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Belarus Updates, 2002

INTERNATIONAL LEAGUE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

BELARUS UPDATE
Edited by Victor Cole

Vol. 5, No. 51

December 2002


IN THIS ISSUE:

-Soviet Ghosts Vs. OSCE -- Who's Winning?
-OSCE To Return To Minsk
-COE Committee: Human Rights Situation In Belarus Is Deteriorating
-Lukomol Supports Neo-Nazis
-Skinheads Assault Zubr Activist
-CIS NGOs Appeal To Lukashenko About Missing Opposition Politicians
-Exiled Editor Gets Job With Independent Newspaper
-Zubr Newspaper Distributed In Lepel
-International Conference Adopts Resolution On Election
-NGOs Protests
-Constitutional Court Listens
-Two BNF Parties Split Over 2003 Local Election
-John Paul II Not Welcome In Belarus
-Vladimir Putin: Merger With Belarus Will Strengthen Russia
-New Cuban Embassy Opens Gates In Minsk
-Former Belarusian Ambassador To Japan Returns Home
-Another Belarusian Diplomat Refuses To Return Home
-Belarusian Defence Minister Visits Algeria


--HUMAN RIGHTS AND OPPOSITION NEWS -

SOVIET GHOSTS VS. OSCE -- WHO'S WINNING?

In an article published by the Wall Street Journal on December 20, 2002, Vladimir Socor, a senior fellow of the Washington-based Institute for Advanced Strategic & Political Studies, criticizes the OSCE for "being ineffective," contrasting it with an American-led NATO and the European Union. Praising a "historic extension" of Euro-Atlantic institutions to the liberated countries of Europe, Vladimir Socor maintains that all-European or Eurasian organizations, by contrast, are "losing relevance." According to the author, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe "illustrates this trend, of which the United Nations had provided an earlier, classic example." He believes that the OSCE "seems increasingly ineffective, due not in the least to clashes within the organization between Western and Soviet-bequeathed values."

Analyzing the latest meeting that took place in Portugal, Socor points out that the OSCE "quietly retreated before Europe's remaining Soviet ghosts." "Armed and defiant (although otherwise a ragged lot) the most pernicious among these ghosts are: Europe's last dictatorship in Belarus; Russian troops and proxies still holding parts of Moldova and Georgia, tearing those countries apart; and, hovering protectively over occupation troops and allied despots, the Kremlin's sense of entitlement to exercising control over former Soviet territories," he writes.

According to Socor, Russian President Vladimir Putin is exploiting the OSCE's veto system "more effectively and resolutely" than his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, "thwarting the organization's mission to promote security and democracy in those unfree enclaves in Europe."

That is why, Socor believes, the OSCE has been unable to hold any summit since Istanbul 1999, contenting itself with ministerial year-end meetings. Moreover, the 2002 year-ender in Portugal, at the foreign affairs ministers' level, was ultimately skipped by quite a few ministers, who merely sent their deputies.

Citing Belarus as an example of OSCE's failures, Vladimir Socor wrote: "During the course of 2002, Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko expelled the OSCE's mission in Minsk, one by one. The OSCE had mandated that mission to promote democratic pluralism, media freedom and fair elections in Belarus. Mr. Lukashenko wants the mandate watered down, or else he will not allow the mission to return. Moscow -- to whom Mr. Lukashenko owes his power -- supported his demand for a weaker OSCE mandate. Moscow also blocked any OSCE move to condemn the Belarus dictator for this, or any other, outrage. Only some Western representatives at the OSCE censured him. OSCE is now negotiating with Mr. Lukashenko toward what he and Moscow say should be a mutually acceptable mission mandate." (WSJ, December 20)


OSCE TO RETURNS TO MINSK

The OSCE and Belarus have agreed on opening a new OSCE office in Minsk in January 2003, Belapan reported on December 19, quoting OSCE spokesman Keith Jinks. Jinks added that the sides are expected to reach an accord soon on resuming "the monitoring of human rights in Belarus" that would be subject to approval by all OSCE members. The OSCE and Belarus are currently negotiating details of the resumption of OSCE Monitoring and Advisory Group activities in Belarus. Last year, Belarus expelled all members of the group by gradually denying them visas, and has now demanded changes in the group's mandate ostensibly to prevent "interference in internal affairs" by democracy programming.

