The U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights (Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia (Dan Burton (R-IN), Chairman) held a public hearing: The Government of Belarus: Crushing Human Rights at Home?
Testimony was heard from Emanuelis Zingeris, a Member of Lithuania’s Parliament, Daniel A. Russell (Deputy Assistant Secretary for Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, U.S. Department of State), David Kramer (Executive Director, Freedom House), and Matt Rojansky (Deputy Director, Russia and Eurasia Program, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace). Members and witnessess spoke about the recent and continuing abuses committed by Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, such as the detention of 700 peaceful people during the government crackdown after the rigged December 19, 2010, elections. Zingeris said there are five presidential candidates still in jail from that crackdown and that in his view the "Belarus regime is using all channels of dictatorship." Speakers were in agreement that there continues to be a "human rights tragedy" in Belarus and that Lukashenko is "Europe's last dictator, who stole the country sixteen years ago."
In an indication of how closed the society still is, it was pointed out that half of Belarus citizens have not met anyone from the EU and that 70% had never travelled to the EU. Chariman Burton said that repressive events were still occuring, such as the recent arrest of a Polish journalist for "insulting the leader." With the OSCE now out of the country–its Minsk office was closed on March 31–there appears to be a "total shutdown" by Lukashenko's regime, which has "exceeded anything it has done in the past," and that “persecutions, raids, detentions, beating, and pressure on lawyers” are ongoing problems, according to Burton. Furthermore, he said that Lukashenko "is a thug and last remnant of the old order," and that "this despot is helping other regimes, like Iran and Libya."
One novel idea proposed by the Chariman was to petition the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) to cancel their planned 2011/2012 tournaments in Belarus. He thought this might personally affect and pressure Lukashenko, who is a big hockey fan. During the session, increased European economic leverage was called for, particularly sanctions against large, state-owned enterprises. The U.S. currently has more sanctions on Belarus than Europe in this regard. It was pointed out that Lukashenko had actually released some political prisoners after enhanced economic sanctions were placed on his country in 2008. Rojansky and Kramer had a slight disagreement about the nature and merits of sanctions, and disagreed about how close the U.S./EU should work with Russia, but all agreed that continued, consistent, U.S./EU pressure must be kept on the repressive government of Lukashenko. Kramer stated, "Democracy and reform will not come to this country as long as Lukashenko is there." He finished by saying, "We should start talking about regime change." Rojansky concluded his testimony saying "Lukashenko will not last in Belarus" citing his regime's current 50% GDP foreign debt load, saying "this guy [Lukashenko] is going to go."
Further details and a webcast can be found at: The Government of Belarus: Crushing Human Rights at Home?