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Last updated 06 February 2013
The legislation of the Republic of Belarus and current law enforcement practices are not conducive to the development of not-for-profit organizations (NPOs); in contrast to the country’s Constitution and international obligations, they significantly restrict the freedom of association. Belarusian law bans the activity of unregistered associations and establishes criminal responsibility for the illegal organization of such associations and participation in their activities (Article 193.1, the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus). The law lists numerous grounds for denying registration and liquidating a public association. Also, Belarusian legislation complicates the ongoing activity of NPOs by restricting access to funding. In the autumn of 2011, Belarus adopted another package of changes to relevant legislation, among them criminal responsibility for violating the procedure for receiving foreign grants.
Belarus has not complied with any of the five UN Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations relating to Belarus’s violation of Article 22 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) (e.g., see Communication No. 1383/2005, Katsora et al. v. Belarus). These observations do not appear in media reports in Belarus.
Isolated positive changes in NPO legislation have occurred. For example, the requirement that public associations and foundations obtain a permit in order to obtain a seal was lifted in early 2012. These improvements, however, do not change the generally restrictive situation of NPOs in Belarus.
|Organizational Forms||Public associations; national state-public associations; associations of legal entities; foundations; institutions; consumer cooperatives|
|Registration Body||Ministry of Justice and oblast executive committees|
|Approximate Number||2,460 public associations (230 international, 685 national, and 1,544 local)
30 unions (coalitions) of public associations and 133 foundations (12 international, 5 national and 103 local)
|Barriers to Entry||Prohibition against unregistered associations; high minimum membership requirements; high registration fees; limits on eligible founders; burdensome documentation requirements; limited rights to appeal.|
|Barriers to Activities||Supervisory power allowing for interference with internal affairs of public associations and NPOs; restrictions on educational activity; broad grounds for suspension and liquidation.|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||Administrative and criminal liability for holding assemblies without permission.|
|Barriers to International Contact||Increased number of rejections of Belarusian visas to foreigners.|
|Barriers to Resources||Foreign funding must be registered and approved in advance by the government; prohibition against independent entrepreneurial activity by NPOs.|
|Population||9,542,883 (July 2012 est.)|
|Type of Government||Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||Male: 65.88 years
Female: 77.42 years (2012 est.)
|Religious Groups||Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim) 20% (1997 est.)|
|Ethnic Groups||Belarusian 81.2%, Russian 11.4%, Polish 3.9%, Ukrainian 2.4%, other 1.1% (1999 census)|
|GDP per capita||$14,900 (2011 est.)|
Source: CIA World Factbook
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||65||1 – 182|
|World Bank Rule of Law Index||14.7 (2010)||100 – 0|
|World Bank Voice & Accountability Index||7.1 (2010)||100 – 0|
|Transparency International||143||1 – 180|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Political Rights Score: 7
Civil Liberties Score: 6
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
|Foreign Policy: Failed States Index
||85 (2012)||177 – 1|
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1973|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||Yes||1992|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1973|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||--|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1969|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1981|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women||Yes||2002|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1990|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||--|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||No||--|
|European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms||No||--|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (with changes and additions adopted at the nationwide referendums of November 24, 1996 and October 17, 2004) contains the following provisions relating to civil society:
- Article 4. Democracy in the Republic of Belarus shall be exercised on the basis of diversity of political institutions, ideologies and views. The ideology of political parties, religious or other public associations or social groups may not be made mandatory for citizens.
- Article 5. Political parties and other public associations acting within the framework of the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Belarus shall contribute towards ascertaining and expressing the political will of the citizens and participate in elections.
Political parties and other public associations shall have the right to use state mass media under the procedure determined by legislation.
The creation and activities of political parties and other public associations that aim to change the constitutional system by force, or conduct propaganda of war, social, ethnic, religious and racial hatred shall be prohibited.
- Article 22. All shall be equal before the law and entitled without discrimination to equal protection of their rights and legitimate interests.
- Article 23. Restriction of personal rights and liberties shall be permitted only in the instances specified in law, in the interest of national security, public order, the protection of the morals and health of the population as well as the rights and liberties of other persons. No one may enjoy advantages and privileges that are contrary to the law.
- Article 33. Everyone is guaranteed freedom of thought and beliefs and their free expression. No one shall be forced to express one's beliefs or to deny them. No monopolization of the mass media by the State, public associations or individual citizens and no censorship shall be permitted.
- Article 34. Citizens of the Republic of Belarus shall be guaranteed the right to receive, store and disseminate complete, reliable and timely information of the activities of state bodies and public associations, on political, economic, cultural and international life, and on the state of the environment. State bodies, public associations and officials shall afford citizens of the Republic of Belarus an opportunity to familiarize themselves with material that affects their rights and legitimate interests. The use of information may be restricted by legislation with the purpose to safeguard the honor, dignity, personal and family life of the citizens and the full implementation of their rights.
- Article 35. The freedom to hold assemblies, rallies, street marches, demonstrations and pickets that do not disturb law and order or violate the rights of other citizens of the Republic of Belarus, shall be guaranteed by the State. The procedure for conducting the above events shall be determined by the law.
- Article 36. Everyone shall be entitled to freedom of association. Judges, employees of the Procurator's Office, the staff of bodies of internal affairs, the State Supervisory Committee and security bodies, as well as servicemen may not be members of political parties or other public associations that pursue political goals.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
There are many laws and regulations that affect NPOs in Belarus today. At the same time, there are only a few primary laws and regulations that specifically address the activity of NPOs as a special form of legal entity. Such legislation primarily addresses issues of establishing and registering NPOs and does not address topics such as the regulation of benefits for NPOs. The basic legislation on issues of establishing civil society organizations (CSOs) and their activities in Belarus includes (the most important pieces of legislation are italicized):
- The Constitution of the Republic of Belarus (with the changes and additions adopted at the nationwide referendums of November 24, 1996 and October 17, 2004).
- The Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus of December 7, 1998, #218-Z (with changes and additions).
- The Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 9, 1999, #275-Z (with changes and additions).
- The Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus of April 21, 2003, #194-Z (with changes and additions).
- The Tax Code of the Republic of Belarus of December 29, 2009, #71-Z (with changes and additions).
- The Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 26, 1999, #296-Z (with changes and additions).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Public Associations of October 4, 1994, #3254-XІІ (with changes and additions as at November 8, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Political Parties of October 5, 1994, #3266-XІІ (with changes and additions as at November 8, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Trade Unions of April 22, 1992, #1605-XІІ (with changes and additions as at December 13, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On the Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations of December 17, 1992, #2054-XІІ (with changes and additions as at December 22, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Consumer Cooperation (Consumer Societies and Their Unions) in the Republic of Belarus of February 25, 2002, #93-Z (with changes and additions as at November 9, 2009).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Republican State-Public Associations of July 19, 2006, #150-Z (with changes and additions as at July 15, 2010).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Courts of Arbitration of July 18, 2011, #301-Z (with changes and additions as at December 13, 2011).
- Decree #302 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Certain Measures to Regularize the Activities of Foundations of July 1, 2005 (with changes and additions as at June 11, 2009).
- Decree #50 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Certain Measures to Regularize the Activity of Gardening Societies of January 28, 2008 (with changes and additions as at December 25, 2011).
- Resolution #929 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On the Procedure of Opening Representative Offices of Foreign Organizations in the Republic of Belarus and Their Activities of July 22, 1997 (with changes and additions as at May 12, 2010).
- Decree #2 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Certain Measures to Regularize the Activities of Political Parties, Trade Unions and Other Public Associations of January 26, 1999 (with changes and additions as at October 6, 2006).
- Decree #1 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On State Registration and Liquidation (Termination of the Activity) of Business Entities of January 16, 2009 (with changes and additions as at June 27, 2011).
- Resolution #49 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus of September 13, 2005 On Certain Issues of Creating Public Associations and Their Unions (Coalitions).
- Resolution #48 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On the Adoption of Normative Legal Acts on the Issue of Executing and Reviewing Documents Related to the State Registration of Political Parties, Trade Unions, Other Public Associations, Their Unions (Coalitions), and State Registration and Exclusion from the State Registrations Register, Registration and De-registration of Their Structural Units, of August 30, 2005 (with changes and additions as at September 21, 2010).
- Resolution #272 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On Certain Issues Related to State Registration of Standing Arbitration Tribunals of December 2, 2011.
- Resolution #1445 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On the Publishing by Printed Mass Media of Information About the State Registration, Change of Name, and Dissolution of Standing Arbitration Tribunals Established as Non-Commercial Organizations of November 5, 2009 (with changes and additions as at January 18, 2012).
- Resolution #42 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Form of Documents Related to State Registration of Foundations of August 3, 2005 (with changes and additions as at November 14, 2007).
- Resolution #8 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus of January 27 2009 On Certain Measures to Implement Decree #1 of the President of the Republic of Belarus dated January 16, 2009 (with changes and additions as at October 20, 2011).
- Resolution #154 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On the Adoption of the Provision on the Procedure of Approving the Names of Commercial and Non-Commercial Organizations of February 5, 2009 (with changes and additions as at August 31, 2011).
- Resolution #20 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Names of Legal Entities of March 5, 2009 (with changes and additions as at October 6, 2010).
- Decree #425 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Using the Words ‘National’ and ‘Belarusian’ in the Names of Legal Entities and Mass Media of September 8, 2005 (with changes and additions as at August 30, 2011).
- Resolution #48 of the Committee for Archives and Records Management Under the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Provision on the Procedure of Admitting and Reviewing Documents, Issuing Opinion Letters, and Registering Symbols of Political Parties, Trade Unions and Other Public Associations (with changes and additions as at August 26, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Mass Events in the Republic of Belarus of December 30, 1997, #114-Z (with changes and additions as at November 8, 2011).
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Accounting and Reporting of October 18, 1994 #3321-XII (with changes and additions as at December 26, 2007).
- Resolution #43 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On the Procedure of Publishing and the Content of Information to Be Reflected in a Foundation’s Property Use Report of August 3, 2005.
