Flag of BelarusCivic Freedom Monitor: Belarus

Introduction | At a Glance | Key Indicators | International Rankings
Legal Snapshot | Legal Analysis | Reports | News and Additional Resources
Last updated: 21 August 2016

Update: In April 2016, amendments to the Criminal Code were enacted. The amendments expand the definition of extremism and increase criminal liability for the financing of extremist activities. The law came into force on May 3, 2016. The full text of the amendments is available in Russian here.

Introduction

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 2011, Belarus adopted another package of changes to relevant legislation, including criminal responsibility for violating the procedure for receiving foreign grants.

Belarus is not a signatory of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, but has ratified the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Multiple claims have been brought against the Government of Belarus for violating Article 22 (the freedom of association) of the ICCPR. Belarus has not, however, complied with any of the UN Human Rights Committee’s concluding observations relating to Belarus’s violations of Article 22 (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 occur occasionally. For example, the amendments to the Law on Public Associations passed on November 4, 2013 introduced some technical changes to ease registration of national associations, decrease the number of documents required for registration of associations and streamline the processes for registration of international organizations and foreign branches. However, these minor improvements do not address the most serious existing barriers to registration, operational activity and funding of CSOs in Belarus. Recent examples of restrictions are described in the report by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus, Miklos Haraszti, which was presented at the 29th session of the UN Human Rights Council.

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At a Glance

Organizational Forms Public associations; national state-public associations; associations of legal entities; foundations; institutions; consumer cooperatives; religious organizations
Registration Body Ministry of Justice, oblast executive committees, and local councils and executive committees
Approximate Number 2,607 public associations (228 international, 707 national, and 1,672 local); 34 unions (coalitions) of public associations; and 159 foundations
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 and cases of rejected entry at the border for foreigners who do not require visas.
Barriers to Resources Foreign funding must be registered and approved in advance by the government; prohibition against independent entrepreneurial activity by NPOs.
Barriers to Assembly Non-citizens of Belarus, citizens not permanently resident in the country, and minors are restricted from organizing certain assemblies; notification to the authorities is required 15 days in advance of all public actions or mass events; there are wide-ranging legal restrictions on where assemblies may be held, and local authorities often use their power to force assemblies to be held on the outskirts of a city or in places far from the target audience; and excessive force is used on protests of the political opposition.

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Key Indicators

Population 9,589,689 (July 2015 est.)
Capital Minsk
Type of Government Republic
Life Expectancy at Birth Male: 66.91 years
Female: 78.38 years (2015 est.)
Literacy Rate 99.7%
Religious Groups Eastern Orthodox 80%, other (including Roman Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim) 20% (1997 est.)
Ethnic Groups Belarusian 83.7%, Russian 8.3%, Polish 3.1%, Ukrainian 1.7%, other 2.4%, unspecified 0.9% (2009 est.)
GDP per capita $17,700 (2015 est.)

Source: CIA World Factbook

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International Rankings

Ranking Body Rank Ranking Scale 
(best – worst possible)
UN Human Development Index 50 (2015) 1 – 182
World Bank Rule of Law Index 22.6 (2014) 100 – 0
World Bank Voice & Accountability Index 6.9 (2014) 100 – 0
Transparency International 107 (2015) 1 – 168
Freedom House: Freedom in the World Status: Not Free
Political Rights: 7
Civil Liberties: 6 (2016)
Free/Partly Free/Not Free
1 – 7
1 – 7
Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index
92 (2016) 178 – 1

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Legal Snapshot

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) Yes 2015
Regional Treaties    
European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms No --

* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty

Constitutional Framework

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):

