Updated at 18:07,08-09-2017

EU continues advocating critical engagement with Belarus, diplomat says

By Syarhey Karalevich, BelaPAN

The European Union continues advocating critical engagement with Belarus, attaching a great importance to cooperation with the country and its people, Andrea Wiktorin, head of the EU delegation to Belarus, said at a civil society conference in Minsk on April 23.

Belarus and the EU have taken a number of steps to improve their relations in the last two years, according to the diplomat. In particular, she said, Minsk and Brussels have started visa facilitation talks and resumed their dialogue on human rights, and Belarus has participated actively in the EU’s Eastern Partnership program.

Ms. Wiktorin described as important Belarus’ role in the region and its contribution to international efforts to secure peace in Ukraine. She also mentioned the release of several political prisoners last year and the lack of violence during the 2015 presidential election.

All of these steps prompted the European Union to suspend and later to abolish altogether its sanctions targeting Belarusian authorities, she said.

At the same time, the diplomat warned, the human rights situation in Belarus remains a matter of concern for the EU. The 28-nation bloc is certain that its relations with Belarus should be based on shared principles and human rights respect should be one of them, she said.

Noting that Belarus would hold parliamentary elections later this year, Ms. Wiktorin said that the EU called on the Belarusian government to take into account the recommendations made by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights following last year’s presidential election for the purpose of democratizing electoral regulations and electoral process. In this context, she stressed, it is important that the Belarusian government restore the political and civil rights of former political prisoners and secure a free environment for political parties, NGOs and the media.

The EU is also concerned about the application of the death penalty in Belarus and said that the bloc continued calling for a moratorium on capital punishment in the country, said Ms. Wiktorin. According to her, the matter will be discussed during a round of EU-Belarus human rights talks in Minsk in June.