(Washington) - The Belarus Democracy Act of 2003 moved one step closer to reality today when it passed a subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee.
The bipartisan resolution, H.R. 854, is a measure designed to bolster democratic development in a country held hostage by the dictatorial regime of Alexander Lukashenka. The Europe Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee approved the measure today, referring it to the full Committee for consideration.
“The United States Congress is one step closer to putting words into action in support of the oppressed citizens of Belarus,” said United States Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ), prime sponsor of the House bill. “I am more optimistic today that we will soon be able to say to the Belarusian people that we are with you in word and in deed.”
“The Belarusian people deserve to live in a society where democratic principles and human rights are respected and the rule of law is paramount,” Smith added. “I hope that this bill will help put an end to the pattern of clear, gross and uncorrected human rights violations by the Lukashenka regime and serve as a catalyst to facilitate Belarus’ integration into democratic Europe.”
“The Belarusian people have suffered so much both under past and current dictatorships. They deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country,” Smith continued.
One of the primary purposes of the Belarus Democracy Act is to demonstrate U.S. support for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures they face from Lukashenka’s anti-democratic regime. A similar version of the Belarus Democracy Act, S. 700, is pending in the United States Senate.
The Belarus Democracy Act authorizes an increase in assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media, including broadcasting into Belarus, and international exchanges. The bill would expand sanctions against the Lukashenka regime, denying high-ranking officials of the regime entry into the United States. Strategic exports to the Belarusian Government would be prohibited, as well as U.S. Government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products.
U.S. executive directors of international financial institutions would be encouraged to vote against financial assistance to the Government of Belarus except for loans and assistance for humanitarian needs. The bill would also require reports from the President concerning the sale or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies from Belarus to rogue states.
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.