  1. 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).
  2. The Civil Code of the Republic of Belarus of December 7, 1998, #218-Z (with changes and additions).
  3. The Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 9, 1999, #275-Z (with changes and additions).
  4. The Code of Administrative Offenses of the Republic of Belarus of April 21, 2003, #194-Z  (with changes and additions).
  5. The Tax Code of the Republic of Belarus of December 29, 2009, #71-Z (with changes and additions).
  6. The Labor Code of the Republic of Belarus of July 26, 1999, #296-Z (with changes and additions).
  7. The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Public Associations of October 4, 1994, #3254-XІІ (with changes and additions as at November 4, 2013).
  8. The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Political Parties of October 5, 1994, #3266-XІІ (with changes and additions as at June 4, 2015).
  9. The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Trade Unions of April 22, 1992, #1605-XІІ.
  10.  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).
  11.  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 of July 10, 2012).
  12.  The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Republican State-Public Associations of July 19, 2006, #150-Z (with changes and additions as of May 4, 2012).
  13.  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).
  14.  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).
  15.  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 of June 4, 2013).
  16.  Resolution #1189 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 of December 31, 2013).
  17.  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 June 2, 2015).
  18.  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 of February 21, 2013).
  19.  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).
  20.  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 February 3, 2014).
  21.  Resolution #272 of the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Belarus On Certain Issues Related to State Registration of Standing Arbitration Tribunals of February 18, 2014.
  22.  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 February 18, 2014).
  23.  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).
  24.  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 of April 5, 2013).
  25.  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 of August 22, 2014).
  26.  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 of January 21, 2014).
  27.  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 of September 13, 2013).
  28.  Law of the Republic of Belarus #384-3 On Official Heraldics (May 26, 2012).
  29.  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).
  30.  The Law of the Republic of Belarus On Accounting and Reporting of July 12, 2013 (#57-3).
  31.  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.
  32. 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 of November 29, 2013).
  33. Decree #5 of the President of the Republic of Belarus on Foreign Gratuitous Aid of August 31, 2015 (comes into force March 2016).
  34. 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.
  35. Decree 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 (with changes and additions as of March 14, 2013).
  36. Decree 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 of June 13, 2012).
  37.  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 of June 13, 2012).
  38.  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).
  39. Resolution #590 of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus on Certain Changes and Amendments in some Resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus of July 13, 2015.
  40.  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).
  41.  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.
  42.  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.
  43.  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.
  44.  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.
  45. 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).
  46. Decree 191 of the President of the Republic of Belarus On Supporting Physical Culture and Sports Organizations of April 15, 2013.
  47.  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.
  48.  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).
  49. Decree #510 of the President of the Republic of Belarus of March 29, 2012 On Certain Issues of Renting and Free Use of Property.
  50.  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

First, the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection is preparing the draft law on ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). The CRPD was signed in September 2015.

Second, with the initiative of local NPO, "ACT", a draft law on public benefit status has been developed and is currently pending public discussion.

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Legal Analysis

Organizational Forms

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.

According to the new amendments to the Law on Public Associations a common registry for NPOs and political parties will be created within the next three years.

Different types of NPOs are registered by different government bodies:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Approximate Numbers

As of April 1, 2015, there were 15 political parties, 37 trade unions (33 national, one territorial, and three trade unions within organizations), and 2,607 public associations (228 international, 707 national, and 1672 local) registered in Belarus.  There are 34 unions (coalitions) of public associations and 159 foundations (15 international, 5 national, and 139 local) registered in Belarus.

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. 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, who should reside/represent majority of oblasts (at least four out of six) and Minsk. A local public association must have at least ten founders representing at least two administrative-territorial subdivisions of the territory in which it is planning to operate. (The law refers to village councils as administrative-territorial subdivisions.)

Initial capital requirements.To set up a foundation, the founders must have capital.  Local foundations must have 100 basic amounts (one basic amount equals 21 Belarusian rubles or 10.4 USD in equivalent) or USD 1,040. International or nationwide foundations must possess 1,000 basic amounts or USD 10,400.

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 145). 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. In case of non-compliance with the reporting requirements in three subsequent years, the organization can be liquidated. 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.
  • In accordance with the recent amendments to the law on public associations, in case of failing to submit the reporting documents to the registering body for three years in sequence, the organization can be liquidated.

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. Under significant international pressure Bialiatski was released on June 21, 2014 before the end of his sentence.

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. Significantly, the adoption of amendments to the Law on Public Associations in 2013 was carried out without discussions with NPOs. NPOs’ request for parliamentary hearings was disregarded; as a result, NPOs held their own consultations and provided the Ministry of Justice with recommendations for improvements.

