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Belarus Updates, 2002

INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

BELARUS UPDATE
Edited by Victor Cole

Vol. 5, No. 46

November 2002


IN THIS ISSUE:

-U.S. Embassy: Lebedko's Arrest is "Politically-Motivated Persecution"
-U.S. OSCE Mission Denounces Harassment Of Lebedko
-U.S. Congress: Situation In Belarus Continues To Deteriorate
-Conference On Belarus Attracts Prominent Speakers
-Rep. Chris Smith: Belarus Democracy Act Alive And Well
-Sen. John McCain: Our Enemy's Friend Is Our Enemy
-Czech Authorities Deny Lukashenko Entry Visa

--HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS -

DEMONSTRATION IN MINSK

The Belarusian opposition staged a demonstration in Minsk on 17 November against political oppression and the worsening economy. A variety of political and civic leaders from groups including the Belarus Popular Front, the United Social-Democratic Party and the Zubr (Bison) youth movement protested a closer union with Russia and called for greater ties to Europe. "The tighter the union with Russia, the more poverty in Belarus," read one banner, reported AP on 17 November. An estimated 1,000-1,500 marchers proceeded from Yakub Kolas Square to the Academy of Sciences without incident, then participated in a rally where speakers called for a "European way" for Belarus. There were no arrests. Marchers left a petition at the Russian Embassy, saying "in case of the continuation of the annexing policy by Russia in Belarus, there will be enough people to defend its independence." Vintsuk Viachorka, a rally organizer and leader of the Belarusian Popular Front, said Lukashenko was coming under pressure from both the East and the West. "It is symbolic that he was denied a visa to Czech Republic," Viachorka said, referring to the Czech decision Friday not to issue a visa to Lukashenko to attend this week's NATO summit. (AP, ILHR, 17 November)

U.S. CALLS LEBEDKO'S ARREST "POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED PERSECUTION"

An unusally strong statement issued by the U.S. Embassy in Minsk deplored the recent actions of the Belarus KGB against Anatoly Lebedko, who was seized as he was leaving the U.S. Embassy compound on November 5. According to the Embassy, the actions constituted "politically-motivated persecution, and are unacceptable in democratic countries." The Embassay vowed to monitor the KGB's conduct toward Mr. Lebedko "closely." In addition, the Embassy derided the accusations mounted against Lebedko and the U.S. Embassy by the KGB, calling them "ridiculous." The Embassy explained that "it is the internationally recognized work of diplomats to meet with a broad range of political figures, whether members of the government or of the opposition, in order to better understand the host country and to explain U.S. policies." Commented the Embassy, "in a democratic country, his relationship with us would be considered normal as well. To promote the bilateral relationship and to support democratization, we have a number of exchange and educational programs, including that of the Marshall Center in Europe, to which we send both private and official representatives. In the last two years alone, more than half of our adult exchange visitors have been affiliated with state institutions. Our assistance program is open and transparent. We deplore efforts by the authorities to discourage open and appropriate contacts between Belarusian citizens and our Embassy." (U.S. Embassy, Minsk, November 12)

U.S. OSCE MISSION DENOUNCES HARASSMENT OF LEBEDKO

Following Lebedko's detention in Minsk, Douglas Davidson, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Mission to the OSCE Permanent Council, delivered a statement in Vienna on November 7 in which he severally critizised the Belarusian KGB's continuiug harrasment of opposition politicians and pushed forcefully for a speedy resolution of the crisis surrounding the OSCE Mission in Belarus. Following is Amb. Davidson's statement:

"We appreciate Secretary General Kubis' report. We cannot help but note, however, that it reflects no concrete progress towards cooperation with the OSCE, in particular in connection to an OSCE presence in Minsk."

"We have all heard positive sounds from Belarus before, even as it expelled members to the OSCE mission there and abused OSCE commitments. There is no need to hear any more pronouncements of good will. What we need to see now is a resolution of this crisis."

