Visiting Belarus visa-free

Statement by Ambassador Viktar Gaisenak, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Belarus, regarding the statements by the delegations of the United States of America and the European Union at the meeting of the OSCE Permanent Council

5 February 2004

Mr. Chairman,

We have listened carefully to and taken note of the statements by the European Union (EU) and the United States of America regarding the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. At present, our delegation has no detailed information on this matter, but we are ready to provide the necessary clarifications in this regard at the next meeting of the Permanent Council.

In connection with the problem mentioned by the European Union regarding the rector of the European Humanities University, we should like to state that at the present time our delegation is unaware of any official statements either by the Belarusian Ministry of Education or by Professor Mikhailov, the rector of the university, regarding the matter in question. Rumours circulating in our opposition press should not, in our view, be the subject of discussions at a meeting of the Permanent Council or be viewed as grounds for diplomatic démarches.

Mr. Chairman,

In connection with the issues raised, we should again like to point to the selectivity displayed by our Western partners when submitting questions for discussion at Permanent Council meetings, as evidenced, specifically, in their tendency to call attention to certain facts in some countries while doggedly continuing to ignore similar happenings in others.

One example here might suffice. A few days ago, the tax police in Estonia — a future member of the European Union — seized the accounts of Estonia’s Legal Information Centre for Human Rights. The staff of this Centre have been offering assistance free of charge to members of national minorities, mainly the Russian speaking community.

Human rights activists believe that the claims of the Estonian tax authorities are not only unfounded but are also politically motivated. The Estonian Human Rights Information Centre is a non profit organization that is financed solely through international aid programmes. Inquiries into this organization began as long back as three years ago when, at the request of the European Commission, the Centre prepared a report on the observance of the rights of national minorities in Estonia.

As far as we are aware, on 2 February of this year the Estonian tax and customs department released the Centre’s accounts; however, the financial claims against this organization remain in force.

As we see it, this situation ought to have elicited at least the same attention and concern on the part of the European Union and the United States as the situation regarding the Belarusian Helsinki Committee. However, we have heard no statements on this matter by the delegations of the United States or the European Union either today or on previous occasions.

It is possible that the reason for this is that the human rights situation in those very same countries is itself far from ideal. This emerges, in particular, from the findings of the latest report of the international human rights organization, Amnesty International. According to that report, the European Union needs to improve its performance with regard to the observance of human rights as it expands and takes in former communist countries of Eastern Europe. The report notes that at the present time only 2 of the 15 current EU member States — Luxembourg and the Netherlands — deserve a passing grade for their observance of human rights today.

According to Mr. Dick Oosting, Director of Amnesty International’s Brussels office, the mechanisms for ensuring respect for human rights in the EU are no longer properly operating. “For the European Union, it is not enough merely to preach the observance of human rights abroad. Europe must first take a look at itself; otherwise, confidence in the human rights situation in the EU will always be subject to doubt in international relations.”

The report contains quite specific facts concerning EU countries. For example, the authors accuse the United Kingdom of “serious human rights violations” following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States. These violations, Amnesty International notes, are being committed under the pretext of the “war on terror” and the efforts to counter illegal immigration. We are aware that similar criticism is also being actively levelled against the United States. The report refers to the deportation of Chechens from Germany to Russia and the harsh treatment by the Greek police of detainees. Spain is criticized for its treatment of suspected Basque terrorists. I shall not recount all that the report has to say, since the majority of those present are most likely familiar with it — familiar, even though that familiarity has not led to a discussion of the report itself in this hall.

Mr. Chairman,

In accordance with the fundamental documents of our Organization, the OSCE should serve as a forum for political dialogue. Today, this is not the case. There is no dialogue nor can there be as long as “double standards” are applied and a new Berlin Wall is being erected between the countries to the east and west of Vienna. The perpetuation and exacerbation of this state of affairs poses a direct threat to the existence of our Organization and, consequently, to the system of European security as well.

It is our hope, Mr. Chairman, that the European Union and the United States will take note of our comments today and will adopt a more balanced approach in their statements at the Permanent Council.