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The Role of the International Community

European Union
Retaliating against the June evictions, the E.U. and the United States recalled their ambassadors, and Belarusian ambassadors accredited to the E.U. and the U.S. were ordered to return to Minsk. In addition, the E.U. and the U.S. imposed visa travel bans on the entire Belarusian government from the president downward.

The United Kingdom embassy, in its capacity as head of the E.U. presidency, from January to July, sent an observer to the Shidlovsky-Labkovich trial and issued a statement appealing for clemency. In February, the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for Shidlovsky and Labkovich’s release and also condemning arbitrary arrests, threats against journalists and the beating of Yury Khashchevatsky. The E.U. announced in March a five million ECU (U.S.$6 million) Civil Society Development program to provide assistance to the non-state media, human rights NGOs, and higher education institutions.

Council of Europe and Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)
The Council of Europe maintained its position on Belarus’ membership application, frozen since the country’s observer status was suspended in January 1997. In February, the OSCE opened its much delayed Advisory and Monitoring office in Minsk. The office’s activities included conducting seminars on democracy and free and fair elections, along with holding consultations with victims of human rights abuses and advising the government on law formation. In April the OSCE’s media representative, Freimut Duve, initiated a dialogue on freedom of speech with Foreign Minister Ivan Antonovich.

United Nations
In November, the United Nations Human Rights Committee issued its concluding observations on the fourth periodic report by Belarus. The committee expressed concern on a wide range of issues, including allegations of ill-treatment of persons by police and other law enforcement officials during peaceful demonstrations. The committee stated that the human rights situation in Belarus had “deteriorated significantly” since that country’s last report in 1992 and that “remnants of the former totalitarian rule persist” there.

On August 19, the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities issued a resolution expressing deep concern at the unlawful detention, imprisonment, and harassment of Belarusian political leaders, journalists, and human rights defenders for criticizing or commenting on abuses of power by the government. The resolution criticized more generally the concentration of power in the executive branch of government and the undermining of the independence of the judiciary.

United States
The United States continued to maintain pressure on the Belarusian government to respect human rights by limiting contact with it and supporting civil society projects. The U.S. provided the largest amount of funds to the independent media in Belarus. Its Minsk embassy played an active role in highlighting abuses and raising them with the Belarusian government, and sent observers to the Sheremet and Shidlovsky-Labkovich trials. The State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1997 provided a comprehensive analysis of the human rights situation in Belarus.

Relevant Human Rights Watch Report:
Republic of Belarus: Turning Back the Clock , 7/98





Republic of Belarus

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Asylum Policy in Western Europe



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