Today I have the honor of joining four courageous women from Belarus – Ludmilla Karpenko, Irina Krasovska, Tatiana Klimova and Svetlana Zavadska – whose husbands have disappeared, died under suspicious circumstances, or remain imprisoned. The cases of the disappeared and imprisoned are stark manifestations of the climate of fear that exists in Belarus under the rule of Alexander Lukashenka.
Last month, two former investigators in the Belarusian prosecutor’s office made public allegations 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 Vice-Chairman Viktor Gonchar and his associate Anatoly Krasovsky, and former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Zakharenka. The State Department has said that the Belarusian investigators have made credible and detailed revelations and they take these allegations very seriously. The Belarusian authorities have not yet provided an accounting of the whereabouts of these people.
I am today releasing a letter I sent a few days ago to President Bush urging that he raise at the G-8 summit, and especially with Russian President Putin, concerns about the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus in advance of their September presidential elections. With presidential elections in Belarus coming up on September 9, I urged the President to convey our strong interest in a presidential election which meets international democratic standards.
Belarusian authorities must make a serious commitment to abide by criteria set forth by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Belarus is a member. These criteria include an end of the climate of fear, access to the state media for all candidates, respect for freedom of assembly, and transparency and fairness in the registration of candidates and functioning of electoral commissions.
An essential component of the ending of the climate of fear means the appointment of a credible national independent commission of inquiry that would mount a thorough investigation into the disappearances and bring those responsible to account.
Another important component is the release of political prisoners Andrei Klimov and Valery Schukin. Finally, I call upon Belarusian authorities to release the autopsy results of Gennady Karpenko to Mrs. Karpenko. Accounting for the disappeared and dead would help dispel the ongoing climate of fear and create a atmosphere conducive to free and fair presidential elections.
I must state that we are not very encouraged by the way the election process is proceeding. We are concerned that the authorities have included virtually no representatives in territorial electoral commissions, out of over 800 proposed by Belarusian democratic parties and NGOs. We hope that serious steps will be taken to ensure the impartiality of these commissions. This is essential if you want to establish confidence that the election process will be a fair one. Moreover, this could help to facilitate trust between the government and opposition. Also essential in this context is the genuine independent domestic and international election observation effort under the auspices of the OSCE.
The last seven years of the Lukashenka regime have witnessed the marked deterioration of human rights and democracy in Belarus. Democratic elections require an all-encompassing atmosphere of trust and respect for human rights. Only by ending the current climate of fear and creating such an atmosphere of trust in advance of the elections can Belarus end its self-imposed isolation. The people of Belarus should know that we will stand by them and support their efforts to build an independent nation based on democracy and the rule of law.