The European Union’s Foreign Affairs Council on October 15 prolonged the existing restrictive measures against Belarusian officials until October 31, 2013. In its conclusions adopted at a meeting in Luxembourg, the Council reiterated its call for the immediate release and rehabilitation of all remaining political prisoners. Pointing to the release of opposition activist Syarhey Kavalenka as a positive signal, the Council expressed regret that the release had been conditional on the prisoner’s request for a presidential pardon, and deep concern about “decisions concerning additional prison sentences and continued reports of mistreatment of political prisoners.”
The Council called once again on the Belarusian authorities to stop the harassment of civil society, the political opposition and the independent media, and urged Minsk “to comply with the Human Rights Council Resolution 20/13, including to implement all recommendations contained in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights of April 2012 and to cooperate fully with the new UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus.”
Since “not all political prisoners have been released and no released prisoner has been rehabilitated, and against the background of the lack of improvement as regards the respect for human rights, the rule of law and democratic principles,” the Council decided to prolong the existing restrictive measures until October 31 2013.
In this context, the Council recalled its conclusions of March 23, 2012 and reiterated that its policy on restrictive measures would remain open and under constant review.
As many as 243 Belarusian officials, including Alyaksandr Lukashenka, are currently subject to travel bans and the same 243 persons plus 32 business entities are subject to asset freezes within the EU.
“In the spirit of EU solidarity, the Council again calls on Belarus to respect fully internationally recognized diplomatic privileges and immunities of EU Member States’ diplomatic representations and their personnel in Belarus, including to allow them to perform fully their functions,” the conclusions said.
The Council expressed its intention to further elaborate the European Dialogue on Modernization and noted that “the European Dialogue has stimulated a substantial debate among representatives of Belarusian society with a view to proposing concrete ideas on the reform needs and encourages the authorities of Belarus to engage in the discussions.”
The Council reiterated the EU’s readiness to launch negotiations for visa facilitation and readmission agreements “which would enhance people-to-people contacts to the benefit of the Belarusian population at large, and regrets the absence of response from the Belarusian authorities to Commission’s invitation in June 2011 to start negotiations.”
The Council also reiterated its commitment to the policy of critical engagement, including through dialogue and participation in the Eastern Partnership, and recalled that “the development of bilateral relations under the Eastern Partnership is conditional on progress towards respect by Belarus for the principles of democracy, the rule of law and human rights.”