Toggle navigation menu.
Helsinki Default Banner

Statement by Co-Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith

Today I have the honor of joining four courageous women from Belarus – Ludmilla Karpenko, Irina Krasovska, Tatiana Klimova and Svetlana Zavadska – whose husbands have disappeared, died under suspicious circumstances, or remain imprisoned. The cases of the disappeared and imprisoned are stark manifestations of the climate of fear that exists in Belarus under the rule of Alexander Lukashenka.

Last month, two former investigators in the Belarusian prosecutor’s office made public allegations against leading Belarusian officials of organizing a death squad to liquidate opponents of the regime. According to the former investigators, such a death squad was responsible for the disappearances of Russian ORT Television cameraman Dmitry Zavadsky, 13th Supreme Soviet Vice-Chairman Viktor Gonchar and his associate Anatoly Krasovsky, and former Minister of Internal Affairs Yury Zakharenka. The State Department has said that the Belarusian investigators have made credible and detailed revelations and they take these allegations very seriously. The Belarusian authorities have not yet provided an accounting of the whereabouts of these people.

I am today releasing a letter I sent a few days ago to President Bush urging that he raise at the G-8 summit, and especially with Russian President Putin, concerns about the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus in advance of their September presidential elections. With presidential elections in Belarus coming up on September 9, I urged the President to convey our strong interest in a presidential election which meets international democratic standards.

Belarusian authorities must make a serious commitment to abide by criteria set forth by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), of which Belarus is a member. These criteria include an end of the climate of fear, access to the state media for all candidates, respect for freedom of assembly, and transparency and fairness in the registration of candidates and functioning of electoral commissions.

An essential component of the ending of the climate of fear means the appointment of a credible national independent commission of inquiry that would mount a thorough investigation into the disappearances and bring those responsible to account.

Another important component is the release of political prisoners Andrei Klimov and Valery Schukin. Finally, I call upon Belarusian authorities to release the autopsy results of Gennady Karpenko to Mrs. Karpenko. Accounting for the disappeared and dead would help dispel the ongoing climate of fear and create a atmosphere conducive to free and fair presidential elections.

I must state that we are not very encouraged by the way the election process is proceeding. We are concerned that the authorities have included virtually no representatives in territorial electoral commissions, out of over 800 proposed by Belarusian democratic parties and NGOs. We hope that serious steps will be taken to ensure the impartiality of these commissions. This is essential if you want to establish confidence that the election process will be a fair one. Moreover, this could help to facilitate trust between the government and opposition. Also essential in this context is the genuine independent domestic and international election observation effort under the auspices of the OSCE.

The last seven years of the Lukashenka regime have witnessed the marked deterioration of human rights and democracy in Belarus. Democratic elections require an all-encompassing atmosphere of trust and respect for human rights. Only by ending the current climate of fear and creating such an atmosphere of trust in advance of the elections can Belarus end its self-imposed isolation. The people of Belarus should know that we will stand by them and support their efforts to build an independent nation based on democracy and the rule of law.

Media contact

Category
Country
Issue
Date
Filter Topics Open Close
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Deeply Concerned Over Latest Ele...

Jul 27, 2022

WASHINGTON—Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) and  Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) today expressed deep concern about an effort by the international community’s High Representative in Bosnia to impose changes on the country’s electoral system barely two months prior to general elections in early October. They issued the following joint statement: “We share the concerns […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Co-Chairman Cohen Welcomes Conclusion of First Round...

Apr 12, 2022

WASHINGTON—Following the first round of presidential elections in France on April 10, Helsinki Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09) issued the following statement: “As co-chairman of the bipartisan U.S. Helsinki Commission, I congratulate the French people for making their voices heard on Sunday during the first round of their presidential elections. France is among the […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Hearing to Examine Ways to Count...

Mar 30, 2022

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: COUNTERING OLIGARCHS, ENABLERS, AND LAWFARE Wednesday, April 6, 2022 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 562 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission As influential proxies of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, Russian oligarchs work to weaken Western democracies from […]

screen-reader-text
Generic BG 368x331
Briefings

Conflict of Interest?

Feb 16, 2022

Turkey is at a crossroads. Even as the Turkish Government insists that it remains committed to its NATO partners and to future EU integration, its actions—both foreign and domestic—call those promises into question. Turkey has been a steadfast supporter of Ukraine and Turkish officials have announced plans to normalize relations with Armenia and moved to […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Briefing to Examine Intersection...

Feb 10, 2022

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following online briefing: CONFLICT OF INTEREST? Foreign Policy and Human Rights in Turkey Wednesday, February 16, 2022 11:00 a.m. Register: https://bit.ly/3Je5Ck4 Turkey is at a crossroads. Even as the Turkish Government insists that it remains committed to its NATO […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Marks One-Year Anniversary of Na...

Jan 14, 2022

WASHINGTON—Ahead of the one-year anniversary of Alexei Navalny’s arrest on January 17, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following statements: “In the past year, while Alexei Navalny has remained unjustly imprisoned, the Kremlin has […]

screen-reader-text
Logo 368x331
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Cautions Russia Against Dissolvi...

Dec 21, 2021

WASHINGTON—As the latest court proceedings conclude for Russian human rights group Memorial International, U.S. Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “The Kremlin continues to twist Russia’s so-called justice system to punish civil […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Chairman Cardin Calls for Release of Osman Kavala, W...

Dec 03, 2021

WASHINGTON—Following the recent ruling of a Turkish court that will keep philanthropist Osman Kavala jailed until his trial begins in January 2022 and the subsequent decision by the Council of Europe to begin infringement proceedings against Turkey, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD) issued the following statement: “Justice has been denied, once again, for […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Alarmed by Attempted Liquidation...

Nov 17, 2021

WASHINGTON—Following last week’s request by Russian prosecutors to liquidate the human rights group Memorial International and the Memorial Human Rights Center, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “We continue to see […]

screen-reader-text
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission Supports Invocation of OSCE’s Vi...

Nov 10, 2021

WASHINGTON—Following the invocation of the OSCE’s Vienna Mechanism to address the mounting human rights crisis in Belarus, Helsinki Commission Chairman Sen. Ben Cardin (MD), Co-Chairman Rep. Steve Cohen (TN-09), Ranking Member Sen. Roger Wicker (MS), and Ranking Member Rep. Joe Wilson (SC-02) issued the following joint statement: “One year after the release of a comprehensive, […]

screen-reader-text
Hearings

Upholding OSCE Commitments in Hungary and Poland

Nov 03, 2021

Political leaders in Hungary and Poland—U.S. allies and members of the European Union—have for the past decade pursued policies that undermine democracy and the rule of law. In Hungary, the Fidesz government has weakened the country’s democratic institutions, especially the free media and independent judiciary. Instead of strengthening the transatlantic bond, Viktor Orbán has sought […]

screen-reader-text
Generic BG 368x331
Press Releases

Helsinki Commission to Hold Hearing on Upholding OSC...

Oct 27, 2021

WASHINGTON—The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, today announced the following hearing: UPHOLDING OSCE COMMITMENTS IN HUNGARY AND POLAND Wednesday, November 3, 2021 2:30 p.m. Dirksen Senate Office Building Room 419 Watch live: www.youtube.com/HelsinkiCommission Political leaders in Hungary and Poland—U.S. allies and members of the European Union—have for […]

screen-reader-text