Justas Paleckis: the situation with human rights in Belarus remains of a great concern

The human rights situation in Belarus “is still difficult and remains of a great concern.” This is stated in the report, which was prepared by Justas Paleckis, the rapporteur of the European Parliament (EP) Delegation for relations with Belarus , for the Council of the EU, the European Commission and the External Action Service.

On 9 July the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European Parliament adopted  the report during the second reading, after ​​about 300 corrections were made in the document. On 16 July the text of the adopted document was published on the website of the European Parliament.

The presentation of the report on Belarus to the Committee during the first reading in late May caused a great public response. It was prepared by Justas Paleckis, who is a member of the European Parliament, the deputy from Lithuania and the special rapporteur for Belarus Initially, the document noted improvement in the human rights situation in Belarus in 2012, which aroused resentment of the Belarusian opposition and human rights defenders. In response to the accusations Justas Paleckis, the author of the report, claimed that he made such conclusions based on the information of the Belarusian human rights defenders.

“It was an initial version. I already said that those two and a half pages were just frames. MEPs made 292 amendments. The report has changed beyond recognition. The thesis about the improvement of the human rights situation was fully changed. The report now says about a difficult situation of human rights, but quotes that the number of people arrested on political motives decreased, according to the data from Viasna human rights centre. It is now explained that it is the result of intimidation and repression.”  – said Paleckis.

The document also notes that the upcoming Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius, which will be held in November, “could become another important opportunity for the conditional and gradual improvement of the EU-Belarus relations as long as political prisoners are released and rehabilitated”, and the representatives of civil society and opposition activists in Belarus should be involved in the political dialogue between Minsk and Brussels, which could be possible when the conditions mentioned above would be completed.

In turn, the opposition, according to the report, needs to work towards creation a common strategy and action plan. Some specific measures – such as, for example, a common list of candidates in the local elections in 2014, the overall political program, the nomination of a single candidate in the presidential election of 2015.

The European Parliament addresses its recommendations to the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Council, the Commission and the Member States. According to the paper, they should urge the Belarusian authorities to respect human rights and work towards a democratic transition in order to end the country’s self-imposed isolation from the rest of Europe.

  The EU should also reiterate once again that “an absolute prerequisite for the gradual lifting of EU restrictive measures and a full-fledged upgrade in EU-Belarus relations is the unconditional and immediate release and rehabilitation of the political and civic rights of all remaining political prisoners”. This is highlighted in the report.

It is said in the report, that the EU should “consider the suspension of the Belarusian Foreign Minister from the EU visa ban list with a view to broadening the main and essential diplomatic communication channel with Belarus, in particular with a view to facilitating his participation in the Eastern Partnership summit; first of all for a meaningful dialogue for the release of political prisoners.” 

Nevertheless, the EU should stay firm on visa ban and asset freeze targeting those directly involved in violating democratic election standards and human rights.

  The EU should also “establish contacts with those officials who were not involved in repressions, in order to foster openness of mind towards the EU and to enhance EU-Belarus cooperation; and also encourage their cooperation with the Belarusian civil society in order to facilitate the implementation of the reforms.”

  The report also says about the fact that Belarus should fulfill all the recommendations of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the OSCE, and also lift all restrictions imposed on the democratic opposition and civil society, including the limits on the exercise of their freedom of association, expression, movement, and peaceful assembly; as well as remove any existing obstacles to NGO registration.

  The report also states that Belarus needs to implement reforms that would guarantee the modernization of the judiciary in line with international standards;, as well as not to carry into execution the death sentence, passed in 2013, the death penalty and introduce a moratorium on the death penalty.

It is recommended for the EU to consider unilaterally facilitating the issuing of visas and reducing their cost from EUR 60 to an affordable level for Belarusian citizens, and making full use of the existing flexibilities offered by the Visa Code including the waiver or reduction of fees for visas.

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