PACE to restore Special Guest status only if moratorium on death penalty is declared
The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on June 23 voted to restore the Belarusian parliament’s Special Guest status in the Assembly only after Minsk declares a moratorium on the death penalty.
A draft resolution, presented by Andrea Rigoni of Italy, PACE’s rapporteur on Belarus, provided for lifting the suspension of the status, which was suspended in 1997, but the following discussion resulted in the approval of a proposal by Cypriot MP Christos Pourgourides, first vice chairperson of PACE’s Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, to grant the status for a period of one year only "after a moratorium on the execution of the death penalty is decreed."
According to Mr. Pourgourides, much has yet to be done in Belarus before the country’s parliament could be given Special Guest status. People are executed in Belarus and their relatives are not given their bodies and are not informed of where the body is buried, he said. Mr. Rigoni noted that no executions had been carried out in Belarus since October 2008, according to official statements.
The Assembly notes in the adopted resolution that although Belarus is far from Council of Europe standards in the field of democracy, the rule of law and human rights, its authorities have recently taken important steps in the right direction. According to the resolution, these steps include the release of several people viewed as political prisoners, including former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Kazulin; the granting of state registration to the Movement for Freedom, an organization led by former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich; the granting of access to the state distribution network to two major independent newspapers, Narodnaya Volya and Nasha Niva; the establishment of a number of consultative councils under the aegis of the Presidential Administration and other governmental agencies with a view to engaging in a constructive dialogue with representatives of civil society organizations; and the dismissal of Uladzimir Navumaw as interior minister, who was considered involved in the disappearances of four political opponents in 1999 and 2000.
The resolution says that apart from the restoration of Special Guest status for the Belarusian parliament, the Assembly should invite a delegation of the Belarusian "extraparliamentary" opposition to participate in the work of the Assembly and its committees until the opposition is adequately represented in the parliament.
The resolution provides that PACE "follow the situation in Belarus and, within one year, or sooner if the situation so requires, evaluate whether this country has made substantive and irreversible progress towards Council of Europe standards."
According to the resolution, the Assembly should call on the secretary general of the Council of Europe to appoint a panel of independent experts to investigate new cases of alleged political prisoners in Belarus.
Belarus’ national legislature held Special Guest status in PACE between 1992 and 1997. The status was suspended in 1997 following a November 1996 national referendum condemned by foreign observers as undemocratic. Shortly after that, Belarus’s application to join the Council of Europe was frozen, and it remains the only European nation that is not a member of the organization.
Special Guest status was created by PACE in the 1990s to help countries meet the conditions to become full members of the Council of Europe. It enables parliamentarians to take part in the Assembly’s activities, but without the right to vote.