(Washington) - United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today released a letter written to President George W. Bush urging him to raise concerns about the dire human rights situation in Belarus. Smith released the letter during a press conference outside the United States House of Representatives alongside the four wives and widows of killed, imprisoned or missing journalist and political opposition leaders.
Attending today’s press conference were:
Ludmilla Karpenko, wife of 13th Supreme Soviet Vice-Chairman Gennady Karpenko, of what medical authorities said was a brain hemorrhage on April 6, 1999. The autopsy report has never been released to the family.
Irina Krasovska, wife of businessman Andrei Krasovsky, who was a friend of 13th Supreme Soviet Deputy Chairman Viktor Gonchar. Both disappeared on September 16, 1999.
Tatiana Klimova, wife of 13th Supreme Soviet Deputy Andrei Klimov, imprisoned.
Svetlana Zavadska, wife of Dmitry Zavadsky, cameraman for Russian Public Television (ORT) who disappeared on July 7, 2000.
Also attending the press conference was Cathy Fitzpatrick, Executive Director of the International League for Human Rights.
The text of Co-Chairman Smith’s letter to President Bush follows:
July 18, 2001
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
Dear Mr. President:
In your upcoming meetings at the G-8 summit and especially in your meeting with Russian President Putin, we urge you to raise concerns about the critical state of human rights and democracy in Belarus.
Under the regime of Aleksandr Lukashenka, human rights have deteriorated significantly. One of the most stark manifestations of this degeneration has been the disappearance of several opposition politicians and journalists. Last month, two former Belarusian investigators made detailed accusations against leading Belarusian officials of organizing a death squad to liquidate opponents of the regime. According to the former investigators, such a death squad was responsible for the disappearances of Russian ORT Television cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, 13th Supreme Soviet Deputy Chairman Victor Gonchar and his associate Anatoly Krasovsky, and former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Zakharenka. Moreover, we remain concerned about the continued incarceration of political prisoners Andrei Klimov and Valery Shchukin, both members of the democratically elected 13th Supreme Soviet.
Belarusian presidential elections are scheduled to be held on September 9. Judging by the continuing actions of Mr. Lukashenka’s regime, the prospects of free, fair, and transparent elections – consistent with Belarus’ freely undertaken OSCE commitments – remain dim. We urge you to convey our strong interest in a democratic presidential election in which the Belarusian authorities will take concrete steps to meet criteria set forth by the OSCE last year. These criteria include an end to the climate of fear, equal access to the state media for all candidates, respect for freedom of assembly, as well as transparency and fairness in registration of candidates and functioning of electoral commissions. We urge you to convey to President Putin the importance of Russian support and participation in any election monitoring effort of the OSCE.
Mr. President, the Belarusian authorities must end the climate of fear that so endangers the trust necessary for free and fair elections. We call upon you to encourage our G-8 partners, including President Putin, to press the Belarusian authorities to conduct a complete and transparent investigation of the disappearances, to release political prisoners, and to take the steps necessary to ensure free, fair and transparent presidential elections.
Only by ending the current climate of fear can Belarus end its self-imposed isolation which would be in the interest of the people of Belarus, the Russian Federation, the United States and those committed to democracy, human rights and the rule of law.
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, M.C.