Logo Assembly Logo Hemicycle

Addressing the specific challenges faced by the Belarusians in exile

Doc. 15783: compendium of written amendments | Doc. 15783 | 20/06/2023 | Final version

Caption: AdoptedRejectedWithdrawnNo electronic votes

ADraft Resolution

1The Parliamentary Assembly is deeply concerned by the fate of hundreds of thousands of Belarusians who are in exile because they had no other choice than to flee the repressive regime of Aliaksandr Lukashenka. If any doubts remained about the nature of the latter, the rigged presidential election of 9 August 2020 haS shown its true character, turning Belarus into an open-air prison where human rights have been reduced to nothing.
2The Assembly recalls Resolution 2433 (2022) “Consequences of the Russian Federation's continued aggression against Ukraine: role and response of the Council of Europe” in which it expressed its resolve “to intensify its engagement with Belarusian ... civil society, human rights defenders, independent journalists, academia and democratic forces respecting the values and principles of the Organisation”.
3The Assembly is impressed by the resilience, courage and determination of the Belarusians in exile who are fighting for democracy to prevail in their country. It is conscious that a new obstacle for them has emerged on 24 February 2022 with the large-scale aggression of the Russian Federation against Ukraine to which the Lukashenka regime actively participates. It regrets that the more time that passes since 9 August 2020, the day Lukashenka in reality lost the elections, the further away in time the return of the Belarusians who find themselves in exile becomes.
4The Assembly is convinced that a democratic Belarus will contribute to ensuring security in Europe. Without prejudging the outcome of the current situation, and recognising that the Belarusians in exile should be part of the crisis solving process, the Assembly can only be impressed by the work and initiatives of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the very likely successful candidate against Aliaksandr Lukashenka in the 2020 election, which aim at providing her compatriots with the services the regime deliberately withholds.

In the draft resolution, replace paragraph 4 with the following paragraph:

"The Assembly can only be impressed by the work and initiatives of the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council, which aim at providing their compatriots with the services the regime deliberately withholds."

5Recognising that the Belarusian people cannot be equated with the Lukashenka regime, the Assembly considers that Belarusians in exile should not be treated in a discriminatory manner because of the participation of that regime in the war against Ukraine.
6The Assembly emphasises that while most of the Belarusians who have been forced to leave their country in the context of the 2020 presidential election have only one wish: to return to a democratic Belarus, it is important that their host countries do their utmost to ensure that they can stay legally and are welcomed in dignified conditions respectful of their fundamental rights, as guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (ETS No. 5) and other relevant Council of Europe instruments, pending the establishment of a democratic regime in Belarus.
7The Assembly deeply deplores that the Lukashenka regime is continuing to exercise pressure on those who have left the country, notably by refusing to provide consular services to its citizens and by threatening their security.
8While many European countries have opened their borders to Belarusians, the Assembly notes that the closer those countries find themselves to Belarus, the greater is their understanding of the situation of those fleeing.
9Applauding Lithuania’s and Poland’s efforts to find legal and practical solutions to welcome the Belarusians in exile, the Assembly notes that more can be done.
10Regretting that too many obstacles and hurdles continue to affect those who have found themselves in other countries, the Assembly is convinced that better knowledge of the situation in Belarus and political will are the prerequisites to adopting measures which will alleviate as much as possible the fact of being in exile.
11It calls upon member States to recognise the unique situation in which the Belarusians in exile find themselves, requiring out of the box solutions to ensure that they can live their lives as unimpeded as possible pending their return to a democratic Belarus.
12The Assembly hails the establishment by the Committee of Ministers of a Contact Group on co-operation between the Council of Europe and the Belarusian democratic forces and civil society. This sui generis co-operation model, the first established with the Belarus democratic forces by an international organisation, aims to provide the Organisation’s support and expertise to strengthen Belarusian democratic society in line with Council of Europe core values. The Assembly is also delighted to welcome representatives of the Belarus democratic forces in the work of its committees by decision of the Bureau of the Assembly.
13The Assembly strongly believes that it is high time to translate the political support that the democratic forces of Belarus enjoy among the member States into concrete actions and that measures taken against the Lukashenka regime should not affect the people fighting it.
14The Assembly is convinced that in order to ensure full respect for human rights of the Belarusians while they are in exile and ultimately to contribute to the democratic transition in their country, the Council of Europe member States should put in place relatively simple and non-costly measures within their own jurisdiction for those persons.
15While respecting visa requirements and ensuring the necessary security checks, member States should seek to keep their borders open for those fleeing the Lukashenka regime by taking inter alia the following measures:
15.1issuing humanitarian visas in all embassies and consulates still operating in Minsk and expanding the eligibility criteria for such visas to relatives of political prisoners;
15.2opening up and guaranteeing the possibility of granting visas to EU countries in those member States where a visa is not required for Belarusian citizens, without requiring a residence permit in those countries;
15.3issuing multiple-entry Schengen visas for relatives of Belarusians in exile who come to visit them on a short-term and temporary basis;
15.4issuing longer duration multiple-entry visas to be used as a back-up option for those who are at risk of arrest in Belarus.