- Decree #300 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On the Provision and Use of Gratuitous (Sponsor) Aid of July 1, 2005 (with changes and additions as at October 13, 2011).
- Resolution #779 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Model Form of an Agreement on the Provision and Use of Gratuitous (Sponsor) Aid of July 13, 2005.
- Decree #24 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On the Receipt and Use of Gratuitous Foreign Aid of November 28, 2003(with changes and additions as at April 19, 2011).
- Decree #537 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Provision on the Procedure of Exercising Control Over the Target Use of Gratuitous Foreign Aid of November 28, 2003.
- Resolution #9 of the General Affairs Office of the President of the Republic of Belarus On the Procedure of Registration, Receipt and Use of Gratuitous Foreign Aid of September 17, 2010 (with changes and additions as at September 26, 2011).
- Resolution #150 of the Board of the National Bank of the Republic On Approving the Instruction on the Reporting Target Use of Gratuitous Foreign Aid Provided as Cash (with changes and additions as at November 14, 2008).
- Decree #460 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On International Technical Assistance Provided to the Republic of Belarus of October 22, 2003 (with changes and additions as at March 5, 2010).
- Resolution #1522 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of November 21, 2003 On Certain Measures to Implement Decree #460 of the President of the Republic of Belarus of October 22, 2003 (with changes and additions as at March 27, 2010).
- Resolution #1513 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Provision on the Procedure of Evaluation of the Progress and Effectiveness of International Technical Assistance Projects (Programs) of November 26, 2004.
- Resolution #86 of the Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Belarus On the Preparation by International Foreign Assistance Recipients of Project Proposals and Descriptions of Projects (Programs) of Said Assistance dated May 11, 2005.
- Resolution #86 of the Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Belarus On Instituting the Form of an Application to Register an International Technical Assistance Project (Program) and Invalidate Resolutions of the Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Belarus.
- Resolution #82 of the Ministry of the Economy of the Republic of Belarus On the Form of a Listing of Goods (Property, Including Funds), Works and Services Provided for the Implementation of International Technical Assistance Projects (Programs) dated May 4, 2010.
- Decree #374 of the President of the Republic of Belarus of July 9, 2001 On Exempting the Union of Public Associations “The Belarusian Confederation of Creative Unions,” and the Creative Unions of the Republic of Belarus and Foundations Thereof from Profit and Value-Added Taxes (with changes and additions as at January 21, 2010).
- Decree #497 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Supporting Physical Culture and Sports Organizations of November 3, 2011.
- The Law of the Republic of Belarus On State Support of Youth and Children’s Public Associations in the Republic of Belarus of November 9, 1999, #305-Z.
- Resolution of the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the Instruction on the Procedure of Forming the Republican Register of State-Supported Youth and Children’s Public Associations of November 30, 2005, #101 (with changes and additions as at May 11, 2009).
- Decree #510 of the President of the Republic of Belarus of March 29, 2012 On Certain Issues of Renting and Free Use of Property.
- Resolution #550 of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus On Approving the List of Public Organizations (Associations) and Their Structural Units, Foundations, and Associations of Legal Entities and/or Individual Entrepreneurs (Associations and Unions) Entitled to 0.1 Reduction of the Base Rental Rate for Real Property of April 9, 2010 (with changes and additions as at June 22, 2011).
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
The Law on Social Welfare, which for the first time provides a legal basis for all non-commercial organizations to access state funding, was signed by the President on July 13. New regulations for the law will be prepared in the upcoming months, and funding will likely be provided through local budgets and regulated at the local level. Previously, only state subsidies were available, and only for certain types of organizations, such as sports and youth groups.
On August 31, the draft law on amendments to the Law on Public Associations and to the Law on Political Parties went public. The amendments on public associations streamline the liquidations process and clarify procedures regarding structural units of international associations and the number of required founders for local and nation-wide organizations. The draft law provides for some improvements and clarifications in the law, however, it does not address the most serious existing barriers to registration, operational activity and funding of CSOs.
On August 22, the Ministry of Economy put forward for consultation the concept of the draft Law on public-private partnership in the Republic of Belarus. The main objectives of the Law are to create conditions for developing public-private partnerships, to attract investments, to ensure effective usage of public property and to increase the quality of the goods provided to the population.
On April 12, 2012, the House of Representatives of the National Assembly passed in the first reading the draft Law on Amendments to Some Laws of the Republic of Belarus on Social Services. One of the novelties of the law is introducing for the first time the mechanism of social contracting. Currently the working group at the Permanent Commission on Labor, Social Protection, Veterans’ and Disabled Affairs is working on preparing the draft for the second reading. On May 21, the working group held a meeting where issues were discussed, such as subsidies to non-state service providers for social services and social projects and procedures for settling disputes connected to social services provision.