"Meanwhile, Belarusian attacks on opposition figures continue to intensify. On November 5, the Belarusian KGB seized United Civic Party leader Anatoli Lebedko as he emerged from a meeting with officials of the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. The Belarusian KGB released Lebedko with a warning that he might be charged with treason if he persisted in meeting with foreign government officials. The Lukashenko regime's blatant attempt to intimidate the political opposition into not meeting with the international community constitutes only the latest evidence of its disregard for the kind of freedom of contact and movement normally afforded to political
representatives in a democratic society."

"Mr. Chairman, we are convinced that a resolution of the crisis surrounding the OSCE Mission in Belarus can be achieved, and in rapid order, with good faith. However, absent concrete progress, we, like the EU, are prepared to embrace, in short order, specific measures that reflect the seriousness of our concern over this problem and the damage it is causing to the integrity
of this organization." (OSCE, November 7)

U.S. CONGRESS: SITUATION IN BELARUS CONTINUES TO DETERIORATE

On November 12, 2002, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, submitted a statement denouncing the recent dention of Lebedko by the Belarusian KGB agents. Following is the text of the statement as it appeared in the Congressional Record.

"Mr. Speaker, I want to bring to the attention of my colleagues the latest outrage perpetrated by the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenka."

"Last week, immediately after leaving the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, the Chairman of the opposition United Civic Party Anatoly Lebedka, was picked up by plainclothes police officers and driven to KGB headquarters for interrogation. Anatoly had been at the Embassy to pick up the invitation for a conference on Belarus to be held this week here in Washington. In a clear effort at intimidation, Lukashenka's KGB thugs accused him of maintaining ties with supposed "intelligence agents" and other foreigners, purportedly for the purpose of undermining Belarus."

"Mr. Speaker, this accusation is patently absurd. I know Anatoly Lebedka, having met with him in Washington and at several meetings of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, most recently this past July in Berlin. It is clear to me that Mr. Lebedka is an honorable man committed to his country's development as an independent, democratic nation in which respect for human rights and the rule of law is the norm. There is no doubt in my mind that the real reason for the harassment of Anatoly - and this is not the first time - is his opposition to Lukashenka, to whom democracy and human rights are anathema.

"Sadly, this is only the latest in a long list of human rights assaults by Lukashenka. Just within the last few months, we have seen the passage of a repressive law on religion, the bulldozing of a newly built church, the jailings of three leading independent journalists, the continued and persistent harassment of the political opposition, independent media and non-governmental organizations, and the effective expulsion of the OSCE presence there. These tactics are in keeping with the climate of fear which Lukashenka has sought to create.

"Moreover, we have seen no progress on the investigation of the missing and presumed dead political opponents - perhaps not surprisingly, as credible evidence links the Lukashenka regime with these murders, and growing evidence also indicates Belarus has been supplying weapons and military training to Iraq. Both in Berlin and in Washington, I have had the honor of meeting with the wives of the disappeared.

"Mr. Speaker, the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus is abysmal, and the manifest culprit is Lukashenka and his minions. The longsuffering Belarusian people deserve to live in a country in which human rights are not flouted. Those in Belarus, like Anatoly Lebedka, who
struggle for human rights and democracy deserve better. The Belarusian people deserve better. (Congressional Record, November 12)


- CONFERENCE: 'AXIS OF EVIL: BELARUS - THE MISSING LINK' -

CONFERENCE ON BELARUS ATTRACTS PROMINENT PARTICIPANTS

A half-day conference titled "Axis of Evil: Belarus - the Missing Link" was held in Washington, D.C., on November 14. The conference was organized by the New Atlantic Initiative and hosted by the American Enterprise Institute. The conference was opened by Sam Gejdenson, former US congressman and co-sponsor of several legislative initiatives on Belarus. The keynote luncheon address was delivered by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Other speakers and panelists included Amb. Michael Kozak, US Ambassador to Belarus, Hans-Georg Wieck, former head of the OSCE AMG in Minsk, Tom Dine, President of the RFE/RL; Amb. Andrei Sannikov, international coordinator of Charter'97, Anatoly Lebedko, United Civic Party, Stanislav Shushkevich, Belarusian Social-Democratic Party (Hramada); Vintsuk Viachorka, Belarusian Popular Front, Pavel Sheremet, ORT (Russian public TV) journalist and author of a documentary on disappearances, Nina Shea, member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, Catherine A. Fitzpatrick, ILHR CIS Program Director. Andrei Klimov, 13th Supreme Soviet Deputy, who spent 4 years in hard labor colony for critisizing Lukashenko's dictatorial policies, sent a videotaped message to the event since he is denied permission to travel abroad under the terms of his parole from political imprisonment. The League was one of the co-sponsors of the event. (AEI, ILHR, November 15)

