WASHINGTON– Legislation sponsored by Representative Christopher H. Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), to support people struggling for basic human rights in Belarus—often called Europe’s last dictatorship—was approved yesterday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee. The bill, H.R. 515, calls for blocking assets owned by senior Belarusan government officials, and their families, involved in anti-democratic actions.
“The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011bill supports targeted sanctions,” said Smith, a senior member of the Committee. “It expresses the sense of the Congress to deny the privilege of visiting our country to senior Belarus officials, their immediate families, and others involved in human rights violations and anti-democracy actions, including those involved in the December 19 post-election crackdown. Likewise, it has a sense of Congress provisions prohibiting U.S. government financing, except for humanitarian goods and agricultural or medical products, and non-humanitarian loans from international financial institutions to the Belarusan government.”
To view Chairman Smith’s statement, click here.
The bill was approved by the Human Rights Subcommittee Wednesday and the full Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday. The legislation calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including those detained in the post-election crackdown. H.R. 515 as amended now heads to the full House of Representatives for a vote.
Related legislation Smith authored in previous Congresses—the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 and the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006—passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law. H.R. 515 states a U.S. government policy of supporting the basic human rights of the Belarusan people against the Lukashenka dictatorship, and for a full accounting of the 1999-2000 disappearances of opposition leaders and a journalist in Belarus, and the prosecution of those responsible.
The legislation also requires the administration to report to Congress on the Belarusan government’s activities in selling arms abroad, censorship or surveillance of the internet, and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior leadership figures.
Smith, chairman of the Committee’s Human Rights Subcommittee, said the crackdown follows the pattern of repression that has characterized Lukashenka’s rule.
“I want to stress that both the Bush and Obama administrations have made good use of the previous Belarus Democracy Acts (2004 and 2006) to emphasize to the Belarusan government that the elected representatives of the American people – by overwhelming and bipartisan majorities – support the policy of condemning and sanctioning the Belarusan government’s brutal human rights violations,” Smith said. “In view of the unprecedented crackdown after the fraudulent December elections, we need to again send this signal to Lukashenka, and propel this policy forward amidst the administration’s competing priorities.”