H.R. 515, Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2011

Washington, DC – Congressman Howard L. Berman, Ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, delivered the following opening statement at today’s full committee mark-up of H.R. 515, Belarus Democracy Reauthorization Act of 2011.

Thank you, Madam Chairman. Before I start, I would like to express my condolences to the families and loved ones of those who perished or were injured in Monday’s bombing in the Minsk subway. My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Belarus at this difficult time.

On December 19th of last year, Belarus President Alexander Lukashenka staged a fraudulent election. Immediately afterwards, he arrested candidates who dared to run against him and hundreds of citizens who took to the streets in Minsk to protest the election results.

Since these elections, the Lukashenka regime has continued to harass members of opposition political parties, human rights activists and civil society, and to suppress Belarusians’ access to free press and information.

Two weeks ago the OSCE was forced to close its office in Minsk.

While international media attention has moved on to events elsewhere, we have not forgotten the people of Belarus. Many heroic individuals still languish in prison without access to their families or legal counsel.

Through the reauthorization of assistance to Belarusian civil society, the United States is doing what we can to encourage the free exchange of ideas and alternative leaders in Belarus. Belarusians have the same right to self-government and free expression as their neighbors.

We must continue to call for the reopening of OSCE Mission in Minsk and call for the Lukashenka government to cooperate with an OSCE fact-finding mission requested by 14 participating states under the Moscow Mechanism.

Europe’s last dictatorship should not be allowed to stand unchallenged. I support this bill and encourage my colleagues to do the same.