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Thursday, 16 February 2006 - Strasbourg

European Parliament resolution on the situation in Belarus prior to the presidential elections on 19 March 2006

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to its previous resolutions on the situation in Belarus, in particular its resolutions of 10 March 2005 on Belarus(1), of 7 July 2005 on the political situation and independence of the media in Belarus(2) and of 29 September 2005 on Belarus(3),

–   having regard to its resolution of 5 July 2001 on Belarus(4), adopted prior to the 2001 presidential elections, to the reports of the Parliamentary Troika, composed of members of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), of 16 October 2000 on the political situation in Belarus in the light of the parliamentary elections of October 15th, and of 4 October 2001 on the 2001 presidential election, and to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe resolution of 26 January 2006 on the situation in Belarus on the eve of the presidential election,

–   having regard to the award of its Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought to the Belarusian Association of Journalists in December 2004,

–   having regard to the conclusions on Belarus issued by the Council following its meeting of 30 January 2006 and to the declaration by the European Union and the United States of 3 February 2006 on their relations with Belarus,

–   having regard to the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) Needs Assessment Mission Report of 31 January 2006,

–   having regard to Rule 103(4) of its Rules of Procedure,

A.   whereas presidential elections will take place in Belarus on 19 March 2006,

B.   whereas the presidential and parliamentary elections in Belarus in 2000, 2001 and 2004 did not meet international standards, according to the European Union, the Council of Europe and the OSCE,

C.   whereas the Belarus authorities are creating obstacles to the campaigning of the independent candidates, such as extremely short campaign durations, very low financial allowances for candidates, very restricted access to the public and private media, and dependency on the local authorities for choosing venues for meetings with voters, while the incumbent president has practically unlimited access to media,

D.   whereas opposition representatives are almost entirely excluded from participation in the election commissions,

E.   whereas a number of leading members of the opposition have been detained following trials based on questionable charges, thus distorting the electoral process and confirming the abuse of the judicial system for political purposes and the lack of independence of the judiciary in Belarus,

F.   whereas the Belarusian authorities have adopted new regulations imposing restrictions on Belarusians' freedom to travel abroad and foreigners' freedom to visit Belarus,

G.   whereas the Belarusian authorities have launched a campaign accusing some democratic countries that support the opposition of destabilising the political situation in Belarus and of recruiting spies,

H.   extremely concerned at the decision of the Belarusian Supreme Economic Court of 20 December 2005 to reverse its previous decision and to reinstate harsh penalties against the Belarusian Helsinki Committee (BHC), including crippling fines and back taxes and renewed threats of criminal prosecution against the BHC Chairwoman and Chief Accountant,

I.   stressing the increasing political isolation of Belarus, the only European country not yet linked to the EU by at least a partnership and cooperation agreement,

J.   whereas the independence of the media and freedom of expression in Belarus have further deteriorated, as a result of which Belarusians cannot receive the information they require to form political opinions freely and to make a democratic choice in the forthcoming elections,

K.   whereas a new project has been launched by the Commission aiming at supporting democracy and freedom of information in Belarus, including setting up radio stations in Belarusian and Russian,

L.   whereas the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has called for a joint strategy on Belarus with the European Parliament and the OSCE,

M.   whereas no improvement has been noted with regard to investigations into 'disappearances', freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the rights of minorities,

N.   whereas several international institutions of which Belarus is a fully accepted member, including the OSCE's ODIHR and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, have been invited to observe the presidential election, but whereas neither the European Parliament nor the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe have received such an invitation and both have been informed that no such invitation will be issued, in contrast with the case of the presidential elections of 2001,

1.  Deplores the continuing deterioration of the political situation and the continuing violations of the civil and human rights of the Belarusian people; strongly denounces indiscriminate attacks on the media, journalists, members of the opposition, human rights activists and minorities; condemns the decision of the Supreme Court of Belarus to dissolve the Belarusian Union of Youth and Children's Public Association;

2.  Is deeply concerned about the fact that, according to the most recent reports assessing the conditions for the presidential elections, preparations for these elections are taking place against a background of increased constraints on citizens, on the independence of the media, and on opposition political parties, which, following the 2004 parliamentary elections, have no representation in the Belarusian parliament;

3.  Expresses its solidarity with, and support for, all Belarusians who strive for an independent, open and democratic Belarus based on the rule of law;

