European Parliament notes lack of democratic progress in Belarus
The European Parliament on Thursday voted to adopt a resolution on the situation in Belarus, which notes that the country's authorities have failed to make significant progress in the sphere of human rights and freedoms "after initial positive steps."
The document offers support for the EU Council's decision to extend the bloc's travel sanctions against a group of Belarus' top government officials until October 2010 and at the same time prolong their suspension for the same period. According to the resolution's authors, the European Union's dialogue with Minsk "must lead to concrete results and substantial progress in the fields of democratic reforms and the respect for human rights and the rule of law."
The resolution invites the EU to lift the sanctions permanently and speed up "the process of Belarus' integration into the European family of democratic nations" if the Belarusian authorities make enough progress on democracy next year.
The document urges the EU Council and the European Commission to consider reducing the cost of Schengen visas and easing visa procedures for Belarusian citizens, as well as prepare recommendations for talks on visa facilitation and readmission agreements with the Belarusian government.
The resolution calls for efforts to "revitalize the suspended ratification process of Belarus - EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement."
The authors suggest that the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development consider increasing financial assistance for Belarus, in particular for programs supporting small and medium-sized businesses.
The document welcomes "the constructive and active participation of Belarus in the Eastern Partnership" and urges the Belarusian government to continue cooperation with the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights on election reforms and develop its dialogue with the opposition.
In addition, the resolution calls on the Belarusian authorities to bring the country's Media Law into line with international experts' recommendations, abolish the Criminal Code's Article 193 that criminalizes acting on behalf of an unregistered organization, stop the practice of denying registration to political parties and non-governmental organizations, and create favorable conditions for the operation of NGOs and private media outlets.
The document urges the Belarusian authorities to review sentences imposed on more than a dozen activists over participation in demonstrations in January 2008 and immediately release entrepreneur Mikalay Awtukhovich and his associate Uladzimir Asipenka held in a pretrial detention center.
The resolution also calls for an immediate moratorium on capital punishment in Belarus.
A last-minute addition to the resolution urged the Belarusian authorities to investigate a recent spate of mock kidnappings of opposition youths and the brutal murder of Maryina Horka opposition activist Valyantsin Downar.