Belarus : a referendum under a 'hardening dictatorial regime'

PACE President Peter Schieder expressed great concern over the Belarusian President’s decision to hold, in parallel with the parliamentary elections on 17 October 2004, a referendum on allowing a president to run without limitations in future presidential elections.

“While we cannot deny the right of the Belarusian authorities to hold a referendum in this context, we urge them to ensure that it be held in conformity with Council of Europe standards, as also stressed by the EU Council", he said

This concern is based on the undemocratic way in which the November 1996 referendum was held, giving sweeping powers to the President, and on the gross manipulation of subsequent parliamentary and presidential elections. As a consequence, the Assembly suspended the Belarusian parliament’s special guest status in January 1997. Belarus’ accession process to the Council of Europe has remained frozen since then.

According to the President, "the hardening of Mr Lukashenko’s dictatorial regime over the past years is clearly evidenced by the persecution of opposition groups and NGOs, and the repression of the independent media, Moreover, the authorities have refused to properly investigate serious allegations that high representatives of the regime were involved in the disappearance of opposition politicians and a critical journalist. These undemocratic policies have caused the country to be increasingly isolated from the international community, to the detriment of the Belarusian people."

"The Assembly - he said - is prepared to contribute to assuring the fairness of the forthcoming parliamentary elections by participating in an international observation mission. If the referendum moves forward under less than free and fair circumstances, the Council of Europe and its Assembly will draw the necessary consequences.”

Committee 'outraged' at arrest of human rights activists in Belarus

During its last meeting in Paris, the PACE Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rightsmeeting in Paris said it was outraged at the arrest of Tatiana Reviaka and Garry Pogoniaïlo in Belarus.

According to a report by AFP, the two human rights activists were arrested in Minsk while distributing copies of a PACE report by Christos Pourgourides (Cyprus, EPP/CD) which accuses several high representatives of the Lukashenko regime of being responsible for the murder of opposition figures and urges the international community to impose sanctions on Belarus until the murders are fully investigated.

The committee demanded the immediate release of those arrested, who "have done nothing but exercise their right to freedom of expression". It recalled that it is still waiting for the Belarusian authorities’ response to the PACE resolution adopted in April.

Belarus Sports Minister to be prevented from attending Council of Europe Conference

In a letter adressed on 29 September 2004 to the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers, PACE President called on the organisation's executive body to prevent Belarus Sports Minister, formerly Interior Minister, Y.L. Sivakov, from attending the 45-nation organisation's 10 th Conference of European Ministers responsible for Sport in Budapest on 14-15 October 2004.

Mr Sivakov is alleged in the PACE report on "disappeared persons in Belarus" to have been involved in the disappearance of opposition figures. On the basis of PACE Resolution 1371 (2004), the European Union had prevented Mr Sivakov from attending the Olympic Games.

On 27 September the EU decided to restrict admission to its territory of those who are considered by the PACE report to be key actors in the disappearances as well as those considered primarily responsible for failing to initiate an investigation and prosecution of the alleged crimes.

(Picture : In April 2004, demonstrators in front of the Palais de l'Europe show the pictures of disappeared persons)


More

5 July 2004
IPU and PACE urge the authorities of Belarus to investigate disappearance of MP

28 April 2004
Call for ‘maximum pressure’ on Belarus over disappearances

28 April 2004
Resolution 1371: 'Disappeared persons in Belarus'

28 April 2004
Recommendation 1657: 'Disappeared persons in Belarus'

28 April 2004
Resolution 1372: 'Persecution of the press in Belarus' 

28 April 2004
Recommendation 1658: 'Persecution of the press in Belarus'

30 January 2004
Belarus Parliament's request for restoration of special guest status rejected



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