At the 53rd Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI) delivered an oral statement during the Interactive Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Belarus on July 5, 2023. The organization addressed the calamitous situation with Belarusian conscientious objectors in Lithuania, who face deportation to Belarus only because they served in the Belarusian army in their past.

According to the Lithuanian press, the number of such Belarusians has reached 300 people. All of them have not only been denied renewal of their residence permits, they have also been banned from entering the European Union for the term of 5 years. All those Belarusians came to work in Lithuania hoping to avoid the probable mobilization into the Belarusian army in case Lukashenka decides to throw the troops against Ukraine. The actions of Lithuania increase the risks for those young men to get mobilized into the army of Belarus once again, especially in the situation if Lukashenka undertakes any military actions.

Among others, former servicemen that actively supported the Belarusian protest in 2020 also got under the risks of deportation and threats of long-term imprisonment and torture in Belarus. At this very moment, one Belarusian conscientious objector is forcefully detained and kept in custody in a room with bars on windows and without any means of communication in a refugee camp; the decision of the Lithuanian Migration Department in relation to another Belarusian conscientious objector, banning him from entering the European Union and cancelling his residence permit, was overruled by the Lithuanian court.

Derek Brett, the Main Representative of Conscience and Peace Tax International to the United Nations in Geneva, called on Lithuania and the United Nations to immediately stop the deportation of Belarusian men to Belarus, especially if there are risks of their forced mobilization into the Belarusian army.

His speech in UN is below:

We would like to draw particular attention to the plight of those Belarussian men who have fled to Lithuania seeking to avoid military mobilisation in the increasingly likely event that Belarus will join the conflict in Ukraine in support of Russia.

We understand that more than 300 have already been deported to Belarus simply on the grounds of past service in the Belarussian military, which paradoxically renders them at greater risk of such mobilisation.

In recent weeks even those who have been legitimately living and working in Lithuania have come under threat.  No sooner had a court ordered the release of Vitaly Dvarashyn from immigration detention facilities pending his asylum appeal than we heard of the similar incarceration in solitary confinement at the refugee camp at Pabrade of Ivan Strashkevic, a former Belarussian border guard who left the service in 2019 but actively supported the protests in 2020 and who has subsequently contributed to a video documenting the brutality of Belarus’ border service.

He is being held in custody in a Lithuanian refugee camp in a closed room with barred windows, despite having a valid residence permit in Poland that has not been revoked. His laptop and phone were confiscated, and he is only allowed to use the phone for 30 minutes a day, and even that is not guaranteed.

While pleading with Lithuania to adhere to due process in all such cases, Conscience and Peace Tax International calls on all States to refrain from returning to Belarus persons at risk of military mobilisation.