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Prospects Fade for Free and Fair Belarus Elections

WASHINGTON – United States Helsinki Commission leaders today called upon Belarus to allow international Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) monitors to observe the country’s September 9, 2001 presidential elections. OSCE officials have sought to monitor the elections, only to be snubbed by the Alexander Lukashenka regime.

“The refusal of the Belarusian authorities to issue invitations to the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) to observe the presidential elections does not bode well for the integrity of the election process in Belarus,” said Helsinki Commission Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO).

A contingent of ODIHR long-term observers were expected to arrive in Minsk on August 1 to monitor the candidates’ registration process and the formation of local election commissions. The OSCE Istanbul Charter commits participating States to invite ODIHR to observe their elections. ODIHR is Europe’s principal election observation body.

“With little more than four weeks before the elections, time is rapidly running out,” Chairman Campbell added. “Refusal to allow ODIHR entry to observe the elections would constitute a first, as no other participating State has ever blocked ODIHR’s observation of elections.”

“Forbidding ODIHR observation flies in the face of assurances by Belarus that it is doing its best to create conditions for elections that meet international democratic standards,” said Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ). “We’re becoming increasingly concerned about the pre-election climate, including reports of harassment of activists and independent election observers and seizures of American computer equipment being used by a non-governmental organization and independent newspaper. The Justice Ministry did not inspire confidence through a statement last week warning newspapers that publishing information about unregistered parties, trade unions or other organizations constitutes a criminal offense.”

“Let there be no illusions, that if Belarus’ elections are not free and fair, self-imposed isolation will only grow and relations with democratic countries, including the United States, will only deteriorate,” Smith said. “The ball, Mr. Lukashenka, is in your court.”

The Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. The Commission’s Internet web site is located at http://www.csce.gov. The Commission’s work on issues surrounding Belarus and the Lukashenka regime may be accessed through the Internet at http://www.csce.gov/state_query.cfm?state_id=6.

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