On May 4, 2012, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the National Program for International Technical Assistance in 2012-2016. The program outlines the main needs of the Republic of Belarus in international technical assistance and establishes priorities for national policies in this area. The program is accompanied by a list of proposed projects. Two initiatives proposed by NPOs are included in the current list, i.e. developing an effective system for palliative care for children and creating a volunteer bank in Belarus. Another important legal priority is “Improving legal environment for carrying out charity activities in the Republic of Belarus.”
The development of Belarusian legislation in the sphere of freedom of association has been significantly influenced by European continental law. The Civil Code lists a number of organizational and legal forms for NPOs, as listed below. They can be divided into two categories: “membership-based associations” and “property-based associations.”
- Public and religious organizations (associations) are voluntary, membership-based associations of citizens uniting on the basis of their common interests to fulfill their spiritual and other non-material needs in accordance with the legislation. [Belarusian law provides for the establishment of the following types of public organizations: political parties, trade unions, and public associations.]
- National state-public associations are membership-based NPOs, their purpose being to implement tasks of state significance.
- Associations of legal entities (coalitions and unions) are membership-based NPOs founded under an agreement by and between commercial organizations and/or individual entrepreneurs to coordinate their business activities, as well as to represent and protect common property interests or to unite NPOs or commercial and non-commercial organizations.
- Foundations are property-based associations without membership, founded by one or more citizens and/or legal entities (or one legal entity) on the basis of voluntary property contributions. They pursue social, charitable, cultural, educational and scientific goals, the development of physical culture and sports, or other socially useful goals specified in their charters.
- Institutions are organizations set up by a proprietor in order to exercise managerial, socio-cultural or other non-commercial functions, funded by the proprietor in part or in full.
- Consumer cooperatives are voluntary, membership-based or property-based associations of citizens or citizens and legal entities for the purpose of fulfilling material (property) and other needs of their members.
The Civil Code listing of organizational and legal forms of NPOs is not exhaustive. For example, the Law on Local Government and Self-Government in the Republic of Belarus of January 4, 2010, #108-Z (amended as of December 22, 2011) provides that a collegial body for territorial public self-government is also an NPO. Under the Law on Courts of Arbitration, a standing court of arbitration can be an NPO or a detached subdivision (subdivision) of a legal entity.
An NPO seeking registration must correspond to one of the organizational forms included in the Civil Code or other laws. NPOs cannot operate without being registered.
Different types of NPOs are registered by different government bodies:
- The Ministry of Justice and chief directorates of Justice at the oblast executive committees and Minsk Executive Committee register the following types of NPOs: public associations, political parties, trade unions, foundations, their unions (coalitions), national state-public associations, and courts of arbitration. Justice directorates are also the competent authority for state registration of structural units of political parties; oblast and inter-oblast structural units of public associations; and inter-oblast, oblast, and the city of Minsk structural units of trade unions, if the governing body of the structural unit is located within the jurisdiction of the justice directorate.
- Oblast executive committees and the Minsk Executive Committee have the right to delegate a portion of their state registration authority to local executive and administrative bodies. Local executive and administrative bodies may register the following types of organizations: institutions, consumer cooperatives, gardening societies, unions (associations) of not-for-profit and/or for-profit organizations, individual entrepreneurs, and religious communities. Local executive and administrative bodies are authorized to consider applications from structural units of the associations, the registration of which is not within the competence of regional directorates of justice.
- The National Department for Religious Affairs is responsible for the state registration of religious associations, monasteries and monastic communities, religious brotherhoods and sisterhoods, religious missions, and seminaries.
As of January 1, 2012, there were 15 political parties, 37 trade unions (33 national, one territorial, and three trade unions within organizations), and 2,402 public associations (230 international, 682 national, and 1,490 local) registered in Belarus. There are 27 unions (coalitions) of public associations and 119 foundations (11 international, 5 national, and 103 local) registered in Belarus.
There are 595 public associations dedicated to physical culture and sports; 394 charitable public associations; 234 youth public associations (including 33 children’s and 211 knowledge, culture and leisure, and education associations); 112 public associations of ethnic minority citizens; 84 public associations of war invalids, disabled workers, and veterans; 81 public associations for the promotion of science and technology; 66 public associations for the protection of nature, historical monuments, and culture; 49 creative public associations; 31 women’s public associations; and 545 other public associations.
No data is available for other organizational and legal forms of NPOs.
Public Benefit Status
Belarusian law does not recognize concepts such as “socially oriented,” “charitable” or “public benefit” organizations. Tax benefits are extended to organizations based on their type of activity rather than public benefit status, or to specifically designated organizations. For example, Presidential Decree #497 of November 3, 2011 on Supporting Physical Culture and Sports Organizations lists a number of such organizations that are entitled to government support, including tax benefits.
Barriers to Entry
Prohibition of unregistered associations. Unregistered associations are banned from all activity in Belarus. Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus establishes criminal responsibility for organizing or participating in the activity of a political party or other public association, religious organization, or foundation regarding which there is an effective decision of a competent state body to liquidate or suspend their activity, and for organizing or participating in the activity of a political party or other public association, religious organization, or foundation which has not registered with appropriate state authorities in accordance with established procedure. Such activity is punishable by a fine, arrest for up to six months, or imprisonment for up to two years.
