False reports on the comments of Amnesty International

26/01/2009
Submitted by Viachaslau Bortnik, Amnesty International

Members of Amnesty International (AI) in Belarus are concerned about false reports
that the organization has publicly commented on a recent case involving conscription
into the military. While the details are unclear, the story revolved around an exemption
from military service offered to Mr. Paluyan and the basis for that exemption. It appears
that Belarusian LGBT activists, and Mr. Paluyan himself, have suggested that Amnesty
International has a position on this case and has commented on the same.

Amnesty International, in fact, has no position and did not make any official statements
on this case. The last time AI spoke on any issues involving sexual minorities in Belarus
was in 1994, in the course of its campaign to repeal Article 119- 1 of the Belarusian Criminal Code that criminalized consensual sexual intercourse between adult men.

AI does not consider a same-sex sexual orientation to be a psychiatric disease
or problem. [The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality as a
disorder from the "Sexual Deviancy" section of the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders in 1973 (2nd edition). In 1992, the World Health
Organization replaced its categorization of homosexuality as a mental illness.
Several states have since followed suit.]

Regarding exemption from military conscription, AI considers a conscientious
objector to be any person liable to compulsory recruitment (conscription) for
military service or registration for conscription to military service who
refuses to perform service in the armed forces or any other direct or indirect
participation in wars or armed conflicts for reasons of conscience or profound
conviction. AI interprets 'reasons of conscience or profound conviction' quite
broadly. Such reasons may arise from religious, ethical, moral, humanitarian,
philosophical, political or similar motives.

It would seem that in this case, Mr. Paluyan was informed that he was not
required to serve in the army, rather than actively seeking exemption himself.
Furthermore, the reasons for his exemption are allegedly due to his sexual
orientation - which AI does not cite as a 'reason of conscience or profound
conviction'. It would appear that his exemption by the Belarusian authorities
does reveal a degree of institutional homophobia and whilst AI would not condone
anything that would exclude lesbians, gay men, bisexual or transgender people
from any institution, including the military, they should not have to join an
institution where such institutional discrimination would put them at risk.

In Belarus there is no legal grounds for conscientious objection. Where
this is the case, AI calls for the right to object on grounds of conscience to
be formally recognized and for provisions to be made for a non-punitive
alternative civilian service. In keeping with international standards, Amnesty
International insists that all those liable to conscription be given the
opportunity to perform a civilian alternative to service in the armed
forces on the grounds of their conscience or profound conviction. On this basis,
Amnesty International campaigns for the development of laws and procedures which
make adequate provisions for conscientious objectors.

Unfortunately, the fact that Amnesty International is not officially registered
in Belarus makes it easier for people with no connection to the organization to make
misleading statements and attribute them to Amnesty International.

From 2002 to 2006, despite not being officially registered in Belarus, the organization
was recognized by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London
as a national structure of Amnesty International. In 2006 its status was
revised in connection with the change of requirements for recognition by the
International Secretariat. The official registration of the organization in the
home country became a necessary requirement for recognition. Amnesty
International Belarus applied for registration in 2003 and 2005, but has
received only refusals from the Belarusian authorities. At the moment Amnesty International in Belarus is represented by international individual members. According to Amnesty International’s Statute, international individual members are not eligible to
make official statements on behalf of Amnesty International.

For the future, while writing about Amnesty International’s activities in
Belarus, please refer to the real members of the organization or to Amnesty
International’s campaigner on Belarus, Aisha Jung (ajung@amnesty.org) and to
Amnesty International’s researcher on Belarus, Heather McGill
(hmcgill@amnesty.org). You can also write to me at: amnesty_by@gmx.net.

Yours faithfully,

Viachaslau Bortnik
International individual member, AI
Chair, AI Belarus, 2002-2006

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