OSCE: EU Statement in response to the report by Ambassador Åke Peterson, Head of the OSCE Office in Minsk

Finnish Presidency of the Council of the European Union
Permanent Council No. 625

14 September 2006

The EU warmly welcomes Ambassador Åke Peterson at the Permanent Council and thanks him for his report.

We greatly value the work of the Office in challenging circumstances. The Office’s activities are carried out in a professional manner and conformity with its mandate. The EU is fully confident that the Office has great potential to further contribute to the social, political and economic development of Belarus and assist the Belarusian government in meeting its OSCE commitments regarding the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, the strengthening of democratic institutions and the rule of law.

We view the monitoring and reporting done by the Office, notably on the developments pertaining to civil society as important and encourage the Office to continue its work. 

We are concerned that the implementation of projects is seriously challenged by lengthy approval and registration procedures. None of the projects agreed between the Office and the Belarusian authorities for the year 2006 has yet been registered . It is disappointing to see the low number of projects agreed in the human dimension. We urge the Belarusian authorities to simplify the approval and registration procedures, as their Permanent Representative suggested on 7 July 2005. This will enable the timely and efficient implementation of projects and the best possible use of the financial resources allocated.

We highly appreciate the contacts between the Office and civil society and we encourage their continuation. In this regard, we are very much disturbed by the concern expressed by Ambassador Peterson that the amendments of the criminal legislation of 2 December 2005 (the so-called Defamation clause) have a negative impact on the co-operation between the Office and civil society which is an essential part of its mandate.

We have on numerous occasions expressed our concern about the various legislative measures resulting in the weakening of civil society and the restriction of freedom of association in Belarus. It is unfortunate that our worries about the damaging effect of the legal address requirements on freedom of association in Belarus have become reality.

The EU appreciates the contacts of the OSCE Office with political prisoners and their families as well as its reports on such cases. The EU will continue to closely follow the developments regarding all Belarusian political prisoners.      

We are saddened to state once more that the situation of the media in Belarus has not improved. We support the observation of the Office that there are rigid restrictions on freedom of the press. We are also concerned by one-sided and untruthful reporting by official media. We recall the offers of the Representative on the Freedom of the Media to assist in the development on the Belarusian media law.

We call yet again on the Belarusian authorities to honour their OSCE commitments and to fully respect basic democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law. The local elections in January 2007 will be an opportunity to demonstrate that respect. The EU is determined to continue its support of the people and civil society in Belarus. At the same time the EU reiterates that it remains open to developing its relations with Belarus provided that the Belarusian authorities prove a sincere willingness to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In conclusion, the EU would like to express its highest appreciation to Ambassador Peterson and his dedicated staff for their excellent work and wish them success in their future endeavours.

The Acceding Countries Bulgaria and Romania, the Candidate Countries Turkey, Croatia* and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, the Countries of the Stabilisation and Association Process and potential candidates Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Serbia as well as Ukraine and the Republic of Moldova align themselves with this statement.

* Croatia and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia continue to be part of the Stabilisation and Association Process