Minimum membership requirements. An NPO may be considered an international, nation-wide (republic-wide), or local public organization, depending on the territory where the NPO carries out its activities. For each type, Belarusian law places strict requirements on the number of founders. At least 50 founders are required to establish a nation-wide public association, of which ten must reside in Minsk and ten in four different oblasts. A local public association must have at least ten founders representing the majority of administrative-territorial subdivisions of the territory in which it is planning to operate. (The law refers to village councils as administrative-territorial subdivisions.) In the Minsk region, for example, there are 22 raions (districts), 307 village councils, 22 towns and 20 urban-type communities, so according to the law, 186 founders are required to establish a public association that can carry out activities in the Minsk region. In practice this rule is applied arbitrarily.
Initial capital requirements. To set up a foundation, the founders must have capital. Local foundations must have 100 basic amounts (one basic amount equals 100,000 Belarusian rubles, approximately USD 12.4) or USD 1,240. International or nationwide foundations must possess 1,000 basic amounts or USD 12,400.
Registration fees. State registration of local public associations and foundations costs the same as for commercial organizations. A national or international association or foundation, however, is required to pay twice the fee of the national commercial entity (approximately USD 124). In general, Belarusian legislation discriminates against public associations and foundations in comparison with for-profit and some other not-for-profit organizations, which effectively only need to apply to get registered.
Limits on eligible founders. Citizens under the age of 18 cannot be founders of legal entities in Belarus with the exception of children and youth public associations that can be founded by citizens from the age of 16. Foreign citizens cannot be founders of public associations, with the exception of international public associations established in Belarus. By law it is not possible for natural persons to create associations with legal persons, with the exception of consumer cooperatives; by contrast, both associations of natural persons and associations of legal persons are allowed.
Documentation requirements. Public associations and foundations must prepare and submit a formidable package of documents for registration. If the documents meet the requirements, the entity will be registered within one month from the submission. The responsible authorities have broad powers to check the documents and have them examined by experts. A public association may be denied registration for insignificant breaches of the legislation in its charter as well as for submitting other documents and/or information that do not meet the requirements of applicable legislation, including forged or invalid documents. Since the legislation regulates even the font size in the registration documents and demands that every founder indicate their place of employment and home and business telephone numbers, it is not uncommon for a public association to be refused registration because of minor mistakes.
Limited rights of appeal. If denied registration, the governing body of a public association may go to court. Since 2001, however, no court has allowed a claim of this kind. Furthermore, national and international public associations and foundations have no right to appeal against the decision of a court of first appearance because in their case the Supreme Court of Belarus is prescribed as the court of first appearance.
Foreign organizations. A foreign-based organization may not operate in the Republic of Belarus before it has registered its local branch with the Ministry of Justice (in compliance with the same procedure as for public associations) or has been granted permission to open a representative office by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Currently there are about 32 representations of foreign-based NPOs in Belarus, among them representative offices of chambers of trade and industry.
Barriers to Operational Activity
Limits on educational activity. Since the Education Code of the Republic of Belarus took effect on September 1, 2011, the ability of NPOs to pursue educational activity has been open to question. This legislation classifies a very broad range of activities as educational (including training programs, thematic seminars, popular lectures courses, and personal empowerment workshops) and limits the list of entities allowed to carry out educational activity to those explicitly granted that right by law. With the exception of educational institutions, NPOs are not included in that list.
Interference in internal affairs. The Law on Public Associations provides that interference of state bodies and officials into the activity of public associations is not allowed. However, such interference takes place even at the registration stage, as the registration official may modify the goals, tasks, methods of activity, and the internal structure of public associations.
The same law authorizes registration officials to participate in any activities conducted by foundations, public associations, their structural units or unions for statutory purposes, as well as to demand and obtain information related to an organization’s statutory activity and examine their documents and decisions.
A foundation, public association or union must notify the registering body about an upcoming meeting of its highest level governing body not less than seven days in advance.
Reporting requirements. The law also requires foundations, associations, and unions to submit mandatory annual reports to registering bodies, including information about their continuing operation and the location of the governance body; statutory activities in the past year; the membership of the public association and its structural units; its composition; and lists of the members of elective bodies, with minutes of the election attached. Foundations must also publish reports in nationwide print media on an annual basis. The report shall include information on number of founders; assets and property, including property transferred by founders; income from events, income from economic activities, and other income; expenditures on public benefit activities as provided by the organization’s statute; the number of for-profit organizations created by the foundation or where the foundation participates to carry out economic activities.
Sanctions, suspension, liquidation. Registering bodies may impose sanctions on public associations, including written warnings, suspension of activity, and liquidation.
The activity of a public association or union may be suspended for one to six months by a court decision based on an application of the appropriate registering body. First, the registering body must issue a written warning. Then the public association or union has an opportunity to eliminate the violations within the established deadline and inform the registering office in writing with documented proof. When a public association or union is suspended for a term specified by a court decision, the public association or union is forbidden from carrying out any activity, except for those aimed at eliminating the violations. In practice, registering bodies rarely initiate the suspension procedure.