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. Since 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 require 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 the Department for Humanitarian Activities at the President’s Administration of the Republic of Belarus, which has 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. For example, in 2013, the pensioners’ organization "Our Generation" was fined 5 million Belarusian roubles (500 USD) for illegal use of foreign aid. In March 2015 the Department for Humanitarian Activities launched a consultation on optimizing the procedure of registration for both gratuitous foreign aid and international technical assistance. On August 31, 2015, the President signed Decree #5 of the President of the Republic of Belarus on Foreign Gratuitous Aid, which came into force in March 2016.

The new Decree introduces certain improvements:
1) There is easier access to smaller amounts of in-kind assistance (less than 5,500 USD in non-pecuniary assistance, e.g. goods/services, per year need not be registered);
2) Anonymous donations are not regarded as foreign funding, nor do they require registration with the Department for Humanitarian Activities;
3) The list of objectives for which foreign funding can be used expands to new activities, e.g. development of arts and culture, environmental protection, prevention of crime and promotion of a law-abiding lifestyle, strengthening the material-technical base of government agencies, and reconstruction of social facilities.

The new Decree bans use of foreign aid in three cases: extremist activities, political campaigns and seminars, and “other political propaganda work with the population”. The Department of Humanitarian Affairs also will have more oversight over the distribution of foreign funding and its schedule and objectives. For the first time legal entities that are beneficiaries of the humanitarian assistance are required to report to the Department of Humanitarian Affairs on the use of the received funding.

In July 2015, the Cabinet of Ministers adopted a new edition of the regulation on technical assistance, Resolution #590 of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus on Certain Changes and Amendments in Some Resolutions of the Cabinet of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus. As a result of this new edition, the number of documents for registration was decreased. The requirement for receiving permits from local authorities on holding seminars and meetings under technical assistance projects was also waived. The resolution established a new Coordination Council on Technical Assistance at the Cabinet of Ministers. The Council now consists of representatives of public authorities and NPOs as well as donors. More information is available from the FAQ page of the Department for Humanitarian Activities at the President’s Administration of the Republic of Belarus.

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 donations to NPOs.

Barriers to Assembly

The Constitution of Belarus guarantees the freedom of assembly in Belarus as follows:

Article 35. The freedom to hold assemblies, meetings, street marches, demonstrations and pickets, which 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 of holding the above-mentioned events shall be determined by law.

The specific law governing assemblies is the Law on Mass Events (LoME) No. 114-З of December 30, 1997, with amendments. The law defines several types of “mass events,” such as: (a) assembly, (b) meeting, (c) street rally, (d) demonstration, (e) picketing, and (f) other mass event.

Limits on Eligible Organizers
According to Article 4 of the LoME:

Citizens of the Republic of Belarus permanently resident on its territory, of 18 years of age and over, and eligible to vote, and organizations registered in the prescribed manner, excluding organizations whose activities were terminated by legislative acts, may be organizers of an assembly of no more than 1000 participants.

Thus, non-citizens of Belarus, citizens not permanently resident in the country, and minors are restricted from organizing certain assemblies.

Vague Provisions
In the LoME the term “picketing” is defined so broadly that on many occasions citizens do not know that their actions are classified as “picketing” and that they may be held criminally liable for seemingly innocuous actions such as holding artistic or charitable events in public places. Article 2 of LoME defines picketing as:

public expression by a citizen or a group of citizens of socio-political group, personal or other interests, or a protest (without rally) on problems, including a hunger strike,  with or without using posters, streamers, or other means. The joint mass presence of citizens in a public place set in advance (including open space), at a specific time, for conducting a planned action, organized (including through global computer Internet network or other information networks) in order to publicly express social and political interests or a protest, equals to picketing.

Advance Permission
Article 5 of the LoME states that all public actions or mass events, including single pickets, require an application for permission to be submitted to the local authorities 15 days in advance. Article 15 requires that the application contain, among other details, the “source of funding of the mass event.” Attached to the application must be a written pledge on organizing and holding the mass event from the organizer(s) or people responsible for organizing and holding the mass event.

