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 You are in: Under Secretary for Political Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Releases > Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs Remarks > 2003 > June

Belarus: Freedom of the Media and Respect for Civil Society

Stephan M. Minikes, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Statement to the OSCE Permanent Council
Vienna, Austria
June 5, 2003

Released by the U.S. Mission to the OSCE

(As delivered)

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We share the concern expressed by the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media regarding the suspension of the independent newspapers "Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta" and "BDG-For Internal Use Only." The Belarusian Government suspended these publications for three months, beginning on May 29, for "damaging the honor and dignity" of President Lukashenko. Our concern about these suspensions is compounded by the fact that a number of other independent newspapers, including Narodnaya Volya, Navinki and Vcherny Stolin have received warnings that could make them, too, subject to closure or suspension.

We also share the concern of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly Working Group on Belarus with regard to the "regular interference of local authorities" in the work of NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and, in particular, with regard to the "politically motivated" court cases against Ratusha, an NGO resource center based in Grodno, and against Varuta, a resource center based in Baranovich, as well as against Civic Initiatives, a resource center in Gomel. The first two have received liquidation notices; the third is threatened with liquidation.

Mr. Chairman, freedom of the media and respect for civil society are core OSCE commitments. They are embodied in the four criteria established by the OSCE Troika in connection to democratic development in Belarus. They are central to the development of democratic institutions and the creation of economic opportunities in Belarus.

The United States calls upon Belarus to lift the suspensions of Belaruskaya Delovaya Gazeta and "BDG-For Internal Use Only," and to refrain from additional restrictive measures against independent journalists and media. Further, we urge Belarus to lift liquidation directives and other forms of pressure aimed at the NGO community. We have been encouraged by the openness to the NGO community that has characterized Belarus' more public, positive pronouncements with regard to respect for civil society in connection to the work of the OSCE's Office in Minsk. Unfortunately, the Government's actions call into question the sincerity of its statements.

Finally, Mr. Chairman, we would like to underline the emphasis placed by the Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on the opportunity in next year's Parliamentary elections represent for Belarus to introduce a delegation of democratically-elected representatives to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly. Again, Belarusian officials have conveyed openness to addressing outstanding concerns, particularly in connection to the Electoral Code. Now is the time for action. We urge Belarus to seize this opportunity to address concerns with ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights] and the OOM [OSCE Office in Minsk], particularly relating to wider representation on electoral commissions and transparent procedures for observation. We look forward to reports from the OOM on progress in adopting projects towards this end. Thank you.


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