4.  Calls on the Belarusian authorities to adhere strictly to international standards in the preparations for the presidential elections in March 2006, in the registration and verification of candidates, during the campaign and during the election itself;

5.  Condemns the recently adopted 'anti-revolution law', which, amongst other things, allows the Belarusian authorities to imprison anyone suspected of providing or financing training for people to take part in street protests or anyone suspected of misinterpreting or providing information about the situation in Belarus in any foreign country or international organisation; urges the competent authorities in Belarus to reconsider their decision and to reject the anti-revolution bill;

6.  Stresses that the following criteria must be fulfilled if the presidential elections are to be recognised as free and democratic:

   full transparency of the electoral process in all its aspects, in particular as regards the process of registering candidates, the composition of the electoral commissions and the counting of the votes,
   equal conditions for all election candidates, in particular as regards access to the media, especially the electronic media, and other forms of electioneering,
   the refraining by State and government bodies from any act that may be considered as harassment of candidates, their relatives or their supporters,
   the guarantee that all those engaged in observing the presidential elections, especially those not connected to particular candidates, and those involved in recruitment and training for these activities, will be completely free to carry out their work, where relevant in cooperation with international institutions, which constitutes an essential element in the transparency and verifiability of the electoral process;

7.  Welcomes the Belarusian authorities' invitation to the OSCE's ODIHR election observation mission, but urges the responsible Belarusian authorities to allow that mission to operate unimpeded in Belarus and to grant all participants in the mission full and unrestricted access to all areas of Belarus and to all aspects of the election process;

8.  Deeply deplores the fact that, in contrast with the 2001 presidential elections, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe have received no invitation to observe the presidential elections and calls on the Belarusian authorities to extend a corresponding invitation to both institutions as soon as possible;

9.  Expresses its hope that opportunities will be created to increase the number of short-term international observers, by inviting representatives of other international organisations to observe the election in Belarus;

10.  Calls on the Belarusian authorities to allow independent exit polls to be conducted on the day of the election;

11.  Encourages the people of Belarus to participate in the forthcoming presidential election; recognises the great importance of these elections, whose outcome may decisively influence the future of Belarus and its reintegration into the international democratic community;

12.  Emphasises, once again, that the further development of the EU's relations with Belarus will continue to depend on the progress made towards democratisation and reform in the country, and in particular on transparent and fair presidential elections;

13.  Considers that should the Belarusian authorities fail to ensure free and fair presidential elections, the Commission, the Council and the Parliament should consider further initiatives, including expanding the visa-ban list, particularly for those responsible for any falsifications during the forthcoming elections, as well as freezing the assets of representatives of the Belarusian authorities;

14.  Calls on the Council and the Commission to monitor closely the situation in Belarus in the run-up to and during the elections; calls on the Council and the High Representative to consider appointing a Special Representative for Belarus should respect for democratic principles further deteriorate; welcomes the Commission's recent decisions concerning the launch and extension of the broadcasting of independent news and information to the citizens of Belarus; invites the Commission to consider drawing up a new strategy for Belarus if the proceedings during and after the elections do not meet international democratic standards;

15.  Expects such a strategy to include concrete proposals for a more flexible use of EU technical assistance and financial support for civil society, as well as other measures aimed at the restoration of democracy in the country;

16.  Is encouraged by the Commission's transfer of EUR 2 million from TACIS to the European Human Rights and Democracy Initiative, thus allowing for greater flexibility and effectiveness in relations with Belarusian civil society;

17.  Calls on the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the OSCE, and the United States Congress, to work jointly with the European Parliament on Belarus;

18.  Calls on the Council and the Commission to raise the issue of Belarus with the Russian authorities so as to define a common responsibility for bringing about concrete democratic changes in Belarus;

19.  Reiterates its call on the Belarus authorities for the immediate release of Mikhail Marynich and Mikalai Statkevich, and other political prisoners, and calls on the Council and the Commission to insist on the release of these prisoners, as well as on a transparent investigation into the 'disappearance' of opposition leaders;

20.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, the Governments and Parliaments of the Member States, the Government of Belarus, the United States Congress and the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the OSCE.

(1) OJ C 320 E, 15.12.2005, p. 276.
(2) Text Adopted, P6_TA(2005)0295.
(3) Text Adopted, P6_TA(2005)0363.
(4) OJ C 65 E, 14.3.2002, p. 373.

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