REP. CHRIS SMITH: BELARUS DEMOCRACY ACT 'ALIVE AND WELL'

In a statement sent to the conference "Axis of Evil: Belarus - the Missing Link" held in Washington, D.C., on November 14, Rep. Chris Smith, Co-Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, promised to actively move the Belarus Democracy Bill through the 108th Congress and proposed a "roadmap by which Belarus can overcome its self-imposed isolation," urging the Belarusian parliamentarians to undertake concrete steps toward meeting the four criteria for democratic elections established by the OSCE Troika back in April 2000, to create an independent commission to investigate the disappearances of Lukashenka's political opponents in 1999-2000.

Rep. Smith noted that when measured against other European countries, the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus is "abysmal," bearing "closer resemblance to some of the states of Central Asia." Calling Alexander Lukashenka, "Europe's remaining dictator," Rep. Smith criticized the Belarusian government for "persistently" flouting OSCE commitments that Belarus freely undertook when it became an OSCE participating State a decade ago.

In conclusion, the congressman said: "The Belarusian people, who suffered profoundly over the course of the last century owing to Soviet domination, Nazi invasion and Chernobyl, deserve better than the heavy hand of Alexander Lukashenka. Together, we must work to help bring democracy to Belarus and make respect for human rights an integral part of the Belarusian experience. The Belarusian people deserve our support as they work to overcome the legacy of the past and develop a genuinely independent, democratic country based on the rule of law and democratic institutions." (CSCE, November 15)

SEN. JOHN McCAIN: OUR ENEMY'S FRIEND IS OUR ENEMY

In his keynote address to the conference, Sen. John McCain reminded the audience that "under the rule of Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus has reportedly sold weapons to Iraq, Iran, Libya, and Sudan," warning that "the United States is serious about its commitment to end outlaw regimes whose conduct threatens us." Recognizing the major role Russia's support has played in keeping Lukashenko in power, the senator noted that "Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus cannot long survive in a world where the United States and Russia enjoy a strategic partnership." The senator explained that "the impunity with which Lukashenko has ruled since he created his dictatorship by referendum in 1996 is the result of a unique historical moment framed by the end of the Cold War and the start of the war on terrorism," remarking that although "Lukashenko's opportunity began with Boris Yeltsin's coddling of the dictator--ironically, in a bid for electoral advantage in Moscow [it] must soon end with the realization among NATO's members that a Europe which enjoys peace with Russia cannot abide a black hole of authoritarianism at its center."

"A ruler who kidnaps and kills his political opponents, flattens the political landscape of all but temples to his rule, razes churches, grossly manipulates electoral processes, shutters independent media, attacks foreign diplomats, presides over a devastated economy, and trains and equips rogue regimes cannot long face the glare of international scrutiny when Moscow pulls the curtains up to reveal that the man operating the machinery of power in Belarus is small, and weak, and vulnerable," Sen. McCain said.

Commenting on the NATO enlargement, the senator noted that "contrary to predictions of a new Cold War, pushing the boundaries of a secure and democratic Europe eastward towards Russia has mitigated Russian security concerns and provided a showcase in Russia's backyard of the values we want all Russians to enjoy."

Criticizing the Lukashenko governement's ties with Iraq, Sen. McCain said: "For the first time in its modern history as a sovereign state, the actions of the rogue government of Belarus threaten the national security of the United States." "This is not another regime that oppresses its people but contains its vitriol within the boundaries of its own borders. The government of Alexander Lukashenko has provided a nation with which the United States will most likely go to war sophisticated air defense weaponry that can and will likely be used by Iraqi forces to target American pilots. American and allied lives may be lost as a result of the policies of a rogue regime in the middle of Europe. In this case, the friend of our enemy is our enemy."

