Following the denial of political asylum by the Lithuanian authorities for the Belarusian peace-builder and human rights defender Olga Karatch (Volha Karach), the international campaign #protection4olga was launched in late August to demand protection and asylum for the director of the organisation ‘Our House.’
Olga has been fighting for human rights in Belarus for years, including the right to conscientious objection to military service, and is therefore persecuted and faces capital punishment in her country of origin, where she has been labelled a ‘terrorist’ by the regime.
On 18 August, Lithuania denied Olga political asylum, calling her a ‘person who represents a threat to the national security of the Republic of Lithuania’. She was however granted a one-year temporary residence in the country, probably due to international letters of concerns that some politicians and heads of foundations had written to the authorities and to Lithuanian ambassadors in different countries.
But this status does not give her any safety regarding her status – authorities could at any time renege on this decision and decide to deport her.
For that reason, we have started an international campaign for the immediate protection of the human rights defender and peace-builder Olga Karatch.
The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998 acknowledges ‘the valuable work of individuals, groups and associations in contributing to the effective elimination of all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of peoples and individuals.’
Olga Karatch, through the organisation she leads, ‘Our House’, has numerous activities to her credit in monitoring and defending human rights in Belarus and Belarussian citizens who have fled to other countries – such as Lithuania – and for this reason her organisation was also chosen by the International Peace Bureau to be nominated for the 2024 Nobel Peace Prize, together with the Russian Movement of Conscientious Objectors and the Ukrainian Pacifist Movement.
We express our deep concern that ‘in some instances, national security and counter-terrorism legislation and other measures, such as laws regulating civil society organizations, have been misused to target human rights defenders or have hindered their work and endangered their safety in a manner contrary to international law’, as stated in UN Human Rights Council Resolution 22/6 of 2013 on the protection of human rights defenders, which commits all states to protect and not criminalise those who work to defend human rights.
Therefore, we appeal to the highest Lithuanian authorities, the president of the Republic of Lithuania, the prime minister and the minister of foreign affairs to respect international standards and provide protection and asylum for the Belarussian human rights defender Olga Karatch, who has taken refuge in Lithuania.
Lithuania is also a member of the European Union. We therefore also appeal to the European institutions, EU missions (embassies and consulates of EU member states and European commission delegations) which, as stated in the EU Guidelines on Human Rights Defenders, should support and protect human rights defenders.
We also call on our national governments to take action to ensure that the protection of human rights defenders is guaranteed always and everywhere.
We call upon all civil society, from individual citizens to journalists and institutional representatives across Europe to take action in defence of human rights and those who defend them.
What you can do
You can begin by simply sharing our posts! Spread the word with #protection4olga and #ObjectWarCampaign across all your social media platforms!
Send a letter to the Lithuanian authorities urging asylum for Olga Karatch. You can find a sample letter and an email address here (Our House asks to be included in the CC field: email@example.com): www.tinyurl.com/peacenews4113
If you want to write a postal letter, you can write to: His Excellency Eitvydas Bajarūnas, The Ambassador of Lithuania, Lithuania House, 2 Bessborough Gardens, London SW1V 2JE. (Start your letter with ‘Your Excellency’ and finish with ‘Yours faithfully’.)
Support ongoing legal expenses for Olga Karatch by making a donation directly to Our House:
Bank: Siauliu Bankas AB
SWIFT (BIC): CBSBLT26
Bank Address: Tilzes g.149 76348 Siauliu Lithuania
Organisation Name: VšĮ Tarptautinis pilietinių iniciatyvų centras “Mūsų namai” [Our House/Nash Dom]
Organisation Address: Vilniaus r. sav., Zujūnų sen., Buivydiškių k., Pamedės g. 6
Registration Number: 303223926
Contacts: +370 (5) 215 7190 firstname.lastname@example.org