(Washington) – United States Helsinki Commission leaders have introduced the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, a measure designed to bolster democratic development in a country held hostage by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenka.
Helsinki Commission Co-Chairmen Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) and Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) have introduced virtually similar resolutions targeting democracy- building efforts in the former Soviet Republic of Belarus.
“The goal of the Belarus Democracy Act is to assist Belarus in becoming a genuine European state, in which respect for human rights and democracy is the norm and in which the long-suffering Belarusian people are able to overcome the legacy of dictatorship – past and present,” said Campbell. “Against the backdrop of this climate of fear, the powers of the state have been brought to bear against independent journalists, trade unionists, and other voices of dissent.” Campbell underscored that “a lack of accountability enables the Lukashenka regime to pursue arms deals with the likes of North Korea and Iraq.”
“I hope this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount,” Smith said. “The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions.”
“While some might be tempted to dismiss Belarus as an anomaly, the stakes are too high and the costs too great to ignore,” Campbell added. “I introduced the Belarus Democracy Act in the Senate in an effort to help put an end to repression and human rights violations in Belarus and to promote Belarus’ entry into a democratic Euro-Atlantic community of nations.”
The Senate version of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, S. 700, is cosponsored by Senators Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ). The House version, H.R. 854, is cosponsored by Helsinki Commission Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD), Commissioner Rep. Joseph R. Pitts (R-PA), Commissioner Rep. Louise McIntosh Slaughter (D-NY), Commissioner Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D-PA) and Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-CA).
The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.