OSCE Chief Calls for Return Presence in Belarus

Posted February 8th, 2012 at 2:45 pm (UTC-5)
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The new Irish head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe is calling for the reinstatement of an OSCE presence in Belarus, where he says the “continuing erosion of human rights” is cause for concern.

Ireland's deputy prime minister and foreign affairs minister, Eamon Gilmore, spoke Wednesday in Washington before the U.S. Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government body monitoring European human rights.

“By prosecuting human rights defenders and limiting freedom of association, Belarus is regrettably falling short of its OSCE commitments. There is no doubt that a reinstatement of an OSCE presence in Belarus in some form would be an important step in the right direction and would send a positive signal to the international community.”

Belarus closed the OSCE office in the capital, Minsk, after OSCE observers called the country's December 2010 presidential election badly flawed.

Since popular protests began against the election, the government of Belarus has cracked down on anyone publicly criticizing or protesting the election results, government practices, Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko or his rule. Numerous human rights activists, political figures and media workers have been intimidated, beaten, arrested and imprisoned.

Gilmore said the Belarusian authorities have not acted on OSCE recommendations for improving the human rights situation, but emphasized the importance of maintaining communication with the government.

“Ireland condemns the harassment of opposition and human rights organizations in Belarus, and I regret that the situation in Belarus has deteriorated. Nevertheless, as OSCE chair-in-office, I have to keep a channel open to the Belarus authorities.”

The Helsinki Commission held a hearing Wednesday on Ireland's leadership of the 56-nation OSCE. Ireland assumed the chairmanship of the Vienna-based organization this year.

In addition to Belarus, Gilmore outlined a number of priorities for the OSCE, including the issues of human trafficking, Internet freedom and international parental child abductions.

He said he is deeply concerned about the case of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is serving a seven-year prison sentence on abuse of power charges she says were politically motivated. Gilmore said he hopes Ukraine will appreciate the need to address such concerns as it prepares to take over the OSCE chairmanship in 2013 after Ireland.