Disappeared persons in Belarus
Persecution of the press in the Republic of Belarus
Recommendations 1657 and 1658 (2004)
4 October 2004
Reply from the Committee of Ministers
adopted at the 898th meeting of the Ministers Deputies (30 September 2004)
1. The Committee of Ministers examined with great concern Parliamentary Assembly Recommendations 1657 (2004) on disappeared persons in Belarus and 1658 (2004) on the persecution of the press in the Republic of Belarus, which the Parliamentary Assembly adopted on 28 April 2004, and Resolutions 1371 (2004) and 1372 (2004) on the same subjects, adopted at the same time. The Committee of Ministers confirms that its goal is that Belarus, as an integral part of Europe and a country whose people contributed to the common European heritage, should become a fully-fledged member of the Council of Europe. In order to bring Belarus closer to the international community and to the Council of Europe, it is clear that the human rights situation must improve;
2. The Committee of Ministers agrees with the Parliamentary Assembly that there is a need for an independent inquiry into the disappearances mentioned in Resolution 1371 (2004). It considers that any allegations about involvement of senior politicians and high-ranking officials in these disappearances and in the dissimulation of the truth must be verified and perpetrators duly punished. The Chair of the Committee of Ministers will send a request in that sense to the competent Belarusian authorities. Such an inquiry should be totally independent.
3. The Committee of Ministers also endorses the emphasis which the Parliamentary Assembly places on freedom of the press and the independence of the media, as a prerequisite for the operation of any genuine democracy and one of the four criteria - along with a properly working parliament, abolition of the death penalty and respect for human rights in general - which the international community singled out as being necessary for Belarus' integration into the European family. In this connection, the Committee of Ministers encourages the measures recommended by the Parliamentary Assembly in paragraph 14 of Resolution 1372 (2004). It encourages the Belarusian authorities to take all appropriate action to implement them. The Council of Europe stands ready to provide necessary assistance in particular through the Venice Commission. It also encourages the provision of objective and impartial broadcasting programmes and print and Internet publications aimed specifically at the Belarusian public, as the Assembly suggests. In this respect, the assistance given for the last 10 years by the Council of Europe towards the development of independent media in Belarus, particularly on Internet, will be continued and, as far as possible, intensified.
4. Regarding the Assembly's proposal that the Committee of Ministers considers suspending the participation of Belarus in various Council of Europe agreements and activities, as well as any contacts between the Council of Europe and the Belarusian Government on a political level, the Committee of Ministers recalls the following:
- Belarus is a Party to a number of international conventions. Participation in these conventions is subject to the provisions of international law;
- Belarus participates as an observer in certain intergovernmental activities of the Council of Europe. This participation could be considered as a useful communication channel for the Belarusian authorities but should not be seen as a Council of Europe support of the present authorities stand;
- the Council of Europe also provides assistance to civil society. This assistance should be enhanced with the perspective of a European future for the country.
5. The Committee of Ministers will continue a detailed examination of all the options available. It will bear in mind the need to persuade Belarusian society that the country can have a European future and that choosing the path of democratic and economic development followed by all the other countries in Europe is in the long term interest of the people of Belarus. In this context, the Committee of Ministers believes that contacts between the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Parliament of Belarus could play an important positive role.
6. The Committee of Ministers believes that the international community including the Council of Europe should make every effort to bring about positive developments in Belarus. Activities planned for 2004 with NGO partners of the Council of Europe mainly concern awareness-raising of the standards of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Committee of Ministers will aim to convince the authorities to remove administrative and fiscal obstacles which threaten the proper functioning and the mere existence of the NGOs as well as at promoting cooperation between NGOs in Belarus and in neighbouring countries.
7. The Committee of Ministers stresses that the forthcoming parliamentary elections provide an opportunity for the Belarus authorities to demonstrate their willingness to move towards democracy and shared European values and to avoid repeating the shortcomings registered during the previous ballots. At the Committee of Ministers request, the Secretary General has urged the Belarus authorities, by a letter of July 23, to conduct the elections in accordance with the Code of good practice in electoral matters adopted by the Venice Commission and endorsed by the Committee of Ministers at its 114th Ministerial Session. The Secretary General strongly encouraged them to invite representatives of the international community to observe the process of those elections. The Committee of Ministers believes that free and fair elections, including equal opportunities for all political forces during the campaign period, would indeed constitute an important first step towards reaching the benchmarks established by the international community and would help create a new climate between Belarus and the Council of Europe.
8. The Committee of Ministers remains however very concerned, following new developments that unfolded during the summer months, in particular mass arrests following street demonstrations. It urges that persons arrested while exercising their fundamental freedoms be speedily released.
Further the Committee learned that President Lukashenko has called for a referendum to be held together with the parliamentary elections on 17 October 2004 to change the constitution of Belarus to allow a president to run without limitations in future presidential elections. It recognises the right of Belarus to hold a referendum as a way to decide on its political and constitutional organisation but stresses the need to hold such a referendum in accordance with Council of Europe and OSCE standards and norms.