Tragic death of Belarusian Gay Man Underscores Need for U.S. Pressure to Advance Human Rights
This week, Seventeen months after suffering a vicious attack outside of a popular nightclub in Minsk, Belarus, Mikhail Pishcheuski passed away. Pishcheuski, a prominent member of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community and respected architect and designer, never left the hospital after the incident. The attack was so severe that surgeons were forced to remove 20 percent of his brain to halt cerebral hemorrhaging. In their sorrow, LGBT Belarusians are demanding their government take action to change the environment of violence and impunity in the country.
The tragic news of Pishcheuski’s passing comes at the same time as an announcement that the European Union and the United States are providing sanctions relief for Belarus following the release of six political prisoners earlier this year. The move was accompanied with an urging for the country to “improve its record with respect to human rights and democracy.”
Pishcheuski’s attacker, Dzmitry Lukashevich, received a sentence of 2 years and 8 months for the attack, but only served 11 months. At the time of the trial, Lukashevich’s motivations were deemed immaterial by the judge even though the defendant openly admitted in his testimony that he had targeted Pishcheuski because of his sexual orientation. Ultimately, the judge considered the attack to be a result of “recklessness.”
Sadly, the case stands out not only for the brutality involved, but because it is one of the rare instances that any charges have been brought against a perpetrator of a crime against a member of the LGBT community.
“Police often ignore crimes against the LGBT community. Attackers receive impunity, and our government does nothing. There are even cases where authorities have blamed the victims for ‘demonstrating their orientation.’ There is no justice. We continue to demand that the police instigate criminal cases against those guilty of hate crimes against LGBT people. It is unacceptable that the state is not fulfilling its obligation to protect all people from violence, regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” said Natalia Mankouskaya the chairperson of Belarusian Human Rights Center “Identity.”
In future bilateral and multilateral engagements with Minsk, the U.S. government needs to stress that any plans to better that record should prioritize the protection of the human rights of the LGBT community, including prosecuting those who violently attack LGBT Belarusians.
For more information on Human Rights First’s efforts to combat homophobia in Russia’s area of influence, read our blueprint, “How to Stop Russia from Exporting Homophobia.”