WASHINGTON – Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO) has written Secretary of State Madeline K. Albright voicing “grave concern about the personal safety of leading Belarusian opposition members” with whom he met recently in Washington. Campbell wrote the letter in light of news reports indicating that the Belarusian leader Aleksander Lukashenka threatened members of the opposition party after their meetings with Washington lawmakers in late May.
“Similar threats were issued by President Lukashenka prior to the disappearance of a leading opposition figure last year,” Campbell wrote. Campbell was joined in the letter by Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee Chairman Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Baltic Caucus Co-Chair Senator Richard J. Durbin (D-IL).
“The democratic opposition in Belarus deserves both our moral and material support as they seek to overcome the legacy of communism and authoritarianism and build a democratic society firmly rooted in the rule of law,” Campbell’s letter read. “Given the deterioration of human rights in Belarus and in particular repressive measures against the opposition, support for democratic forces in Belarus is more pressing than ever.”
In their letter, the Senators called on Albright to release existing State Department program funds “to enhance assistance to the democratic forces in Belarus at this critical juncture.” The four Senators recently met in Washington with leading Belarusian opposition figures including Pavel Zhuk, chief editor of the independent newspaper “Nasha Svoboda”; Anatoly Lebedka, head of the United Civic Party; Dmitry Bondarenko, a leader of the Charter ’97 human rights group; and Vintsuk Viachorka, head of the Belarusian Popular Front.
“We therefore urge you to take all available steps to help ensure the personal safety of these Belarusian opposition leaders and to ensure that adequate resources are made available on an urgent basis to support those programs aimed at strengthening independent media, human rights, civil society, independent trade unions and the democratic opposition in Belarus,” Campbell added.
The Commission has been active in promoting human rights and democracy in Belarus, and most recently held a hearing in March which featured Belarusian opposition leaders, including Mr. Lebedka. Campbell has met with Mr. Lebedka on several occasions and has actively supported him and other opposition leaders in their efforts to promote democracy and human rights in Belarus.