Dáil Éireann - Volume 516 - 23 March, 2000
Written Answers. - Human Rights Issues.
Mr. Connaughton Mr. Connaughton
13. Mr. Connaughton asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs the state of human rights and democracy in Belarus; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8296/00]
Mr. Cowen Mr. Cowen
Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Cowen): The Government continues to be concerned at the situation in Belarus.
Since Alexander Lukashenka took office as President of Belarus in 1994 a strong, authoritarian regime has been established. Referendums in May 1995 and November 1996, the legitimacy of which is contested, were used to dismiss Parliament, extend the powers and term of office of the President, and place restrictions on the media and political parties. The present Parliament in Belarus is composed exclusively of supporters of Lukashenka. The latter's democratic mandate as President, although extended by himself to 2001, ran out on 20 July 1999. However, in trying to promote democratic reform in Belarus there is little alternative to continuing to deal with Lukashenka.
From the outset, the international community made clear its rejection of a non-democratic Belarus, whilst continuing to make every effort to encourage the reform process. In January 1997, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe suspended the special guest status of Belarus. In January this year, it was decided to maintain the exclusion of Belarus from the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, because of its serious shortcomings concerning democratic pluralism and the continued use of the death penalty. As Chair of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, Ireland continues to urge Belarus to avail of the resources of the Council of Europe to promote democratisation.
The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has also been involved in efforts to promote democracy in Belarus. As in the case of the Council of Europe, the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE does not recognise the current Parliament in Belarus, but the organisation maintains its efforts to encourage reform there. In 1998 an OSCE advisory and monitoring group was established in Minsk with the aim of resolving differences between the Lukashenka administration and opposition elements. The group has been active in organising seminars and workshops on democracy issues, which have been attended by government, opposition and media representatives.
The European Union strongly desires a close and co-operative relationship with Belarus. The Union's readiness to provide all practical assistance to Belarus in implementing political and economic reform, has been made clear. However, it has also been emphasised that it is essential for Belarus to demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles and parliamentary democracy. Until steps in this direction are taken, measures adopted by the Union to limit ministerial contact with Belarus and put on hold the development of contractual relations with the Union remain in place.
In the second half of 1999, there were some improvements in the situation in Belarus. There was agreement in July on political dialogue between the Government and opposition. Agree ment was also reached before the November OSCE summit on opposition access to the media. Another welcome move was the release from detention of former Prime Minister Chigir in November. However, the dialogue process has not materialised. In addition, an electoral code, which grants the ruling party a monopoly on all election commissions – the bodies which select candidates – was passed by Parliament on 24 January. The campaign regulation contained in this code is contrary to democratic principles and the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights. A parliamentary troika consisting of members from the OSCE, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe visited Belarus in early March. The mandate of the team is to monitor the democratic efforts of the government and the opposition ahead of the elections scheduled for next October. The group met with President Lushakenka and parliamentary deputies as well as members of the opposition and media organisations. Following the discussions, the Presidential administration indicated that electoral laws might be changed, however details are still awaited.
The Government continues to work actively both bilaterally and with partners in the Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE to encourage the Belarus authorities to resolve their outstanding human rights and democratisation issues and, in particular, to take steps to ensure that the Parliamentary elections to be held next autumn are free and fair.
Dáil Éireann 516 Written Answers. Human Rights Issues.