Updated at 11:30,08-12-2016

EU suspends entry ban against Belarusian officials for another year

The European Union has prolonged the suspension of an entry ban against Belarusian government officials for one more year.

During an October 25 meeting of the Council of the European Union, the EU foreign ministers decided to extend both the sanctions and their suspension until October 31, 2011.

The Council of the EU reaffirms its readiness to deepen its relations with Belarus depending on developments in Belarus towards democracy, human rights and the rule of law as well as its readiness to assist the country in attaining these objectives, the EU foreign ministers said in their statement.

"The Council will continue its discussions on a joint interim plan to set the priorities for reforms, inspired by the Action Plans developed in the framework of the European Neighborhood Policy, to be implemented with Belarus," the statement said. "The EU could consider providing macro-financial assistance to Belarus, should the necessary preconditions be met, including the conclusion of a new program with the IMF."

The EU foreign ministers expressed concern over the democracy and human rights situation in Belarus. "The Council deeply regrets the lack of progress in the areas expressed in its previous conclusions, including the need for further reforms of the Electoral Code, the freedom of expression and of the media, the freedom of assembly and association," the statement said.

"The Council deplores the execution of two Belarusian citizens carried out in March 2010, regrets the recent death sentences in Belarus and continues to urge Belarus to introduce a moratorium on the use of death penalty with a view to its abolition," the statement read.

"In the light of this situation, the Council is not able to lift the restrictive measures in place against certain officials and therefore decides to extend them until 31 October 2011," the EU foreign ministers said. "However, in order to encourage progress in the areas identified by the EU, the Council decides at the same time to extend the suspension of the application of the travel restrictions until the same date. At the end of that period, the Council will review the restrictive measures in the light of the situation in Belarus. The Council may decide to reapply or lift travel restrictions at any time, in light of actions by the Belarusian authorities in the sphere of democracy and human rights."

The Council pledged to continue to provide support to Belarus’ civil society in order to promote the development of a pluralistic and democratic environment in Belarus.

The Council called on the Belarusian government to ensure that the forthcoming presidential election is conducted in line with international norms and standards for democratic elections and Belarus` commitments as a member state of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. The Council welcomed the Belarusian government`s decision to invite a mission of election observers of the OSCE Office for Democracy Institutions and Human Rights and urged full cooperation with the mission.

"The EU will closely monitor the developments and assess the situation after the elections," the statement said. "Clear and visible progress in the conduct of the elections would give new impetus to the European Union`s engagement policy towards Belarus." In October 2008, the European Union suspended for six months its travel ban against Alyaksandr Lukashenka and 35 other Belarusian officials. The suspension of the sanctions was prolonged for a further nine months in March 2009 and extended until October 2010 in November 2009 to encourage democratic advances on the part of Minsk.

The EU imposed the entry ban on Mr. Lukashenka and many other Belarusian officials following the March 2006 presidential election over alleged violations of international election standards and crackdowns on post-election protest.

When suspending the travel sanctions against the 36 Belarusian officials in October 2008, the EU left them in place for five, including Lidziya Yarmoshyna, head of the central election commission, and four persons suspected of involvement in the 1999-2000 disappearances of Mr. Lukashenka’s opponents. The four are: former Interior Minister Uladzimir Navumaw, former Prosecutor General Viktar Sheyman, former Interior Minister Yury Sivakow, and Dzmitry Pawlichenka, a former commander of an Interior Troops unit. The latter three were implicated by the so-called Pourgourides Report in the alleged abduction and murder of opposition politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasowski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski.