Updated at 14:52,24-02-2021

EU promises to keep human rights issue on agenda even if sanctions against Belarus are lifted

By Zakhar Shcharbakow, BelaPAN

The European Union’s officials say that the human rights issue will not be removed from the bilateral agenda even if the restrictive measures against Belarusian authorities are abolished, Zhanna Litvina, a former chairperson of the Belarusian Association of Journalists, told BelaPAN.

On February 2 and 3, Ms. Litvina stayed in Brussels together with Ales Byalyatski, chairman of the Vyasna Human Rights Center, and had meetings with Helga Schmidt, deputy secretary general of the European External Action Service, Stavros Lambrinidis, the EU’s special representative for human rights, and other EU officials.

“At every meeting, the key message was that even the abolition of the sanctions would not mean the removal of human rights issues from the agenda,” Ms. Litvina said.
The EU’s representatives argued that a confrontation with the West was unlikely to encourage the democratization of Belarus, Ms. Litvina said. Ms. Schmidt was particularly adamant that the policy of sanctions had not produced results, she said. “Schmidt emphasized Belarus’ contribution to the peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict,” she said. “In general, she appeared to be one of the strongest supporters of the abolition of the sanctions and the resumption of a human rights dialogue from scratch.”

According to Ms. Litvina, she and Mr. Byalyatski urged the EU to draw up a roadmap for improving relations with Belarus. The roadmap should require Minsk to quash the convictions of the former political prisoners, end the practice of denying registration to NGOs and political parties, declare a moratorium on the death penalty and deregulate the media sector, she said.

At the same time, many EU representatives said that there had been no serious improvements in the situation in Belarus in the last four months, Ms. Litvina said. “Their hopes that Belarusian authorities would fulfill the EU’s recommendations have proved futile, with the exception of the recommendation to release the political prisoners,” she said.