A public association or union may be liquidated by decision of the court if:
- it conducts propaganda for war or extremist activity;
- it violates the law and/or its constituent documents within a year after the receipt of a written warning;
- in the course of state registration of the public association or union, its founders commit violations of legislative acts that cannot be corrected;
- the number of members and composition of the association do not meet the requirements provided by law, according to its status and activities; or
- the organization is suspended and fails to correct the violations within deadlines set by the relevant court decision.
A public association or union can also be liquidated by a court decision for a single violation of the Law on Mass Events, as well as for violations of the requirements established by applicable law for use of gratuitous foreign aid. A public association may also be liquidated for unlicensed or prohibited activity or other repeated or gross violations of applicable laws (this usually gives grounds for the liquidation of an “undesirable” organization).
As a rule, courts take the side of the registering body and the petition to liquidate. Forced liquidations of public associations were carried out in Belarus en masse in 2001-2004.
Tax sanctions may be used against NPOs as well. For example, the Helsinki Committee of Belarus is supposed to pay more than 205 million Belarusian rubles in taxes and fines for using European Community (EC) grants received in 2002-2003, which are tax-exempt under international agreements. Notably, tax sanctions were imposed on only two of the more than 30 NPOs that received EC technical assistance funding.
NPO leaders and members are also subject to pressure from the state. In 2011, the leader of the Advocacy Center Vyasna and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (IFHR), Ales Bialiatski, was sentenced to 4.5 years in prison.
Denial of premises for events. There are several reports of NPOs being denied rental of premises for their meetings. For example, the Assembly of NGOs of Belarus was recently denied premises by a number of venues in Minsk without reasonable justification. The denial of venues for NPO meetings has become standard practice in recent years.
GONGOs. The Belarusian government has set up its own NPOs (GONGOs), such as the Public Association Belarusian Republican Union of Youth and the Republican Public Association Belaya Rus.
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
The ability to engage in free expression and advocacy is severely curtailed in Belarus. As evidence, there is only one advocacy-based public association with national status registered in Belarus. There are effectively no independent media organizations.
Permission is necessary to hold any mass event, which includes, but is not limited to, any mass gathering of citizens in a pre-determined public place (including outdoors) at a set time, with the intention to commit a pre-determined act, organized (including online organizations or other information networks) for public expression of their social and political attitudes or to protest.
In the majority of cases, NPOs are excluded from the decision-making process and have no input on government policies and lawmaking. The Law on Normative Legal Acts in the Republic of Belarus #361-Z of January 10, 2000 (amended as of July 2, 2009) provides for nothing but the right of public associations to submit their proposals during the legislative drafting process.
In a positive development for NPOs, Presidential Directive #4 of December 31, 2010 introduced mandatory public review of draft legislation that may impact significantly on the conditions of entrepreneurial activity. The directive instructs national-level state administration bodies and other state organizations subordinate to the Government of the Republic of Belarus, oblast executive committees, and the executive committee of the city of Minsk to establish public-consultative and/or expert councils. The councils should include representatives of businesses and their associations and unions and are required to publish relevant draft legislation on their official websites and/or the mass media. This directive, however, has limited application.
Barriers to International Contact
The Belarusian authorities hinder NPOs’ communication with organizations abroad. In 2011, the number of representatives from foreign advocacy organizations who were denied entry to the country increased. The prohibition was extended even to those foreign nationals who do not need an entry visa under Belarus’ international agreements, including even citizens of its Allied State, the Russian Federation.
Barriers to Resources
Funding from abroad (gratuitous foreign aid and international technical assistance) must be registered with government bodies, which have authority to refuse the registration. Further, it is forbidden to use such foreign aid without registration. The law lists a number of purposes for which gratuitous foreign aid may be rendered. The President of the Republic of Belarus may approve aid for purposes not listed in the law. Enforcement practices show that a letter of support from a related ministry, agency, or local executive body may be required to register gratuitous foreign aid. The registration procedure lacks transparency. Violation of legislation on gratuitous foreign aid legislation entails administrative and criminal responsibility.
The legislation of the Republic of Belarus lists the purposes for which NPOs may receive aid from Belarusian legal entities and individual entrepreneurs. A violation of the procedure of rendering and using such aid entails administrative responsibility.
Belarus lacks an open and transparent system of funding NPOs from the state budget and of informing the public about such funding.
Belarusian law forbids public associations and unions (coalitions) of public associations from engaging in independent entrepreneurial activity. They may do so only by participating in or founding a for-profit entity. Consumer societies and sports societies entered in a special list are exceptions to this rule.
There are no tax benefits for donors to NPOs.
|UN Universal Periodic Review Reports|
|Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs|
|USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes||
|U.S. State Department|
|Failed States Index Reports|
|IMF Country Reports|
|European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission)|
|International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library|
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at email@example.com.
