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Belarus: a mixed picture, but PACE proposes ‘stepping up’ dialogue with parliament and NGOs

While not ready to recommend restoring the Belarus Parliament’s special guest status, suspended in 1997, PACE has urged “stepping up” dialogue with the parliament, independent Belarusian NGOs and opposition forces by issuing regular invitations over the next two years.

In its latest assessment of the situation in the country, based on a report by Andrea Rigoni (Italy, ALDE), PACE said there is still a “lack of political will” in Belarus to bring its laws into line with international standards in the field of democracy, rule of law and human rights.

Greater international openness and dialogue in recent years had been undermined by the recent “escalation of mass violence and harassment against peaceful protesters” in February and March 2017, the parliamentarians said. Belarus should immediately release any opposition activists still detained, and move towards greater engagement with civil society and the political opposition.

On recent elections in 2015 and 2016, PACE said there had been “a number of specific improvements and an improved climate surrounding both elections”, but long-standing shortcomings remained.

The Assembly’s resolution spelled out a number of specific steps it wanted to see to encourage freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the holding of free and fair elections and an end to the death penalty, among other things.

The parliamentarians also called on the EU – depending on progress with dialogue and democratic values – to consider the possibility of lifting all remaining sanctions against Belarus and move forward on visa liberalisation.