Swedish MFA’s State Secretary meets with Belarusian human rights activists
Representatives of Belarusian human rights organizations met on Thursday with Ms. Annika Söder, State Secretary for Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Sweden, who headed a delegation on an official visit to Belarus.
The meeting was held ahead of the talks with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus, which took place on April 1. It was attended by the chairman of the HRC "Viasna" Ales Bialiatski, vice-chairman of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee Vasil Sankovich and a representative of the Legal Transformation Center Lawtrend Mikhail Matskevich.
According to Ales Bialiatski, they discussed the current situation with human rights in Belarus and the latest trends in its development.
“In our conversation, I noted that unfortunately there have been no positive changes in the country since the release of political prisoners in August 2015. The situation is frozen. And even after the lifting of the EU sanctions the Belarusian authorities have done nothing to show their willingness to improve the human rights situation, which is what the European Union had expected them to do when these sanctions were repealed. Moreover, there are some disturbing signals. These include new death sentences, one of which has recently been upheld by the Supreme Court, and an endless conveyor of administrative cases for participation in peaceful protests, and the unwillingness of the authorities to improve the electoral law before the parliamentary elections to be held in September. In short, today Belarus primarily sells to the European Union things related to the geopolitical situation around the country, but unfortunately we do not observe any changes for the better in the country,” says Viasna leader.
“Ms. Söder inquired about the working conditions of unregistered non-governmental organizations in connection with the presence of Article 193-1in the criminal law. Using the example of Viasna, I told how the absence of registration allows the Belarusian authorities to push us out of the legal process. This is a direct threat not only to Viasna members, but also to all those who work in other unregistered non-governmental organizations. She also asked us about the restrictions in respect of former political prisoners.”
The human rights defenders also stressed that they have an interest in participating in the EU-Belarus dialogue, which currently does not involve any of them.
“Ms. Annika Söder said that the Swedish side is concerned with the development of fundamental human rights across Europe, so they are worried about the human rights situation in Belarus. She said that in her negotiations with Makei she would raise a number of issues (including those listed by me – the death penalty, freedom of association, the problem of rehabilitation of political prisoners) and offer the Belarusian authorities to make concrete commitments to human rights. She also said that they would continue supporting the civil society in Belarus, would support the efforts of Belarus to be an independent country,” said Ales Bialiatski.
At the end of the conversation, Viasna leader expressed his hope that the values of human rights and democracy will be more important for the Swedish government than any imaginary geopolitical benefits offered by the Belarusian authorities.