In the draft resolution, paragraph 15.4, after the words "those who are at risk of arrest in Belarus”, insert the following words:

"The United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus shall bear the responsibility of identifying and recognising the individuals who are at risk of arrest in Belarus. The clearly defined criteria should be jointly developed by the Cabinet with partners from member States."

16Member States should also facilitate expert to expert talks between their relevant migration authorities and the relevant representatives of the Belarus democratic forces in exile to solve problems as they arise in a pragmatic way.
17Member States are encouraged to put in place measures to ensure transparency in the decision-making process where credentials are issued by non-governmental organisations to support the issuance of visas or the legalisation process.
18Those member States which have yet not done so should rapidly develop legal instruments allowing for the legalisation of the stay of the Belarusians in exile.
19Recognising the importance of psychological stability and the feeling of safety for those who left their home involuntarily or forcibly, the Assembly calls upon member States to provide long-term legalisation for the Belarusians in exile, thus avoiding unnecessary hurdles and stress.
20In order to support the work of their relevant migration offices, member States are encouraged to prepare a Belarus country factsheet and provide training for their staff on the actual situation in this country, so as to enable them to take prompt and sound decisions on individual cases.
21Member States are encouraged, in co-operation with the European Commission, to identify adequate solutions to allow Belarusians in exile to travel within the European Union, notably through systematising the use of foreigners’ passport and/or continuing to recognise Belarus passports which have expired.

In the draft resolution, paragraph 21, replace the words "foreigners' passport" with the following words:

"foreign passport"

Explanatory note

The term "foreign passport" should be used when referred to the document that allows an individual to travel abroad.

