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Helsinki Commission: Belarus Still Lacking Progress in Human Rights and Democracy in Run Up to Election

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

WASHINGTON - Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) and Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD), Co-Chairmen of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (U.S. Helsinki Commission), issued the following statement in the lead up to the September 28 parliamentary elections in Belarus:

"The pre-election environment in Belarus remains discouraging. Thus far, we have seen few signs that these elections will differ significantly from previous elections that failed to live up to OSCE standards. It is most troubling that Belarus’ leader Alexander Lukashenka has demanded the West accept the results of the election as ‘democratic’ or his government will end any effort to improve relations. We view this warning as a setback to democracy and the protection of human rights” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin.

Chairman Hastings noted, “In March 2006, I led the election observation mission to Minsk – there is no doubt in my mind that there was much room for improvement. With that said, however, should the Belarusian authorities display a concrete willingness to meaningfully improve respect for human rights and democracy, I believe that the United States should be open to prudent and measured engagement.”

Co-Chairman Cardin stated, “For the last twelve years, since the consolidation of Alexander Lukashenka’s rule, the people of Belarus have been subjected to systematic state control over society, stifling of independent media and non-governmental organizations, detentions and violence against those who peacefully challenge the authorities. This misrule has led to Belarus’ self-isolation, leading it away from its rightful place among the democratic countries of Europe.”

“We await the assessment of the OSCE election observation mission, which will be a key indicator of whether Belarus has met relevant OSCE commitments. In the short time remaining, we expect that the Belarusian government will take immediate steps to improve the election climate, such as ensuring transparency during the entire voting process, including early voting and in the vote count, and providing for full access for OSCE observers. We sincerely hope that the Belarusian government is resolute in improving the election climate – the people of Belarus deserve to enjoy the freedoms shared by the vast majority of their fellow Europeans,” said Co-Chairmen Hastings and Cardin.

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