On May 6 a bill extending Belarus Democracy Act for two years was introduced for consideration by the US Congress.
Orest Deychakiwsky, the U.S. Helsinki Commission (Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe) senior staff advisor, comments on that for Voice of America.
Congressmen Christopher Smith, Alcee Hastings, Ted McCotter, James McGovern, Frank Pallone, Mike McIntyre and a number of other Congressmen introduced the bill HR 5970 IH.
- Mr. Deychakiwsky, can the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2008 be viewed as a kind of response of the US to the recent aggravation of diplomatic relations between Minsk and Washington?
- The introduced bill is an amend variant of the first Belarus Democracy Act. It is to be reauthorized every two years, as its financing for such a period is envisaged. We were to do that. It means that there is no connection of this event with the recent diplomatic row.
However, in this context it is necessary to note the following. If the situation in Belarus changed radically for the better over the past period, there would be no necessity of a new reauthorization of the Act. In other words, if human rights violations stopped in Belarus, situation with democracy improved, if Lukashenka’s regime stopped repressions against civil society, the Congress would not have to consider this issue.
And in reality we see the following: only over the last two months we see verdicts of Belarusian authorities to activists of youth movement for participation in peaceful demonstrations, fines to human rights activists for collection of signatures against the repressive legislation on worship of 2002. Alyaksandr Kazulin is still in prison, and even two more political prisoners emerged (Andrei Kim and Syarhei Parsyukevich). A citizen of the US Emanuil Zeltser is kept in Belarusian prison. We asked to release him out of humanitarian reasons, as his state of health declines. A cyber-attack was organized against web mass-media supported buy the US Congress, and so on.
That is why unfortunately we see no progress in the situation with democracy and human rights in Belarus under the current regime.
- The Belarus Democracy Reauthorization which has been recently introduced to the Congress is the third bill already. Are there any differences from the previous ones?
- The main provisions remain the same as in the Act of 2006: it is a support of human rights activists, independent mass media and trade unions, youth movements, democratic political parties. Support of independent radio and TV broadcasting to Belarus is marked down separately; and certainly economic and visa sanctions against members of the Belarusian leadership are prepared, and so on.
The most visible changes have taken place in the premises part of the bill. It contains information about the events inn Belarus, support to actions of the US Department of State and US Treasury in the realization of the Act in force is expressed, namely steps taken against Belneftekhim concern.
However, the bill also contains a statement by which we want to send a signal to Lukashenka’s regime: the US is remaining ready for reconsideration of its policy towards Belarus if the authorities of the country would take real steps allowing to speak about progress towards democracy and human rights, in other words, we are leaving the door open.
It is worth mentioning another detail. Speaking about broadcasting to Belarus we specially mentioned Radio Svaboda, Voice of America, European Radio for Belarus and Belsat. We believe that running of the informational blockade imposed by the Belarusian regime is very important.