22The Assembly also invites member States, again in close co-operation with the European Commission and the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to discuss with the relevant representatives of the Belarus democratic forces in exile the possibility to issue a passport for Belarus citizens in exile which would be recognised among member States.
23Underlining that deprivation of nationality should not lead to statelessness and that even if Belarus is not a State party to the United Nations Statelessness conventions, these are principles of international law and human rights law, which should be observed by all States; recalling that Belarus has accepted Georgia’s recommendation under the 3rd cycle of the United Nations’ Universal Periodic Review; and noting that Belarus pledged to accede to both United Nations statelessness conventions at the High-Level Segment on Statelessness in 2019, the Assembly strongly encourages member States to do their utmost to recognise the importance of establishing statelessness determination procedures, which in turn would provide protection in host States to those rendered stateless.
24As addressing a request to a Belarus consulate, such as for certification of a clean criminal record necessary for the legalisation process, or the prolongation of a passport, can lead to reprisals or threats against the applicants’ relatives who stayed in Belarus or to the applicants themselves, member States are strongly encouraged not to require documents obtainable only through Belarus official channels.
25Member States should abstain from extraditing Belarusian citizens in exile on the basis of Red Notices issued by Interpol at the request of the Lukashenka regime, given the use of criminal prosecutions for political purposes. If in doubt, they are encouraged to verify Interpol requests from Belarus through the Law and Order Restoration Office of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus, which includes former law enforcement officers staff dismissed for political reasons, thus possessing the necessary qualifications, experience, and access to databases.
26The Assembly is concerned that information transferred by European banks to Belarus banks has been used by the Belarus Security Services to target human rights defenders in Belarus. The Assembly calls on member States to encourage the private sector to pay due heed to human rights issues in their operations and undertake the necessary due diligence to protect Belarusian human rights defenders who are their clients from risks of further persecutions as a result of their operations or information exchanges. Furthermore, member States should do their utmost to prevent the misuse of international criminal co-operation measures by the Lukashenka regime as an additional tool for repression.
27More generally, member States should not deem Belarus to be a safe country. They are encouraged to send referral letters to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court expressing their concern for the situation in Belarus and asking him to respond to a Communication under Article 15(2) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court entitled “The Situation in Belarus/Lithuania/Poland/Latvia and Ukraine: Crimes Against Humanity of Deportation and Persecution” filed by International Partnership for Human Rights, Norwegian Helsinki Committee, Global Diligence LPP and Truth Hounds on 19 May 2021.
28Given the tremendous role that the People’s Consulates can play, notably as communication channels with national authorities, the Assembly strongly believes that member States should establish working relationships with them, as representatives of democratic Belarus, and envisage supporting them through the provision of organisational, information and material assistance, with the aim of developing their competences and sustainability.
29The Assembly strongly encourages the parliaments of those member States which have not yet done so, to establish a parliamentary friendship group to create a network to exchange on the best measures to support the Belarusians in exile. It is convinced that such a network would also facilitate the dialogue with the Belarus democratic forces in exile, including the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, the United Transition Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council.
30The Assembly also invites member States to provide funds for and contribute to the activities agreed in the framework of the Council of Europe Contact Group on Belarus, in particular taking advantage of the activities proposed by the Secretariat of the Assembly on “Strengthening political dialogue”.
31The Assembly is convinced that it is indispensable to create conditions to ensure the sustainability of Belarusian civil society organisations in exile, in particular by providing them with the tools and means to mobilise their compatriots in exile, to carry out their activities and to remain visible. This should be particularly the case for organisations aiming at developing and strengthening the Belarusian language and culture.
32Underlining the role played by the Expert Council on NGO Law of the Conference of International Non-Governmental Organisations of the Council of Europe (Conference of INGOs) in supporting freedom of association in Europe, the Assembly strongly encourages member States to request its opinions on measures adversely affecting the operation of Belarusians NGOs in exile and to adopt policies accordingly.
33It also encourages the constituent members of the Conference of INGOs to co-operate and assist Belarusian NGOs in exile.
34In the light of the repression faced by the legal profession in Belarus and the fact that many lawyers are in exile abroad, the Assembly calls for the recognition of the Belarusian Association of Human Rights Lawyers as the organisation entrusted with the promotion and protection of the human rights of lawyers deprived of the right to exercise their profession in Belarus, and with improving provision of legal assistance.
35Recognising that children can be adversely affected by the forced exile of their parents, the Assembly encourages their prompt integration in the host country while strengthening their national identity and culture. When integrating recently arrived Belarusian children in ordinary classes, the Assembly recalls the pertinence of the language education and linguistic integration tools for children developed by the Council of Europe. At the same time, it also supports the creation of classes in Belarusian in schools where there are sufficient Belarusian children, open not only to members of the Belarusian national minority but also to those who have recently arrived.
36The Assembly, impressed by the renaissance of the interest for Belarusian language and culture, strongly supports the initiatives by civil society organisations to preserve and strengthen these among the members of long-lasting diaspora and the more recent arrivals. It therefore strongly encourages member States to facilitate the creation of publishing houses in Belarusian, the teaching of Belarusian language and culture in universities, the development of new tools supporting the dissemination of Belarusian language and culture among those in exile but also within Belarus. It believes that it is crucial for Belarusian statehood that its culture and language find again their rightful place.
37The Assembly, aware that academic freedom has been under attack for some years in Belarus, would welcome the creation of a scientific journal for liberal-minded scholars both in exile and in Belarus to be included in influential citation databases, such as Scopus, Web of Science or Google Scholar.
38Recognising the role played by the European Humanities University, the only Belarusian university able to operate on the basis of academic freedom and adherence to European values, in exile in Vilnius since 2005, the Assembly invites member States, as well as the European Union, to further support this institution and open up further opportunities so that it continues to develop creative, free and critical thinking among Belarusian students and is in a position to attract scholars and students from Eastern Partnership countries.
39Understanding the importance of terminology and adequate transliteration from Belarusian, the Assembly strongly encourages member States to correctly transliterate all terms relating to Belarus.