Spontaneous Assemblies and Counter-Demonstrations
The law provides for no exceptions to the application requirement; spontaneous assemblies are thus prohibited. In conformity with Article 9 of the LoME, counter-demonstrations are also prohibited: “Holding several mass events in one place or on the same route simultaneously is prohibited.”

Time, Place, Manner Restrictions
Article 9 of the LoME prohibits the staging of mass events in certain locations, including:

(a) in places that are prohibited to use for this purpose by local authorities;
(b) in facilities belonging to metro, railway, air or water transport;
(c) within 200 meters distance from the official residence of the President of the Republic of Belarus, the National Assembly or the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Belarus, underground road crossings and metro stations;
(d) within 50 meters from the buildings of state administration authorities, local authorities, diplomatic agencies and consulate buildings, courts, prosecution offices, territories of the organizations that provide security, state defence and vital functions for people (public transport, factories providing water, heat, energy, nurseries and schools); […]

Notably, the prohibition does not apply to events organized by state authorities.

Local authorities create additional ‘place restrictions’ by using their authority to prohibit mass events in certain places and therefore forcing organizers to hold mass events in designated areas, such as on the outskirts of a city or in places far from the target audience.

Also, the LoME includes limitations on the timing of mass events:

(a) mass events held five or less days prior to the elections, referendum, and deputy recall are permitted only in specially designated places for holding mass events, excluding mass events organized by state authorities.
(b) holding assemblies, meetings, street rallies, demonstrations and picketing is prohibited between 10pm and 8am.

Article 11 of LoME also states that:

During an assembly, meeting, street rally, demonstration or picketing, the organizers and participants are not allowed to:
(a) hamper the movement of transport and pedestrians;
(b) interfere with the continuous functioning of organizations; or
(c) set up tents or other temporal structures.

The LoME also includes media restrictions. Prior to receiving authorization to hold the mass event the organizer(s) or other individuals shall not be entitled to announce the date, place and time of the event in the media, on the Internet global computer network or on other information networks, or to produce and disseminate leaflets, placards, or other materials for this purpose. Liability is a fine or arrest for up to 15 days.

Excessive Force and Criminal Punishment
Belarusian police have frequently used excessive force during mass events organized by the political opposition. Violent crackdowns on demonstrators are also common during and immediately after electoral campaigns. For example, during the protests that followed the presidential elections in December 2010, more than 600 people were arrested.

Article 42 of Criminal Code on “Organization and Participation in Actions Rudely Violating Public Order” places criminal responsibility on organizers of and participants in mass events that “rudely” violate public order. Responsibility also comes when participants in the event cause disruptions to transport, enterprises, organizations and establishments. The punishment includes a fine or imprisonment for up to 3 years. This article has been used repeatedly against participants and organizers of opposition meetings.

In accordance with Article 293 of the Criminal Code on “Mass Disorder,” violators may face punishment of imprisonment for up to 8 years. This article was used to convict several presidential candidates in the wake of the protests in December 2010.

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Reports

UN Universal Periodic Review Reports

Universal Periodic Review: Belarus (2015)

Reports of UN Special Rapporteurs

First Universal Periodic Review: Belarus (2010)

Reports by the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Belarus

USIG (United States International Grantmaking) Country Notes

Not available

U.S. State Department

Country report on human rights practices (2014)
Advancing Freedom and Democracy Report (2014)

Fragile States Index Reports

Foreign Policy: Fragile States Index (2016)

IMF Country Reports

Opinion on Compatibility with Universal Human Rights Standards of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code on the Rights of Non-Registered Associations (2011)

European Commission for Democracy Through Law (Venice Commission)

Opinion on Compatibility with Universal Human Rights Standards of Article 193.1 of the Criminal Code on the Rights of Non-Registered Associations (2011)

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law Online Library

Belarus

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News and Additional Resources

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 ngomonitor@icnl.org.

General News

Murder of Journalist Underscores Threats to Free Press (July 2016)
In response to the murder in Kyiv of Pavel Sheremet, an award-winning independent journalist, Freedom House issued the following statement

As Sanctions Are Suspended, Belarus’s UN Human Rights Monitor Remains on the Sidelines (June 2016) 
The UN special rapporteur for Belarus, up for renewal this week, is still banned from entering the country. But the monitoring mechanism is needed now more than ever.

