New Congressional Measure Aims To Promote Democracy in Belarus
01 August 2006
Would authorize sanctions, funds for democracy-building, broadcasting
Washington -- A bipartisan measure has been introduced in the U.S. Congress to continue support for the promotion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Belarus, as well as to encourage the consolidation and strengthening of Belarus' sovereignty and independence.
The Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2006 would provide assistance for democracy-building efforts, fund radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus and introduce additional sanctions against the regime of Belarusian dictator Aleksandr Lukashenko.
It would continue and extend the provisions of the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004, which provides assistance for Belarusian political parties, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and independent media while prohibiting U.S. government agencies from providing loans and investment to the Belarus government, except for humanitarian goods. That law authorized appropriations for fiscal years 2005 and 2006. (See related article.)
In introducing the reauthorization bill July 27, Representative Christopher Smith said one of its primary purposes is “to demonstrate sustained U.S. support for Belarus' independence and for those struggling to promote democracy and respect for human rights in Belarus despite the formidable pressures and personal risks they face from the anti-democratic regime.”
Co-sponsors include Representatives Tom Lantos of California, a Democrat, and Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, a Republican.
The bill would authorize $20 million in assistance for each of the fiscal years 2007 and 2008 for democracy-building activities, such as support for NGOs and international exchanges. It also would authorize $7.5 million each year for radio and television broadcasting to the people of Belarus.
Sanctions in the bill range from a ban on entry into the United States for Belarusian officials, even lower level ones, to a variety of economic and financial sanctions, including a request that U.S. executive directors of international financial institutions vote against nonhumanitarian financial assistance to the Belarusian government.
“I want to make it absolutely clear that these sanctions are aimed not at the people of Belarus, whose desire to be free we unequivocally support, but at a regime that displays contempt for the dignity and rights of its citizens even as the corrupt leadership moves to further enrich itself at the expense of the people,” said Smith, who serves as co-chair of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, an independent agency of the U.S. government charged with monitoring human rights.
In March 2006, President Bush sent Congress a report required by the 2004 Belarus Democracy Act that cited "numerous reports of Belarusian sales or delivery of weapons or weapons-related technologies to states of concern, including state sponsors of terrorism.” It also cited “credible information” that senior government leadership in Belarus abused public resources, “including for personal use,” and said Lukashenko was “likely among the most corrupt leaders in the world.” (See related article.)
Lukashenko, who has been in office since 1994, engineered what the United States criticized as a “fraudulent referendum” in 2004 that enabled him to change the Belarus Constitution and run for a third term. The presidential election was held on March 19, 2006, and an international election observation mission found it “severely flawed.” The United States refused to accept the results and supported opposition calls for a new vote. (See related article.)
During a speech to leaders from the Baltic and Black Sea states May 4 in Vilnius, Lithuania, Vice President Cheney called Belarus “the last dictatorship in Europe” and said “there is no place in a Europe whole and free for a regime of this kind.” (See related article.)
Later in May, President Bush banned travel to the United States by Lukashenko and senior officials associated with his regime, citing pervasive election fraud, corruption and human rights abuses. (See related article.)
In June, Bush imposed targeted financial sanctions on Lukashenko and nine other top officials in his government, essentially freezing any assets they have in the United States and barring U.S. citizens from doing business with them. (See related article.)
In introducing the Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act, Smith applauded the actions the Bush administration has taken and said the Belarusian people deserve American support in their struggle for democracy and freedom.
Smith said he hopes the new legislation and European efforts will help put an end to the violation of human rights and democratization commitments by the Lukashenka regime “and will serve as a catalyst to facilitate independent Belarus' integration into a democratic Europe.”
Smith’s statement is available on the Helsinki Commission Web site.
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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