Media Contact: Neil Simon
WASHINGTON--Despite some improvements, the violence against opposition demonstrators and journalists in Belarus during Sunday's election shows the long road ahead for democratic progress there, leaders of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission) said today.
"We resolutely condemn the crackdown by authorities, including misuse of forces against peaceful demonstrators and journalists attempting to exercise their professional duties," said U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Helsinki Commission Chairman. "The detention of most presidential candidates opposing incumbent Alexander Lukashenka, hundreds of democratic activists and journalists is deplorable as is the authorities' blocking of access to independent websites."
Helsinki Commission staff observed the election as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Parliamentary Assembly observation mission. Chairman Cardin and a U.S. Congressional delegation met last year with President Lukashenka and pressed for democratic reforms in the country.
"This election showed some procedural improvements," said Co-Chairman Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL), "Despite more open political activity, including greater opportunities for candidates to speak on live television, the overall political environment in Belarus remains undemocratic, with the electoral system at every level dominated by the regime, and with the state media disproportionately favoring the incumbent. While ballots appeared to have been cast in an orderly and efficient manner, observers assessed the vote count conduct negatively in nearly half of precincts observed."
The percentage of negative assessments equals that of the flawed 2008 parliamentary elections in Belarus.
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the U.S. Helsinki Commission, is an independent agency of the Federal Government charged with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords and advancing comprehensive security through promotion of human rights, democracy, and economic, environmental and military cooperation in 56 countries. The Commission consists of nine members from the U.S. Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense, and Commerce.