Belarusian Human Rights Defenders Need Support (February 2013) Belarus is not a member state of the Council of Europe and should not even be considered a candidate until it releases all human rights defenders and opposition activists imprisoned for political motives, abolishes the death penalty and carries out far-reaching democratic reforms. This means that Belarus is not currently subject to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Human Rights or country reports by most monitoring mechanisms and my own office. However, this does not absolve the Council of Europe and its member states from taking an active interest in Belarus, abstaining from actions that can harm Belarusian human rights defenders, and seeking to support human rights in the country. http://humanrightscomment.org/2013/02/12/belarusian-human-rights-defenders-need-support/
Socially Oriented Mobile Applications for Belarusian Civil Society (January 2013)
In an attempt to give a richer picture of the recent political and civil society events in Belarus, Belarus Digest prepared an article on how Belarusian civil society and NGOs are engaged in a whole plethora of activities from developing socially-oriented mobile phone applications to preparing books on organic farming.
Belarusian human rights center's property confiscated (December 2012)
The property of a prominent human rights organization in Minsk has been confiscated. Officials took away equipment and furniture from the unregistered Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center on November 26.The center's office has been in the apartment of Vyasna Chairman Ales Byalyatski for 12 years.
Defending human rights in Belarus: Two years after the crackdown (December 2012)
Russia is trying to “re-Sovietize” Eastern Europe and Central Asia under the auspices of a Eurasian Union, the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe heard last week. “We know what the purpose of these efforts is and we are trying to find effective measures in order to slow down or stop this process,” said U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She stressed how “distressing” it is that 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, “so many of the hoped-for indicators of progress are retreating.”
Civil society and political parties: Together while apart (December 2012)
In November, civil society representatives convened in Minsk to vote on the Concept of the National Platform of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EAP CSF). The adopted version of the Concept favours an expansive interpretation of the civil society mission and was criticised by some groups as pushing civil society organisations on the road of political conflict with the Belarusian authorities.
The state of civil society in Belarus (November 2012)
A meeting of the civil society communication platform on the state of civil society on Belarus took place in Warsaw on 26-27 October. The central aim of this platform was to create a space for independent Belarusian NGOs to identify issues of common interest, develop new strategies and consolidate their actions; as well as to improve the organizational capacity and participation in decision-making processes. The participants in the meeting of the Civil Society Communication Platform, "The State of Civil Society in Belarus" adopted a Resolution.
Belarus human rights center staff facing eviction (November 2012)
The staff of a prominent human rights organization in Minsk is being evicted from its office. Deputy Chairman of the Vyasna (Spring) Human Rights Center Valyantsin Stefanovich said on November 19 that the unregistered organization had received papers from Belarusian authorities saying that it should vacate its office by November 26.
Open line with the Minister of Justice (November 2012)
Belarusian Minister of Justice responded to questions among others on requirements for registration of NGOs.
Harassment of human rights defender Mr. Oleg Volchek (November 2012)
Human rights defender Mr. Oleg Volchek is being pursued by the Ministry of Taxes in Belarus in what is believed to be harassment as a result of his human rights activities. On October 25, 2012, Mr. Oleg Volchek sent a letter to the head of the Inspection of the Ministry of Taxes and Dues for the Frunze district of the City of Minsk demanding clarification of the reasons for which he had been asked to submit a tax declaration for the last 10 years. Oleg Volchek is a prominent human rights lawyer and director of the non-governmental organisation Pravovaya Pomoshch Naseleniyu (Legal Aid to Population), which was formally closed down by the Belorussian authorities in 2003.
EU renews Belarus sanctions due to human rights concerns (October 2012)
The European Union extended its sanctions against individuals and companies linked to the Belarus government for another year, saying that Minsk has failed to improve its human rights record.
Belarus refuses cooperation with the UN Human Rights Committee in Bialiatski case (September 2012)
The Government of Belarus has responded to a complaint sent to the UN Human Rights Committee regarding the case of Ales Bialiatski. The case was filed on his behalf by his wife, Natalia Pinchuk, and signed by Antoine Bernard, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), of which Mr. Bialiatski is vice-president. The response from Belarus states that Belarus has ended its cooperation regarding this case and will not agree to be bound by any decision handed down by the Committee.
Internet activism under siege in Belarus (September 2012)
Until recently, Internet has been the only oasis of freedom in Belarus' political sphere. But as Belarusian authorities realize that the Internet is a powerful means of communication and mobilization, more effort is being put into suppressing online opposition activities. The events related to the upcoming parliamentary elections prove this trend.
Belarusian online activists detained, drawing inquiry from Dutch MEP (August 2012)
Dutch Member of European Parliament Marietje Schaake is calling on the European Commission to take action in response to reports that the administrators of Belarusian opposition groups using the Russian social network Vkontakte were arrested in Minsk[...] "This is a clear violation of freedom of expression and assembly online, it shows that authoritarian regimes are very much aware of the potential of peaceful political rallying via social media and fear the intangible power of online opposition movements," Schaake said in a statement. "The EU should prevent EU companies from assisting the Belarusian authorities in cracking down on dissent online."