According to Radio Liberty, however, the delegations of the USA and Canada to the OSCE Permanent Council's session declared that they aren't ready to vote for the new mandate of the OSCE office in Minsk and will have to await instructions from their governments. The EU delegation also said that they are still trying to formulate their position on the matter. December 20's meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council was the last at which Portugal was presiding. Starting January 1, 2003, Jaap de Goap-Shefer, Dutch Foreign Minister, will become the OSCE chairman-in-office. Historically, the Netherlands has kept a stricter position toward Belarus than their predecessor. Unlike, Portugal, Holland upheld the EU travel ban on Lukashenko and his officials. The next session of the OSCE Permanent Council will take place on January 13, 2003, during which the Foreign Minister of Netherlands will run a press-conference in Vienna and formulate his vision of the solution to the Belarusian mission. (RFE/RL, Belapan, December 19-20)


COE COMMITTEE: HUMAN RIGHTS SITUATION IN BELARUS IS DETERIORATING

New findings by a major European human rights body conclude that political, religious, and media freedoms are getting worse in Belarus. The Human Rights Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe discussed the problems on December 16 in Paris and believes the human rights situation is deteriorating in Belarus. Vaclav Stankevich, Lithuanian Sojm deputy and special Rapporteur for Belarus on the PACE Committee for Legal Affairs, delivered his findings on human rights situation in Belarus. "Regrettably, the human rights situation in Belarus keeps deteriorating," Stankevich told Belapan correspondent on the phone. "I presented to the Committee several concrete cases of human rights violations, unjustified pressure exerted on mass media - convictions of Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mozheiko from Pahonia and Victor Ivashkevich from Rabochy. I also pointed out that literally a few days ago the authority had shut down Mestnoye Vremya, another independent newspaper. Local elections are coming in Belarus, and that's why journalists are criminally prosecuted and sent to internal exile, one after another," Stankevich said.

Stankevich said the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, or PACE, is due to discuss the human rights situation in Belarus next month. The Human Rights Committee has recommended that the Assembly invite Mikhail Podgainy, Belarusian Information Minister, to discuss the situation. According to Stankevich, the Committee agreed with his findings and will forward the report to the CoE Bureau for review, which will be completed in January 2003. Stankevich said the Human Rights Committee is also recommending that a parliamentary delegation be sent to Belarus to investigate the issue of human rights in more detail. Stankevich said the Human Rights Committee is also concerned about Belarus's newly adopted law on religion, which is said to be one of the most repressive in Europe.

The Council of Europe suspended Belarus's "special-guest" status in 1997, saying its new constitution fell short of democratic standards and gave too much power to Lukashenko. (Belapan, December 17)


LUKOMOL SUPPORTS NEO-NAZIS

On December 14, the city of Orsha, Vitebsk region, hosted a concert of Kolovrat, a Moscow rock band whose members are active in Russian National Unity, a notorious, unregistered neo-Nazi organization. The concert, organized by the state-sponsored Belarusian Republican Youth Union, also known as Lukomol, under the cover of anti-AIDS event, attracted over a hundred skinheads from all over Belarus. They were waving banners with swastikas and shouting threats against representatives of non-Slavic nationalities. The group is banned in Russia because the Moscow authorities are fighting propaganda of national intolerance and extremism.

The Coordination Council of Democratic Forces of Orsha appealed to the BRYU leadership to explain how such an odious event could ever happen. The city's veterans organizations joined the Council in its protest. (barcnews.org, December 15)


SKINHEADS ASSAULT ZUBR ACTIVIST

Alesia Yasuik, activist of the Zubr Youth movement, was beaten on the train on December 14, while traveling to Orsha to protest the Kolovrat concert. She was passing around a special issue of Barysawskiya Naviny [Borisov News] newspaper. Alesia says she was insulted and than attacked by youths dressed in black uniforms with a swastika emblem. They kicked her in the face several times and threw the newspapers out of the window. (Zubr, December 17)


CIS NGOS APPEAL TO LUKASHENKO ABOUT MISSING OPPOSITION POLITICIANS

Members of the CIS NGOs Working Group for Conflict Prevention and Resolution, which met on December 14-15 in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, adopted the appeal filed by Zinaida Gonchar, wife of the missing acting speaker of the 13th Supreme Soviet, or disbanded parliament. The appeal was signed by more than 20 heads and representatives of non-governmental organizations, who participated in the Bishkek Working Group meeting. The signatories call on Lukashenko to "invite international experts to further investigate the circumstances of disappearances of Yury Zakharenko, Victor Gonchar, Anatoly Krasovki, Dmitry Zavadsky and to inform the public about the investigation results."