In the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 39, add the following sentences:

", avoiding the use of outdated and misleading terminology which is the consequence of Russian propaganda and disinformation. Specifically, member States are urged to use "Belarus" instead of "Belorussia", "Belarusian language" instead of "Belorussian", and to adopt accurate transliterations for other geographical names. This is essential to counter Russian propaganda and prevent the intentional spread of disinformation associated with these incorrect terms."

40Recognising the difficulties faced by individuals, businesses and civil society organisations to open a bank account in some member States, the Assembly asks the member States to encourage their banks to make the distinction between the Lukashenka regime and the people who have fled it, in particular by allowing the “Know Your Customer” procedure due diligence to be carried out by appropriate and relevant structures designated by the Belarus democratic forces in exile.

In the draft resolution, at the end of paragraph 40, add the following sentence:

"The banks are also encouraged to verify already-existing individual bank accounts, businesses and civil society organisations that are owned by Belarusians in Europe or where Belarusians might be involved via the Anti Money Laundering (AML) system."

41The Assembly is concerned that the bank accounts of Belarusian journalists who had found shelter in Ukraine and continued to provide independent information from there have been blocked since the large-scale war was launched by Russia against Ukraine. Some have now been deblocked, and the Assembly strongly encourages the Security Service of Ukraine to allow for the deblocking of the remaining 50 bank accounts which their legal owners cannot access.

20 June 2023

Tabled by Mr Oleksii GONCHARENKO, Ms Yevheniia KRAVCHUK, Mr Bob van PAREREN, Mr Serhii SOBOLIEV, Mr Markus WIECHEL, Mr Dmytro NATALUKHA

Votes: 82 in favor 0 against 4 abstentions

In the draft resolution, replace paragraph 41 with the following paragraph:

"The Assembly encourages the Security Service of Ukraine to cooperate with the Belarusian democratic forces in exile, particularly, with the Office of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and the Coordination Council to conduct detailed checks and in the case of a positive outcome of such checks with regard to the national security of Ukraine, to proceed with deblocking of the remaining 50 bank accounts that are currently inaccessible by their owners."

42The Assembly welcomes the fact that many businesses were able to relocate from Belarus in particular to Georgia, Lithuania and Poland, but notes that difficulties persist. The Assembly encourages measures to be taken which will ease processes of transfer, accreditation, acquisition, access to credit, to audit services etc. In this context, it believes that the Poland Business Harbour could serve as a promising practice to be emulated by other member States. Ultimately, the Assembly trusts that these businesses, be it in the IT, retail, logistics, small services or construction sectors, if allowed to operate and pay tax, will contribute to the economy of their host countries and alleviate the efforts made by them to welcome the Belarusians who found shelter from repression and violence.