this potential for disaster, the European Commission was quick to respond calling out the serious concerns raised by the Polish Constitutional Tribunal and reaffirming that “EU law has primacy over national law, including constitutional provisions.”

Given the gravity of the harm at stake – the breakdown of the rule of law within the EU, it is unsurprising that other Europeans bodies also responded to the October 7th decision with decisive action: The European Parliament openly condemned the ruling; The EU has withheld €36 billion of stimulus funds for Poland; And, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has imposed a daily fine of €1 million for Poland’s noncompliance with EU rules and orders, the highest daily penalty ever imposed on an EU state. One thing is clear, as economic consequences continue to pile up for Poland, tensions across the parties involved have only grown. 

Most recently, it has been the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) pushing back against the actions of Poland’s courts. On November 8th, the ECHR ruled on a case in which two Polish judges were rejected for positions by Poland’s Chamber of Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs. The ECHR ruled that the judicial applicants had been denied a fair hearing because the Polish body which heard their case “isn’t an ‘independent and impartial tribunal established by law.” Rather, it is a politicized body composed of members who are mostly politicians, not judges. The ECHR called Poland’s current running of the courts a “blatant defiance of the rule of law.”

Notably, the ECHR’s decisions are legally binding, not merely advisory, upon the members of the Council of Europe (which Poland is a member of).

In response, on November 24th, the Constitutional Tribunal said that the ECHR has no power to question its appointment of judges, thus rejecting the ECHR’s November 8th rulings. In a move mirroring the Tribunal’s previous October 7th holding, the rationale rested upon a finding that European law was “incompatible” with the Polish Constitution. Specifically, the Tribunal found that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights was “incompatible… in as far as it gave the [ECHR] the right to assess the legality of the appointment of the Tribunal’s judges.”

While proponents of Poland’s controversial judiciary exalted the decision as a win for Polish sovereignty, others expressed concern calling the decision an “unprecedented challenge against a ruling from the European Court of Human Rights.” Any hope that Poland’s October 7th ruling was a unique departure from previously held legal principles seems effectively crushed by this latest decision. Some opposition lawmakers have gone as far as to label the November 24th ruling as an attempt to “[push Poland] out of the group of democratic countries.”

In the coming days, the European community’s response to Poland’s bold challenge to an ECHR ruling has the potential to shape the EU’s legal landscape for years to come.

For further information, please see:

Balkan Investigative Reporting Network – BIRN Fact-Check: What the Polish Constitutional Tribunal Ruling Means in Practice – 18 Oct. 2021

BBC – Poland’s Top Court Ruling Marks Major Challenge to EU Laws – 7 Oct. 2021

Bloomberg – Poland Ordered by Top Human Rights Court to Fix Judicial System – 8 Nov. 2021

Deutsche Welle – Poland Court Says European Rights Pact ‘Incompatible’ with Constitution – 25 Nov. 2021

Euractiv – Poland Makes ‘Unprecedented’ Challenge to European Rights Pact – 25 Nov. 2021

European Commission – European Commission Reaffirms the Primacy of EU Law – 7 Oct. 2021

European Commission – Independence of Polish Judges: Commission asks European Court of Justice for Financial Penalties against Poland on the Activity of the Disciplinary Chamber – 7 Sept. 2021

Human Rights Watch – Poland’s Compromised Court Threatens Rule of Law in Europe – 13 Oct. 2021

Politico – Poland Hit with Record €1M Daily Fine in EU Rule-of-Law Dispute – 27 Oct. 2021

Reuters – Polish Tribunal Rules European Rights Court Cannot Question Its Judges – 24 Nov. 2021.