The Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011, a bill to support people struggling for basic rights against Aleksandr Lukashenka—the man often called Europe’s last dictator—was given final approval late this afternoon by the U.S. House of Representatives.
“The bill supports targeted sanctions,” said Smith, a senior member of the Committee and the Chairman of the Commission for Security and Cooperation in Europe, also called the Helsinki Commission. “This has been the worst political crackdown in Europe in well over a decade. The post-election crackdown has followed the pattern, however, of repression that has characterized Lukashenko's nearly 17-year rule. Through a series of rigged elections, large-scale intimidation, and the suppression of independent media and civil society, the dictator has long consolidated his control over virtually all national institutions. His dictatorship has the worst record for human rights by far of any government in Europe.” To read Chairman Smith’s floor statement, click here.
The bill, H.R. 515, was approved by unanimous consent today on the House floor, and by the Senate Dec. 14. The legislation calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including those detained in the post-election crackdown. H.R. 515, the “Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011” – strengthens and expands previous legislation authored by Chairman Smith. The new legislation:
- Expands the list of Belarusan officials who may be subject to visa and financial sanctions so as to include security officials involved in the post-election crackdown;
- Requires the release of all individuals jailed in connection with the post-election crackdown as a condition for ending U.S. government sanctions on the government of Belarus;
- Requires the State Dep’t to report to Congress on the government of Belarus’s arms sales and cooperation with other governments in censoring or surveilling the Internet;
- States a U.S. government policy to condemn the fraudulent December 19, 2010 election and work for the release of all Belarusan political prisoners and an end to repression of civil society;
- Calls for new presidential and parliamentary elections that will comply with OSCE standards; and
- Calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend its plan to hold the 2014 International World Ice Hockey championship in Minsk, Belarus – a major sporting event which the Belarusan government plans to use to legitimize its unjust rule, just as the Chinese Communist Party used the 2008 Olympics.
Joining Smith at a press conference Monday in support of the bill was Irina Krasovskaya, whose husband was kidnapped and presumed murdered in 1999 by Belarusan secret police. She is now president of the We Remember Foundation, and was on the square in Minsk one year ago with friends when police beat and arrested the protestors, and was also in Minsk one week ago to meet with the families of political prisoners.
“The situation today is even worse than it is described in the press,” she said. “The physical pressure on political prisoners is dramatically increasing, and I believe that now there is a real threat to the lives of political prisoners. Please do not allow Lukashenko to kill again (as happened in 1999 with political kidnapping and extrajudicial execution of his opponents). The release and rehabilitation of all political prisoners can became the first step in the effort to save ten million people from dictatorship and create a new democratic and free Belarus.” Click here to read Krasovskava remarks.
Related legislation Smith authored in previous Congresses—the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 and the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006—passed the House and Senate with overwhelming bipartisan support and was signed into law. H.R. 515 states a U.S. government policy of supporting the basic human rights of the Belarusan people against the Lukashenka dictatorship, and for a full accounting of the 1999-2000 disappearances of opposition leaders and a journalist in Belarus, and the prosecution of those responsible.
The legislation also requires the administration to report to Congress on the Belarusan government’s activities in selling arms abroad, censorship or surveillance of the internet, and the personal assets and wealth of Lukashenka and other senior leadership figures.