Five steps to help Be­larus

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY OPINION - BY JOHN KERRY AND JOE LIEBER­MAN John Kerry, a Demo­crat from Mas­sachusetts, is chair­man of the Se­nate For­eign Re­la­tions Com­mit­tee. Joe Lieber­man, an In­de­pen­dent from Con­necti­cut, is chair­man of the Se­nate Home­land Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee.

Since the patently un­fair and un­demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial elec­tion on Dec. 19, Alexan­der Lukashenko, the au­thor­i­tar­ian ruler of Be­larus, has re­minded his coun­try­men and the world that the post-ColdWar vi­sion of a Europe whole, free and at peace re­mains sadly un­ful­filled. For more than a month, Lukashenko’s agents have fanned out to beat, ar­rest or in­tim­i­date op­po­nents of his govern­ment in an ef­fort to sup­press any spark of dis­obe­di­ence.

Be­larus is a coun­try that un­der­stands suf­fer­ing: The Holo­caust con­sumed its thriv­ing Jewish com­mu­nity; it was the site of some of the most sav­age fight­ing of World War II; it en­dured decades of au­thor­i­tar­ian Soviet rule; and in 1986 it re­ceived 70 per­cent of the ra­dioac­tive fall­out from the Ch­er­nobyl nu­clear plant melt­down. Mean­while, in the 20 years of in­de­pen­dence since the col­lapse of the Soviet Union, Be­laru­sans have watched as their for­merly so­cial­ist neigh­bors Poland and Lithua­nia rad­i­cally im­proved their stan­dards of liv­ing, freely elected their gov­ern­ments, and be­came dy­namic mem­bers of the Euro­pean Union and NATO.

Since Lukashenko came to power in 1994, he has main­tained his grip by neu­tral­iz­ing and in­tim­i­dat­ing his crit­ics. He and his cronies con­trol the tele­vi­sion sta­tions, and they have used a 2008 me­dia law to close the in­de­pen­dent press, ef­fec­tively sti­fling po­lit­i­cal de­bate. There is no free­dom of assem­bly in Be­larus.

Even by Lukashenko’s stan­dards, how­ever, the crack­down since the De­cem­ber vot­ing is no­table for its re­pres­sion: More than 600 peo­ple were swept up by Be­laru­san se­cu­rity forces on Elec­tion Day and its af­ter­math, among them jour­nal­ists, civil so­ci­ety rep­re­sen­ta­tives, po­lit­i­cal ac­tivists and at least six of nine op­po­si­tion pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates — four of whom re­main in jail. The de­tained con­tinue to be de­nied ac­cess to fam­ily, lawyers, med­i­cal treat­ment and open le­gal pro­ceed­ings, while their relatives and attorneys en­dure ha­rass­ment by Lukashenko’s se­cu­rity forces.

Euro­pean and Amer­i­can of­fi­cials have at­tempted to en­gage the Be­laru­san govern­ment since 2008 in hopes of en­cour­ag­ing Lukashenko to im­prove his govern­ment’s prac­tices and pre­vent the fur­ther iso­la­tion and op­pres­sion of his peo­ple. We be­lieve in the util­ity of diplo­matic en­gage­ment, but when one side turns its back on progress, it de­mands a re­ac­tion. De­vel­op­ments since last month’s elec­tion in­di­cate the present lim­its of en­gage­ment with Lukashenko and point up the need for a new ap­proach.

Geog­ra­phy gives the Euro­pean Union greater eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence in Be­larus than the United States has. For this rea­son, we are en­cour­aged by the com­mend­able job Sec­re­tary of State Hil­lary Clin­ton has done co­or­di­nat­ing with her E.U. coun­ter­part, High Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cather­ine Ash­ton. In our re­sponse to the crack­down in Be­larus, the transat­lantic world should speak with one voice.

The sit­u­a­tion in Be­larus de­mands a strong and un­com­pro­mis­ing re­sponse from all par­ties. The po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers de­tained by Be­laru­san au­thor­i­ties, in­clud­ing the four pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates, should be re­leased im­me­di­ately and their safety as­sured. Un­til there is clear ev­i­dence of this and an un­am­bigu­ous demon­stra­tion that the Be­laru­san govern­ment is tak­ing se­ri­ously the ba­sic hu­man rights of its cit­i­zens, we sug­gest that these five steps be im­ple­mented:

First, our own govern­ment and the Euro­pean Union should im­pose tar­geted sanc­tions, in­clud­ing visa bans and as­set freezes, against Be­laru­san of­fi­cials and their as­so­ci­ates re­spon­si­ble for the crack­down and hu­man rights abuses.

Sec­ond, we urge the Euro­pean Union to join theUnited States in pro­hibit­ing busi­ness with, and freez­ing the as­sets of, the Be­laru­san state-owned oil and petro­chem­i­cals com­pany, Bel­neftekhim, as well as other en­ti­ties that en­rich Lukashenko and his cronies at the ex­pense of the Be­laru­san peo­ple.

Third, we ask that the Euro­pean Union cut projects linked to Be­laru­san au­thor­i­ties and sus­pend meet­ings with Be­laru­san of­fi­cials un­der its East­ern Part­ner­ship pol­icy. We urge our Euro­pean part­ners to in­stead join the United States in ef­forts to in­crease en­gage­ment with the Be­laru­san peo­ple and pro­vide in­creased, ef­fec­tive sup­port for Be­laru­san civil so­ci­ety.

Fourth, we urge Clin­ton and Ash­ton to con­tinue to closely co­or­di­nate U.S. and E.U. poli­cies to­ward Be­larus.

Fifth, we call on other mem­bers of the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, in­clud­ing Rus­sia, to take sim­i­lar tar­geted ac­tions against the Be­laru­san lead­er­ship.

Be­larus can and should be a pros­per­ous and free coun­try like its neigh­bors. In their hour of need, the Be­laru­san peo­ple must know that the United States and Europe stand united on their side, while Lukashenko and his govern­ment must be made to pay real and se­ri­ous costs for their authoritarianism and re­pres­sion. When E.U. for­eign min­is­ters meet Mon­day to dis­cuss Be­larus, we hope they know the time has ar­rived for strong, prin­ci­pled transat­lantic ac­tion.

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