Describing a possible course of action, the senator said that "the American government, the Russian government, our European allies, and civic activists from free Europe can help level the playing field - providing resources for opposition forces to function and organize, supporting free media that could otherwise not exist, and adding moral force to the opposition's banner for democratic change, for an end to repression and fear, for national independence and pride as part of a free and secure Europe. The international community should further isolate Belarus and encourage Moscow's new and welcome approach to Minsk, as part of the Atlantic community's new strategic relationship with Russia - which cannot work if not underpinned by a commitment to the common values we are defending in the war on terror."

Extending his warm welcom to the opposition leaders participating in the conference, Sen. McCain praised their efforts, saying that "your campaign to end the tyranny of fear that rules your nation inspires all of us whose values are not tested every day, as yours are, and who pay no price for our beliefs, as you do….We stand with you." (The full transcript of the McCain's Speech to The New Atlantic Initiative Conference on Belarus can be found at http://www.usis.minsk.by/html/mccain.html)


-- INTERNATIONAL NEWS --

CZECH AUTHORITIES DENY LUKASHENKO ENTRY VISA

Following weeks of speculation about their likely action, on November 15, Czech authorities announced their refusal to grant President Lukashenko an entry visa to attend next week's NATO summit. "The instruction to Ales Fojtik, our charge d'affaires in Minsk, is not to issue the visa to President Lukashenko," Cyril Svoboda, Czech Vice-Premier and Foreign Minister, told a news conference, noting that Prague passed such a decision after "time-consuming consultations with NATO's partners." According to the Minister, "these consultations took so long a time" for Prague was weighing on the consequences of such a decision's passage. "We are convinced that the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms is not taking place in Belarus," Svoboda explained, "Lukashenko would use this visit to legitimize his position at home."

Up to 50 heads of state are to gather November 21-22, 2002, for a NATO summit at which up to seven former communist countries are expected to be invited to join the alliance. While opposing NATO's planned eastward expansion, Belarus remains a member of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council - a co-operative body which includes non-NATO members. Lukashenko has stated his desire to attend the summit. (RIA Novosti, November 15)


BELARUS THREATENS TO RETALIATE

Accusing the U.S. of using diplomatic pressure to block his arrival to Prague, Lukashenko threatened to cut diplomatic ties with the Czech Republic should Prague refuse to issue the visa. "I have already warned the Czech charge d'affaires...In diplomatic practice, there are examples of cutting or suspending diplomatic relations," Mikhail Khvostov, Belarusian Foreign Minister, told a news conference on November 13. The Foreign Ministry warned NATO last week not to snub Belarus when the western alliance holds its summit this week. On November 12, Alexander Sychov, Belarusian Deputy Foreign Minister summoned ambassadors from NATO states to issue a warning: "The Belarusian state will never allow anyone to make decisions in its place, including in such an important area as international security," Sychov told the ambassadors. He said failure to invite Belarus to the Prague meeting would prove that NATO has "a selective approach regarding members of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council and continues to practice double standards." In early November, Czech Foreign Ministry spokesman Karel Boruvka said it was highly unlikely organizers could prevent Lukashenko from coming, but that visas for delegation members were another matter. (AP, November 12-15)

The Belarus Update is a weekly news bulletin of the Belarus Human Rights Support Project of the International League for Human Rights (www.ilhr.org) The League, now in its 61st year, is a New York-based human rights NGO in consultative status with the United Nations ECOSOC. Visit our website for back issues, analysis, and links to news sites and NGOs in Belarus: www.belarusupdate.org For queries on how to subscribe or unsubscribe or other information, contact belarus@ilhr.org

The Belarus project was established to support Belarusian citizens in making their case for the protection of civil society before the international community regarding Alexander Lukashenko's wholesale assault on human rights and the rule of law in Belarus.
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