Review of the freedom of association in Belarus in 1st quarter 2016 (May 2016)   
The Legal Transformation  Center  (Lawtrend)  and  Assembly  of  Pro-Democratic  NGOs  of  Belarus issued a monitoring report on implementation of freedom of association in Belarus in the first quarter of 2016

Ulad Vialichka: Civil society wants to take part in relaunch of the EU-Belarus relations (March 2016)
The Steering Committee of the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum (EaP CSF) made a statement where it calls on the Belarusan authorities to initiate talks with representatives of the Belarusan National Platform of the EaP CSF (BNP) on the establishment of a Belarusan Council of National Dialog.

Issued Review Of Freedom Of Associations In Belarus (February 2016)
Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs and Legal Transformation Center of Belarus prepared the annual Freedom of Associations and Legal Conditions for Non-Profit Organizations in Belarus review for 2015.

Archived News

Top 10 Belarus Civil Society in 2015 (December 2015)

In Belarus, threat to free speech in broad definitions of "extremist materials" (December 2015)

Belarus bookshop braves the state to publish Nobel winner's work (October 2015)

Belarus president signs UN Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities (September 2015)

Civil Society in Belarus, 2000-2015 (September 2015)

Pact Releases Report on Belarus' Civil Society (September 2015)

Analysis of changes on foreign gratuitous aid (September 2015) (Russian)

Fine for Religious Worship Re-imposed (July 2015)

Monitoring for 2nd Quarter of 2015 on Freedom of Association Published (July 2015)

Civil Society: Away from Politics and towards Cooperation with the Authorities (June 2015)

UN Human Rights Council Discusses Report of Belarus (May 2015)

First Belarusian Not-for-Profit Law Forum Takes Place in Vilnius (May 2015)

Elena Tonkacheva to be expelled from Belarus for three years (November 2014)

UN recognizes that Belarus violated the rights of Ales Bialiatski (November 2014)

Ales Bialiatski: Two years of silence in Belarus penal colony (July 2014)

“Ales Bialiatski released, but other political prisoners remain in jail” – UN expert
(June 2014)

Pinsk BCD coordinator gets warned
(January 2014)

Belarus’ senators approve amendments to laws on political parties (October 2013)

EU policy towards Belarus (September 2013)

What is not permitted is prohibited: Silencing civil society in Belarus (April 2013)

Belarusian Human Rights Defenders Need Support (February 2013)

Socially Oriented Mobile Applications for Belarusian Civil Society (January 2013)

Belarusian human rights center's property confiscated (December 2012)

Defending human rights in Belarus: Two years after the crackdown (December 2012)

Civil society and political parties: Together while apart (December 2012)

The state of civil society in Belarus (November 2012)

Belarus human rights center staff facing eviction (November 2012)

Open line with the Minister of Justice (November 2012)

Harassment of human rights defender Mr. Oleg Volchek (November 2012)

EU renews Belarus sanctions due to human rights concerns (October 2012)

Belarus refuses cooperation with the UN Human Rights Committee in Bialiatski case (September 2012)

Internet activism under siege in Belarus (September 2012)

Belarusian online activists detained, drawing inquiry from Dutch MEP (August 2012)

Two Belarusians detained on charges of "teddy bear drop" (July 2012)

Law on social order adopted (July 2012)

Amnesty International concerned over new probe of jailed Belarus activist (July 2012)

In Minsk, Eurovision winner Loreen expresses support for political prisoners (July 2012)

U.S., OSCE say Belarus bans activist from travelling (July 2012)

In Belarus, journalist arrested, charged with libel (June 2012)

Arrests, detentions and warnings - Belarus civil society digest (June 2012)

Belarus, China to cooperate in human rights protection (June 2012)

RFE/RL journalist assaulted and detained by Belarus authorities (June 2012)

Ales Bialiatski wins the 2011 Human Rights Defenders Award (May 2012)

The Observatory refers the case of Mr. Ales Bialiatski to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (April 2012)

UN human rights office calls on Belarus to free opposition leaders (April 2012)

European dialogue on modernization with Belarus launched (March 2012)

Who is losing Belarus? (February 2012)

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