Updated at 11:56,07-12-2016

PACE to vote on restoration of Special Guest status for Belarusian parliament

The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) is expected to vote Tuesday on a resolution providing for lifting the suspension of Special Guest status for the Belarusian parliament.

"Let us hope that, tomorrow, this Assembly will adopt a resolution calling for the restoration of the Belarus parliament's special guest status. It is merely a first step and it will be accompanied by very strict conditions, even before a second step can be envisaged," PACE President Lluis Maria de Puig said in his opening statement at the Assemblys summer session that began in Strasbourg on Monday.

"One of the greatest successes of the Council of Europe is having brought all the countries of Europe together under one roof," Mr. de Puig said. "However, this reason for content is always overshadowed by the fact that the sentence never ends there, since the single, regrettable exception of Belarus always has to be added. There are good reasons for this situation, since we, as a community of values, cannot make an exception from the standards and ideals that unite us. So far, Belarus has not made sufficient efforts to bring itself into line with our Organization. However, this week we will be asking ourselves whether our own efforts have been enough. Is it not the very raison d'etre of our Organization to seek to give a foothold to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in places where they are lacking? Does our greatest strength not lie in our ability to overcome reluctance and to open up new horizons?"

The draft resolution, authored by Andrea Rigoni of Italy, says 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 draft 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 every PACE session 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 draft 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.
Valery Ivanow, deputy chairman of the House of Representatives who had been chairman of the Shklow District Executive Committee before his election to the House, will lead Belarus official delegation to the June 22-26 PACE session.

Apart from him, the delegation will include Yawhen Smirnow, chairman of the Committee on Legislation and State System Building in the Council of the Republic (upper house).

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, Belaruss 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 Assemblys activities, but without the right to vote.