By JOHN HEILPRIN, Associated Press
GENEVA (AP) — The United Nations' top human rights body on Thursday appointed an investigator to focus on Belarus based on what it called "grave concern" over allegations of torture, poor treatment of prisoners and other abuses.
A resolution approved by the 47-nation Human Rights Council said its decision to appoint a special rapporteur for authoritarian Belarus was largely based on the findings in a report from the U.N. human rights office in April suggesting serious human rights violations since the country's December 2010 presidential elections.
Strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, who has permitted no real economic or political reforms in his country, was declared the winner. More than 700 people — including seven candidates — were arrested in the wake of a massive protest against alleged vote fraud. The crackdown on the opposition included police violently dispersing protesters, which further dampened relations with the West.
The report by the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights cited a broad number of alleged abuses such as political opponents beaten, abducted or sentence to prison, where some say they were tortured, beaten, denied medical treatment or forced to sign confessions.
Mikhail Khvostov, Belarus' ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, told the U.N. council Thursday that the European Union was pushing its own political agenda. Belarus had ordered the closure of the local office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after its observers criticized the election.
Tensions have been rising further between Belarus and the West since February when the EU announced it was recalling all its ambassadors to Belarus in response to Belarus asking the EU and Polish ambassadors to leave.
Those moves came on the heels of the EU slapping sanctions on Belarus by voting to add 21 names to a list of some 200 Belarussian officials who face an assets freeze and are prevented from traveling to EU countries because of alleged human rights violations.
Lukashenko has led Belarus, which gained independence in 1991 with the former Soviet Union's collapse, since 1991. He has used Soviet-style controls on the economy, while cracking down on opposition and independent media.
Economic troubles that led Belarus to sell full control of its natural gas pipeline network to Russia's state gas monopoly have helped fuel increasing political dissent over the past year.
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