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Belarus: Human Rights

Volume 505: debated on Wednesday 3 February 2010

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs what assessment he has made of (a) the human rights situation and (b) progress on democratic reform in Belarus; and if he will make a statement. (315198)

We have significant concerns about human rights in Belarus which we set out in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office's annual Human Rights Report. The Belarusian authorities continue to harass civil society, non-governmental organisations, religious organisations and the independent media. Belarus is the only European country to continue to use the death penalty. However, there have been some small but welcome improvements in the past two years. In particular, we welcome the decision to allow a number of independent newspapers access to state distribution, and to allow European Radio for Belarus to open a correspondents' office for a year. We also welcome the engagement by the Belarusian authorities in the EU's Eastern Partnership, and the EU-Belarus Human Rights Dialogue launched in 2009.

Progress on democratic reform has also been slow. Belarus has responded to some of the recommendations made by the OSCE/ODIHR Election Monitoring Mission in 2008. This is a positive step, though we are disappointed that an important change—the right of observers to view the ballot papers as they are counted—was not included in the proposed reforms. The conduct of local elections in April 2010 will be an important test of the willingness of the Belarusian authorities to meet international election standards.