Justas Paleckis, the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Belarus, released his draft report on Belarus last week, which consists of his recommendations for European Union action towards the country. In his report, the Lithuanian politician suggests that the European Union suspend the visa ban against key Belarusian officials, on the grounds that, according to Paleckis, the human rights situation in Belarus improved in 2012. His report has sparked much controversy since its release and in the lead up to its first review this week, analysts, activists and politicians are all having their say…
In his report , Justas Paleckis addresses a wide spectrum of key issues relating to Belarus–including political dialogue, economic and energy cooperation, civil society, and border management. Paleckis highlights the key role of the Lithuanian Council Presidency starting next month, and the upcoming Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius can play in enhancing the political dialogue between the EU and Belarus, writing:
“Use Lithuania’s Presidency and the Eastern Partnership Summit in Vilnius as unique opportunities to improve relations with Belarus, including with a view to restarting the political dialogue on, inter alia, democratic reforms and respect for the rule of law, human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
Paleckis then goes on to, controversially, mention the possibility to adjust the visa-ban list, to open travel for some Belarusian politicians:
“Consider the suspension of key officials from the EU visa ban list with a view to broadening the main and essential diplomatic communication channel with Belarus, also in view of the Eastern Partnership summit.”
“As far as I understand, Minsk has stopped being uncompromising and unwilling to solve the issue. In my view, it is possible. It’s yet difficult to say when it will happen. I mostly talked to the opposition and civil society. I talked more with them than with officials. They have different opinions. They say demands for rehabilitation are unreal. Others say the political prisoners should be released and rehabilitated. We need to think.” Paleckis opined.
Maryna Adamovich, the wife of political prisoner Mikalai Statkevich, criticised Paleckis’ working visit to Minsk, saying it did not allow for a truly objective picture of the reality in Belarus. Adamovich expressed the opinion that it is essential to meet the political prisoners themselves, saying:
“Any visits of European officials, including official EU representatives, to Minsk only make sense in case they meet political prisoners. It is clear, that Europeans should visit Belarus in order to obtain information of what is going on here. But for this information to be objective, they should speak with political prisoners.”
Mr. Paleckis has stressed that there can be no significant rapprochement between Minsk and the EU without the release of the political prisoners in Belarus. However, Paleckis’ assertion that human rights conditions had improved in Belarus in the last year, as grounds for removing visa-bans, was met with a strong backlash from human rights activits in Belarus and beyond. Harry Pahaniaila, the head of the legal department of the Belarusian Helsinki Committee commented on Paleckis’ report, and subsequent suggestions, calling into question his belief that human rights had improved enough to decrease stringent sanctions against the country:
“No systematic changes in human rights sector have occurred in Belarus. The political tension has reduced in comparison with December 2010, but political prisoners still remain in jails, strict measures and preventive arrests are applied to opponents of the regime, NGOs and parties cannot pass official registration. Actually, there are no improvements. It is just wishful thinking. It’s difficult to agree with [Paleckis’s] opinion,” Pahaniaila said.
Regarding the rehabilitation and release of political prisoners, Pahaniaila explained;
“The topic of the release of political prisoners is important now. This is the main principled position. The question of rehabilitation, including removal of convictions from records, can be left for the so-called dialogue. But the dialogue can be started only after the Belarusian authorities release all political prisoners unconditionally, without preliminary arrangements.”
The draft report will be reviewed in the coming week, allowing for revisions, with a second reading in September. In the end, Paleckis, people must make up their own minds about their views on Belarus:
“As for the criticism of my recommendations, people are free to make up their own minds about them. That is why there will be an opportunity to revise the report. Indeed, there’re many corrections that I will make myself to make it more thorough and specific.”