House, Senate pass for Smith’s legislation on Belarus Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2020 to head to White House
Bipartisan response to dictator Lukashenka’s fraudulent Aug. election
Even as the people of Belarus continue their brave struggle against a brutal dictatorship, a bill authored by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee(HFAC), was passed Monday night by both houses of Congress to ramp up pressure on entrenched Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenko following his regime’s violent crackdown and political repression that came in the wake of his fraudulent August 9 re-election.
As prime sponsor of the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights, and Sovereignty Act of 2020, Smith said his law, which passed the House Nov. 18, will put pressure on Europe’s last dictatorship to respect the sovereignty of its own citizens.
“By passing this bill Congress is recognizing what the struggling, courageous people of Belarus have been fighting since August 9 with their massive rallies: the recent election was clearly fraudulent, and has no credibility in the international community with anyone except Lukashenka himself, and perhaps Russia,” said Smith, who authored the bill, H.R. 8438, in September to update and reauthorize his previous legislation enacted in 2004, 2006 and 2011 to advance and promote democracy and human rights in Belarus.
“This bipartisan bill renews sanctions on Belarusian Government officials who have obstructed the country’s democratic transition,” Smith said. “It gives much-needed support to the besieged Belarusian media and to the country’s important IT sector. Belarusian hackers who have cracked Lukashenko’s firewall have been able to broadcast truthful news accounts to the Belarusian people. This bill also commissions several much-needed fact-finding efforts to get an accurate picture of the situation on the ground. The Belarusian people are fighting to preserve the independence and sovereignty of their country despite the ominous threat posed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.”
The bipartisan bill, which is included in the legislation before Congress this week, enjoys a strong list of co-sponsors, to include Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-NY), Ranking Member Michael McCaul (R-TX), and Reps. Marcy Kaptur (R-OH), Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), and William Keating (D-MA).
Since the fraudulent election was staged more than four months ago, Belarusians have organized massive rallies demanding Lukashenka leave power despite Lukasneko’s brutal crackdown in which Lukashenka has arrested thousands, tortured hundreds and attempted to shut down the press and internet.
Once enacted, the Smith law would promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as support the aspirations of the Belarusian people to preserve the independence and sovereignty of their country in the face of threats from Russian President Putin.
Smith’s pending law will:
· reauthorize the 2004 Belarus Democracy Act for the third time;
· State that it is U.S. policy to reject the fraudulent August 9, 2020 Belarusian presidential election;
· refuse to recognize Lukashenka as the legitimately elected leader of Belarus;
· call for a new presidential election in Belarus that complies with OSCE standards;
· continue to call for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Belarus, including U.S. citizen Vitali Shkliarov and leading opposition figure Maryia Kalesnikava;
· refuse to recognize any incorporation of Belarus into a so-called “Union State” that is under the control of Russia;
· Expand the list of Belarusian authorities who may be subject to U.S. sanctions beyond the country’s senior leadership and security services to include those directly responsible for the crackdown on independent media;
· strengthen the current human rights sanctions regime on Belarus to include Russian individuals complicit in the political repression in Belarus and the crackdown on independent media;
· authorize U.S. assistance to promote democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus and calls on the Administration to reevaluate and increase U.S. assistance to Belarus in light of the current political crisis;
· call on the U.S. President to provide the United States Agency for Global Media (including VOA, Radio Free Europe) with a surge capacity for its programs and activities in Belarus;
· require a U.S. strategy to promote expanded broadcasting, internet freedom and access to information in Belarus;
· call on the United States to continue to coordinate with the European Union, its member states, the United Kingdom and Canada to support the democratic aspirations of the Belarusian people and to deter Russia’s attempts to undermine Belarus’ sovereignty and independence, and;
· require the Secretary of State, in coordination with the Director of National Intelligence, to submit two reports to Congress on Russia’s efforts to undermine Belarus’ sovereignty and independence, and on the assets owned by Lukashenka.