Zinaida Gonchar told a Belapan correspondent that recently she received a reply to a similar appeal from Valeri Lipkin, Head of the Belarusian Parliamentary Commission on Human Rights, Ethnic Relations, and Mass Media. She had approached him in connection with the creation of an ad hoc committee at PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) for the investigation of the disappearances, headed by Sergei Kovalev, a Russian Duma deputy and veteran human rights activist. According to Gonchar, Lipkin referred to the official report published by Victor Sheiman, Prosecutor General, in Narodnaya Volya newspaper on November 26. "The commission does not have any additional information. In the event Kovalev addresses us, we are going to render him assistance in solving the issue he may raise," replied Valeri Lipkin. (Belapan, Vyasna, December 18)


-- MEDIA FREEDOM IN BELARUS --

EXILED EDITOR GETS JOB WITH INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPER

Victor Ivashkevich, editor of Rabochy, an independent newspaper, who just began serving his two years internal exile term in Baranavichy, has landed a job as a reporter with Intex-Press, a local independent newspaper. The head of his local detention facility says he is not opposed to the job and treats him well, Radio Racyja quoted ivashkevich as saying. Mikola Markevich and Pavel Mozheiko, two journalists from the newspaper Pahonia who serve their terms also for allegedly slandering Lukashenko in another town could not find jobs for several weeks. According to Ivashkevich, his duties include visiting various NGOs, trade unions and political parties in the region, and so he only has to spend nights in his hostel, otherwise he works with his colleagues in town. The editor said a lot of people met him in Baranavichy, including members of his party BNF, Social-Democrats, UCP members, trade union and NGO activists. (Radio Racyja, December 18)


ZUBR NEWSPAPER DISTRIBUTED IN LEPEL

Residents of the city of Lepel, Vitebsk region, recent had an opportunity to read the latest issue of Zubr's newspaper. About ten ZUBR activists distributed free issues in the town, mostly putting them into residents' mail-boxes. Several hundreds issues were handed out near bus-station and department stores. Lepel residents, who do not have access to independent press, told Zubr activists they were glad to get alternative information about situation in Belarus. No detentions were reported. Local observers believe that distribution of free issues of the independent press is the most efficient way to educate residents about democracy and human rights, given the population's daily subjection to the state-own electronic mass-media. Unlike the West, junk mail does not fill people's mailboxes, so they are interested in such distribution. The low income level often preclude the majority of people in the provinces from buying the independent press in the rare instances when it is available. (Zubr, December 20)


-- LOCAL ELECTION 2003 --

INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE ADOPTS RESOLUTION ON ELECTION

The participants of an international conference titled "International Standards of Democratic Elections and Belarusian Election Legislation," which took place on December 5-6 in Raubichy, Minsk Region, adopted a resolution calling on the Belarusian government to amend the Belarusian Electoral Code to conform it to international standards.

Among the most important recommendations, the resolution urges the government to ensure broader representation of political parties and non-governmental associations in electoral commissions, to terminate the practice of early voting, to provide observers with free access to all stages of the election process, and to guarantee equal access of all candidates to the mass media. (Vyasna, December 12)


NGOS PROTEST

The Vyasna Human Rights Center and Independent Society for Legal Research submitted a joint appeal to Chief Justice Vasilevich, informing him about the groundless refusal of the Central Election Committee to present their methodological recommendations on organizing local elections to precinct election commissions. In particular, the human rights organizations decried the extremely low number [0.5%] of representatives of political parties and democratic non-governmental organizations in local electoral commissions. Vyasna maintains that such a low representation violates the requirements of the Belarusian Election Code, Art. 35, which provides for the right of political parties and non-governmental organizations, as well as their branches, to nominate their representatives for membership in local electoral commissions. (Vyasna, December 13)


CONSTITUTIONAL COURT LISTENS

The Belarusian Constitutional Court reacted to the appeal of NGOs with the statement that Central Election Commission should "create conditions" for informing "interested parties" about materials on elections to local Councils of Deputies. In his reply the Chief Justice recognized that "it is essential to create the necessary conditions for at least familiarizing the affected parties with these materials, if not for mailing them on request." According to the head of the Constitutional Court, the public will have the opportunity to use the web-site (www.reg.gov.by), created especially for these purposes. The web-site has been available since December 9, 2002. (Radio Racyja, December 16)


TWO BNF PARTIES SPLIT OVER 2003 LOCAL ELECTION

The BNF Party headed by Vincuk Vyachorka is going to nominate 200 members for the forthcoming local elections, while the Conservative Christian Party BNF, which is led by exiled leader Zyanon Paznyak from Poland, has called on Belarusians and the international community to boycott next spring's local election in Belarus, Belapan reported on 15 December. "The existing regime has established a system of control and falsification of elections that guarantees it the result needed irrespective of the outcome of any election," Paznyak's party said in a public appeal. On the other hand, Vyachorka's group said in a statement that "we regard the local elections as a good opportunity for a massive political campaign." The Belarusian Popular Front, the country's largest opposition group in the 1990s, split into two factions led by Paznyak and Vyachorka factions in 1999. (RFE/RL, Radio Racyja, December 16)


-- RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN BELARUS --

JOHN PAUL II NOT WELCOME IN BELARUS

During his four-days visit to Belarus Cardinal Walter Casper has failed to coordinate the date of the visit of the John Paul II to Belarus. According to Radio Racyja, Metropolitan Filaret, the head of the Belarusian Exarchate of the Russian Orthodox Church who met Walter Casper in Minsk, did not agree on the Pope's visit, claiming it was "premature." Representatives of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry did not find time to meet with the Cardinal. John Paul II had expressed willingness to visit Belarus during his recent visit to Ukraine. In his turn, President Lukashenko promised to invite John Paul II to Belarus during his last row with the Kremlin.(Radio Racyja, December 18)


-- BROTHER SLAVS --

VLADIMIR PUTIN: MERGER WITH BELARUS WILL STRENGTHEN RUSSIA

The Union with Belarus is effective in every sense, said Russian President Vladimir Putin, answering the question posed to him by a schoolboy from St.-Petersburg during a TV show aired on December 19. The problem, he said, is to ensure that both nations benefit from the unification. "In this sense, the processes must not impede the economic and political development of both Russia and Belarus," said the Russian President, "we will act very thoughtfully while selecting the forms and substance of integration."

Putin pointed out that Belarusian and Russian nations are brotherly in every respect: ethnic, religious and other. They are also united by cooperation in the economic sphere. The Russian leader underscored that Belarus is populated by talented people and Russia is interested in cooperating with them. Unification with Belarus, Putin stressed, will reinforce Russia and its European integration. (BelTA, December 20)


-- AT HOME IN BELARUS --

NEW CUBAN EMBASSY OPENS GATES IN MINSK

In commemoration of the 44th anniversary of the Cuban revolution, the new embassy of Cuba opened in Belarus. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs press-service reports that the reception was attended by the heads of the Belarusian Ministries. Alexander Sychev, deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, and Leon Karbalio, Cuban ambassador to Belarus, assured the guests that the high level of Belarusian-Cuban relations is based on good friendly relations, which have lasted for many decades. (Belapan, December 19)


FORMER BELARUSIAN AMBASSADOR TO JAPAN RETURNS HOME

Amb. Petr Kravchenko, former Belarusian Ambassador to Japan, has returned to Minsk, Belapan reported on December 16, quoting the Foreign Ministry press service but not specifying the date of his arrival. Earlier this month, the Foreign Ministry had announced that Amb. Kravchenko had refused to return home from Japan after the conclusion of his four-year term of diplomatic service. Amb. Kravchenko subsequently denied media reports of his purported intention not to return to Belarus and to seek political asylum in the U.S. as "political provocation." He also pledged to reveal some "major sensations" regarding political actors in Belarus after his return but they have not yet been forthcoming. (Belapan, December 19).


ANOTHER BELARUSIAN DIPLOMAT REFUSES TO RETURN HOME

Alexander Hmurets, Cultural Attaché at the Belarus Embassy in the USA, refuses to return home, Radio Racyja reported on December 17. According to the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, Hmurets resigned in July 2002 and departed the embassy; his whereabouts are unknown. According to Andrei Savinykh, Deputy Head of the Foreign Ministry information department, Alexander Hmurets decided to stay in the USA after he found a job. While the reasons for his non-return are unclear, the very fact that the authorities are thoroughly silent about the incident indicate a possible political motivation for a defection. According to Narodnaya Volya, Belarusian newspaper, up until his assignment to the USA, Alexander Hmurets worked as an aide to Sergei Ling, a former Prime Minister of Belarus. His appointment was confirmed byVasily Pugachev, the current first deputy Foreign Minister. (Radio Racyja, Narodnaya Volya, December 17-18)


-- INTERNATIONAL NEWS --

BELARUSIAN DEFENCE MINISTER VISITS ALGERIA

Mikhail Maltsev, Belarusian Defense Minister, visited Algeria on December 15-16 with a "reciprocal official visit," reported RIA Novosti, a Russian news agency, quoting APS, an African news agency. The Belarusian authorities have been trying to keep this visit secret and informed the public about it only after it was over. The Belarusian Foreign Ministry refused to comment on the visit. According to Radio Racyja, in Algeria, Maltsev met the head of the state and other top officials. The official press-release of the Belarusian Defense Ministry did not even list the delegation members. According to unofficial information, among the delegation members there were high-positioned state officials dealing with economic issues and weapon sales. It is yet unknown how the Belarusian minister got to Algeria. Some sources say he traveled via Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, and some say through Moscow. It is quite possible that the delegation flew in civilian clothes on Aeroflot, the Russian company. (RIA Novosti, Radio Racyja, December 18)

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! If you are missing any past issues of our publication or need further information, please contact pzalmayev@ilhr.org

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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 at both www.ilhr.org and 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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