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Belarus’ Human Rights Record, OSCE’s Advisory and Monitoring Group Under Fire at Commission Hearing

WASHINGTON — “The actions of your government send fear through every level of Belarusian society,” said Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) today at a Commission hearing entitled “Belarus—Back in the USSR? The political and economic situation in Belarus remains dire under President Lukashenka’s authoritarian rule.”

Chairman Smith singled out Lukashenka’s crackdown on NGOs and Decree Number 2, which introduces stifling restrictions on re-registration of political parties, NGOs and trade unions.

Smith, as well as Commissioner Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS), specifically pressed Belarusian Charge D’Affaires Arkady M. Cherepansky as to whether there would be a massive crackdown against opposition political parties if they carry out elections on May 16. “I can assure you, as a representative of the executive branch of the Belarusian Government, that no massive crackdown will occur even though those elections will be in violation of existing law,” said Cherepansky. “The only punishment meted out will be according to the current laws of the government. We are actually working with international experts on a new criminal code.”

Ranking Member Rep. Steny H. Hoyer (D-MD) then pointed out that “if your existing laws are in conflict with your international obligations, it does not rationalize them nor justify the denial of human rights to your people.”

These exchanges followed comments by Ross Wilson, Principal Deputy to the Ambassador-at-Large and Special Advisor to the Secretary of State for the New Independent States regarding U.S. policy concerning Belarus and the current state of its government. Asked whether the United States was assisting Belarusian victims of Chernobyl, Wilson answered that the United States was assisting people and hospitals. As for the status of the 13th Supreme Soviet, Wilson pointed out that it was generally the only parliament the international community acknowledged, and that it is “a burr in the hide of Lukashenka.” Regarding the absence of a U.S. Ambassador in Miensk, Wilson explained the United States has “asked for written assurances from the Belarusian Government regarding the Vienna Convention, and as progress is being made, about mid-way through the process, we expect to send Ambassador Speckhard back.”

Ambassador Hans-Georg Wieck, Head of the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, testified about his views on the situation, that there were a number of difficulties working with a government that did not follow the rule of law. “I will work to have free and fair elections in 2000, but the parties must have access to the media. While it may not be reasonable to expect a complete set of legal changes, we can expect an immediate application of international obligations by the regime,” said Wieck.

The AMG’s work was immediately criticized by a panel consisting of Ambassador Andrei Sannikov, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus and Coordinator of Charter 97; Catherine Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, International League for Human Rights; and, Rachel Denber, Deputy Director, Europe Division, Human Rights Watch. Sannikov felt that the AMG’s monies spent on election training and monitoring “was a waste of the money of the participating States. It is wasted in a country that doesn’t apply the rule of law.” Sannikov and Fitzpatrick urged the return of U.S. Ambassador Speckhard to the U.S. Embassy in Miensk parallel to continuing negotiations.

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