Two Belarusians detained on charges of "teddy bear drop" (July 2012)
Journalism student Anton Surapin was the first person to post online the photos of some of the nearly 800 teddy bears that were dropped by a small plane that flew from Lithuania over the town of Ivyanet in the Valozhyn district of Minsk Oblast and was sponsored by a Swedish public relations firm, Studio Total. Surapin has been suspected of assistance in an illegal crossing of the borders of Belarus, a charge which holds a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment. Even though his 10-day detention expired on July 23, he has not been released. Another person involved in the case, real estate agent from Minsk Siarhei Basharymau, was detained on 6 July, and has not been released from KGB detention facility since. Siarhei is charged under the same article under which Surapin is charged.
Law on social order adopted (July 2012)
In Belarus the Law on Social Order was signed by president on July 13. In upcoming months the mechanism of controlling financing will be developed. Funding will be provided through local councils and regulated on the local level. Examples of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Russian Federation were studied.
Amnesty International concerned over new probe of jailed Belarus activist (July 2012)
Amnesty International is expressing concern over the new probe launched by Belarusian authorities of the jailed leader of the unregistered Young Front opposition organization, Zmitser Dashkevich. The human rights watchdog recognizes Dashkevich as a "prisoner of conscience," who is jailed for his political views.
In Minsk, Eurovision winner Loreen expresses support for political prisoners (July 2012)
A day after performing at a government-supported music festival in Belarus, the winner of this year's Eurovision Song Contest, Swedish pop singer Loreen, met with human rights activists at the Swedish Embassy in Minsk, where she issued a statement in support of Belarusian political prisoners. Loreen met for more than two hours with Natallya Pinchuk, the wife of imprisoned Belarusian human rights defender Ales Byalyatski, and with Byalyatski's deputy in the human rights group Vyasna (Spring), Valyantsin Stefanovich.
U.S., OSCE say Belarus bans activist from travelling (July 2012)
The United States and Europe's main security and rights body accused Belarus of preventing an activist from leaving the country to attend a meeting in Vienna to discuss democratic elections on Thursday. The U.S. mission to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said Viktor Kornienko, co-chair of the "For Fair Elections" initiative, was denied the right to travel to the Austrian capital.
In Belarus, journalist arrested, charged with libel (June 2012)
Authorities in Belarus must drop the charges against a prominent journalist arrested today for libel against the president, and immediately release him, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Andrzej Poczobut has been targeted in the past for his critical writing, CPJ research shows.
Arrests, detentions and warnings - Belarus civil society digest (June 2012)
Belarusian authorities seemed to have stepped up their pressure against civil society activists over the last two weeks. They have used various tools - from warnings to administrative arrests. In some instances, there is no apparent reason for repressive actions as was the case with the academic director of the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies Alexei Pikulik.
Belarus, China to cooperate in human rights protection (June 2012)
Belarus and China plan to study mutual experience and establish cooperation in the area of human rights protection. The statement was made in a meeting between Deputy Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of Belarus Viktor Guminsky and Luo Haocai, President of China Society for Human Rights Studies in Minsk on 5 June, BelTA has learnt.
RFE/RL journalist assaulted and detained by Belarus authorities (June 2012)
In the latest attack on a journalist in Belarus, police and security agents assaulted and interrogated RFE/RL correspondent Ina Studzinskaja while she was reporting on an opposition meeting outside of Minsk.
Ales Bialiatski wins the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award (May 2012)
The U.S. Department of State announced that Ales Bialiatski of Belarus and Uganda’s Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law are the joint winners of the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award. This award recognizes individuals or non-governmental organizations that show exceptional valor and leadership in advocating the protection of human rights and democracy in the face of government repression. Ales Bialiatski has bravely advocated on behalf of victims of political oppression and their families despite harassment by the Government of Belarus.
The Observatory refers the case of Mr. Ales Bialiatski to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (April 2012)
On April 2, 2012, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint program of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organization Against Torture (OMCT), submitted the case of Mr. Ales Bialiatski to the United Nations (UN) working group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD).
UN human rights office calls on Belarus to free opposition leaders (April 2012)
Following the release last week of two opposition leaders from prison in Belarus, the UN human rights office today called on the country’s authorities to begin dialogue with the opposition and to unconditionally release all prisoners who are serving sentences for exercising their fundamental human rights.
European dialogue on modernization with Belarus launched (March 2012)
EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Štefan Füle on Thursday launched the European Dialogue on Modernization with Belarusian society at a meeting in Brussels with representatives of the country's civil society and political opposition. This follows the conclusions of the Foreign Affairs Council last week welcoming the idea of launching such a dialogue.
Who is losing Belarus? (February 2012)
“With the decline of America’s global preeminence, weaker countries will be more susceptible to the assertive influence of major regional powers,” writes Zbigniew Brzezinski in his recent Foreign Policy essay. With this in mind, Brzezinski included Belarus in his list of eight “geopolitically endangered species” as Belarus faces a threat of annexation by Russia. While the threat in question cannot be discounted, it is debatable whether it is really America’s decline that may facilitate such an outcome. America’s lasting policy of punitive sanctions, half-heartedly followed by the European Union, may be a more fitting culprit.