WASHINGTON–Support for people struggling to obtain basic human rights in Belarus—often called Europe’s last dictatorship—came today in the form of the House of Representatives passage of the Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011. The bill, H.R. 515, sponsored by Helsinki Commission Chairman Chris Smith (NJ-04), calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including those jailed in the December 19, 2010, post-election crackdown, and refuses to recognize the results of the flawed election.
“The repressive regime in Belarus was in full force earlier this week as police broke up protestors attempting to mark their country’s independence day,” said Smith, who is also chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee subcommittee panel that oversees human rights. “Hundreds were detained, including independent journalists reporting on rallies held across the country.
“H.R. 515 states a U.S. government policy of strong support for the Belarusian people in their struggle against the Lukashenka dictatorship, aspiring to live in a free and independent country where their human rights are respected, they can choose their government, and officials apply just laws that they themselves are subject to,” said Smith. “This bill encourages those struggling for decency and basic rights against the overwhelming pressures from the anti-democratic regime.” To view Chairman Smith’s floor remarks, click here.
The bill, which passed last night in a voice vote, requires the administration to report to Congress on the Belarusian government’s activities in selling arms abroad, censorship or surveillance of the Internet, and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior leadership figures. It also states the sense of the Congress that the administration should deny entry into the U.S. of Belarusian senior government officials, as well as their immediate family members and business partners, and members of the security services involved in the post-election crackdown.
The measure also supports provisions prohibiting U.S. government financing, except for humanitarian goods and non-humanitarian loans from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, to the Belarusan government; and blocking assets owned by the Belarusian government senior leadership or their families and others involved in human rights violations.
H.R. 515 supports radio, television and Internet broadcasting to Belarus, specifically Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Voice of America, European Radio for Belarus and the satellite television station Belsat.
The fraudulent December 2010 elections and the more recent brutal crackdown follow the pattern of repression that has characterized Aleksandr Lukashenka’s nearly 17-year rule. During a Helsinki Commission visit to Minsk in June 2009, Smith and then-Chairman Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) and other Commissioners pressed Lukashenka directly on his dismal human rights record and denial of democratic freedoms. Smith authored the Belarus Democracy Acts of 2004 and of 2006; both bills passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and were signed into law.