The Republic of Belarus is a post-Soviet dictatorship that has been ruled by Alyaksandr Lukashenka since the office of the presidency was established in 1994.

Lukashenka’s leadership style, which has been characterised as “personalized and deeply authoritarian,” includes use of the government’s secret service, the KGB, which still carries the same name as its Soviet-era predecessor.[1] Lukashenka has maintained and expanded his power as “Europe’s last dictator” through referenda, including reducing the power of parliament and eliminating term limits for himself. He has been re-elected time and again through elections that are widely regarded as fraudulent, and which are invariably met with massive protests – and violent crackdowns. Opposition lawmakers and political candidates have disappeared, media is heavily censored, and political protests are violently suppressed.[2]

Leading up to and following the August 2020 elections in Belarus, which once again were widely considered to be fraudulent, the nation saw massive anti-government protests. In the months before the elections, multiple opposition candidates were prevented from running by politically motivated criminal cases against them, by having their families threatened, or by being outright arrested.[3] Human rights organisations were prevented from monitoring ballot counting and at least one human rights defender was arrested for her role in the election monitoring effort.[4] Protesters around the country decried the officially declared victory of Lukashenka, insisting that the opposition candidate, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, had won a majority of the vote. Emboldened by vocal support from Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Belarusian government responded to these protests with violent crackdowns, arresting, detaining, and beating largely peaceful protesters.

Reports from multiple sources indicate that thousands of people were arrested on political grounds, many of whom were beaten, tortured, or raped by state security forces.[5] Human Rights Watch reported the use of prolonged stress positions, electric shocks, and beatings in confined spaces leading to serious injuries.[6] Several UN Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts, and Working Groups declared on 1 September 2020 that they had received more than 450 documented cases of torture and ill-treatment of detainees, as well as reports of sexual abuse and rape.[7] In October 2020, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) rapporteur appointed by 17 OSCE participating States under the Moscow Mechanism[8] published a similarly damning report on human rights violations surrounding the 2020 elections in Belarus.  Despite denying all claims of ill treatment of protestors for over one year, Lukashenka finally admitted to the BBC in a November 2021 interview that detainees had been subjected to violent treatment.[9] Belarusian authorities opened several preliminary inquiries into excessive force used against political protesters but ultimately opened no criminal cases.

Following the contested election and the violent crackdowns, Lukashenka was no longer recognized as the legitimate president of Belarus by the United Kingdom, the European Union, or the United States. Multiple nations have imposed sanctions on Lukashenka and other Belarusian officials, banning them from travel and freezing assets. In the face of international reproach and heavy sanctioning, Lukashenka has leaned on his alliance with Moscow and allowed Belarus to be used in the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. In the months preceding the invasion, more than 30,000 Russian troops were moved to Belarus for purported “joint training exercises” but instead utilized Belarus’s proximity to Kyiv to launch attacks on the capital.[10]


[1] Roman Goncharenko, Belarus strongman Lukashenko marks 25 years in power, 10 July 2019, available at

[2] Id.

[3] Human Rights Watch, Belarus: Events of 2020, available at

[4] Id.

[5] See, e.g., Amnesty International, Belarus 2021, available at

[6] Human Rights Watch, note 3.

[7] UNOHCHR, UN human rights experts: Belarus must stop torturing protestors and prevent enforced disappearances, 1 September 2020, available at

[8] “The Moscow Mechanism is a tool allowing for the establishment of a short-term fact finding mission to address a specific human rights concern in the OSCE region.” The OSCE Moscow Mechanism: Theory and Practice, The Helsinki Commission Report, July 18, 2017, available at

[9] BBC, Belarus’s Lukashenko tells BBC: We may have helped migrants into EU, 19 November 2021, available at

[10] Becky Sullivan, NPR, Why Belarus is so involved in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, 11 March 2022, available at