I am delivering this statement on behalf of Canada, Iceland and Norway.
August 9, one year ago, the people of Belarus went to the polling booths to cast their vote. Unfortunately, the regime in Minsk did not allow for the people’s voices to be heard. Instead, the Lukashenko regime, which has run the country since 1994, continues to cling to power. The Belarusian regime’s persecution of ordinary Belarusians is clear evidence that Lukashenka, and the regime he leads, realise they no longer have the trust of their own people. The right thing for the Belarusian regime to do, would be to enter into dialogue, with genuine representatives of civil society and the political opposition, prepare for real democracy in the country and organise free and fair elections. Unfortunately, this is not a course the regime has been willing to take. Instead, we see further restrictions imposed on the freedom of speech, Independent Media, and Human Rights activists. The Belarusian regime accepts no criticism. This has been clearly demonstrated by the closing of the Belarusian PEN centre and in the Olympics, where an athlete was threatened and denied her opportunity to compete after voicing her opinion.
As we have said many times in the Permanent Council, the violent actions of the regime in Minsk are unacceptable. Belarus has, of its own free will, signed up to all OSCE commitments. People who are now being killed, tortured, jailed, or exiled, are simply asking for democracy in their own country. The right to Freedom of Speech and expression are universal in nature and fundamental to democratic societies. And, I want to underline, this is not a western right, but a human right.
We are appalled by the Lukashenko regime’s willingness to instrumentalise migrants and refugees as pawns on a geopolitical chess board. Until recently Belarus played a constructive role in the fight against trafficking in human beings. Taking advantage of vulnerable people to try to affect neighbouring countries can hardly be seen as anything else. We offer support to Lithuania and have joined the EU in their sanctions. The sanctions will be upheld until we see a will to change in Minsk.
The Belarusian opposition leader, Ms. Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, is today in Oslo, meeting the Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs. We will continue our dialogue with her and support to bring about democratic change in Belarus.