Fact-Finding Mission to Minsk, Belarus
25-27 March 2001
This Secretariat Report is presented for information only and does not necessarily represent the official view of the Assembly.
International Secretariat 2 April 2001
This document has not been proof-read
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- MAIN FINDINGS
- General political and sociological trends
- Democratic process
- The powers of Parliament
- RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE
- COMPLEMENTARY BACKGROUND INFORMATION
- The forthcoming presidential elections
- The conditions for fair and free elections
- The delegation's contacts with the Belarusian authorities
- Belarus in interparliamentary assemblies
- ANNEX 1
List of Participants in the Visit
- ANNEX 2
- ANNEX 3-a
Press Release NATO Parliamentarians to visit Belarus - Brussels, 21 March 2001
- ANNEX 3-b
Belarus Press Agency - Press releases prior to visit - 22 March 2001
- ANNEX 3-c
Press Release - NATO PA Visit to Belarus - Clarifying the Objectives - 23 March 2001
- ANNEX 3-d
Belarus Press Agency - Press releases following visit - 26 March 2001
- ANNEX 3-e
Press Release -NATO Parliamentarians Conclude visit to Belarus - Brussels, 27 March
- ANNEX 4-a
Parliamentary elections - 15 and 29 October 2000 - OSCE/ODIHR Technical Assessment Mission Final Report
- ANNEX 4-b
Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus 7 March 2001 - Parliamentary Troika issues statement on Belarus
- ANNEX 4-c
Press Release EU Troika - 9 February 2001
- In 1997 the Standing Committee suspended relations between the NATO PA and the Parliament of Belarus following a constitutional referendum (1996) that enabled recently elected President Lukashenko to "change the rules of the game", putting an end to the term of the existing Parliament (13th Supreme Soviet) and handing-picking an acquiescent legislative body (National Assembly). New regulations for the election of the National Assembly were eventually passed on the basis of the 1996 constitution, allowing for the election of a new National Assembly in October 2000. However, the electoral legislation and, more importantly the conditions in which the consultation took place (in terms of media access, registration of candidates and voters, freedom of campaigning, voting procedures, vote counting, etc.) were deemed "short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable, and transparent elections" by the OSCE (see Technical Assessment Report in Annex 4a).
- The Assembly did not totally cease relations with Belarus: between 1997 and 2000 it continued to invite three representatives of the former 13th Supreme Soviet, two MPs, Mr Mechaslav Hryb and Mr Anatolij Lebedko, and the former Secretary of Delegation, Mr Andrei Federau, to sessions and occasionally Rose-Roth seminars.
- By autumn 2000, however, this position seemed less and less tenable for three reasons:
- even if one takes as one's point of reference the 1994 ("pre-Lukashenko") constitution, as the members of the 13th Supreme Soviet do, the mandate of that Parliament has expired (in January 2001);
- the political landscape in Belarus has evolved, requiring a reassessment of the representativeness of the Assembly's guests among opposition forces;
- although chosen in conditions that failed to meet democratic standards, the new National Assembly was elected by the people of Belarus, unlike its predecessor which was chosen by the President.
- This situation was the background for the extensive discussions in the Committee on the Civil Aspects of Security and in the Standing Committee at the annual session in Berlin (November 2000). Following these discussions the decision was taken to send a fact-finding mission to Belarus [AT 313 SC (00) 50].
- The mission, jointly headed by Mr Markus Meckel, Vice-President of the NATO PA, for the Standing Committee, and Alice Mahon, Chairperson of the Sub-committee on Democratic Governance, for the Committee on the Civil Aspects of Security, took place on 25-27 March. Two other members of the Standing Committee participated, Mr Czeslaw Bielecki, Head of the Polish delegation, and Mr Tahir Köse, Head of the Turkish delegation, as well as five other members of the Sub-committee (see full list in Annex 1).
- In the absence of relations between the Assembly and the Belarusian Parliament, the visit was coordinated on site by the Italian Embassy, acting as the NATO contact point Embassy. On this occasion the delegation would like to express its gratitude to Ambassador Stefano Benazzo, whose personal investment went much beyond the assistance normally provided by Embassies to visiting NATO PA delegations, and whose diplomatic skills were invaluable in establishing a programme that would satisfy the demand of the delegation for as broadly-based contacts as possible without jeopardizing the basic Assembly position: no recognition of the National Assembly. It should be noted, however, that some members of the delegation felt that the programme was imbalanced at the detriment of government representatives and the National Assembly.
- Special thanks also have to go to the Greek embassy for its logistical support, and to the Polish delegation for providing members with extremely useful background information material.
- The risk of a "political exploitation" of our visit was real, as demonstrated by the press communiqués reproduced in Annex 3b. A recognition of the National Assembly - even indirectly - was felt as particularly inopportune at this time in some NATO capitals, as in the wake of the presidential elections due later this year, a more and more insecure President Lukashenko is increasing control over all forms of opposition (see section on the presidential elections below, IV.1). On the contrary, at least two NATO countries ambassadors in Minsk expressed the view that our visit was timely, if not "overdue". From the press communiqués issued by the official Belarusian news agency at the end of the visit, it seems that the delegation successfully avoided the risk of political exploitation (see Annex 3d).
- Because of the political sensitivity of our initiative, the entire NATO diplomatic community present in Belarus was closely involved in its preparation and in the visit itself. The delegation had two round-tables with the Ambassadors of France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, one at the outset and one at the end of the visit. Representatives of the Hungarian and Czech Republic embassies were also occasionally present.
- Over the two day visit the delegation held extensive discussions with the diplomatic community, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov, members of the National Assembly, representatives of political parties supporting the government, members of the opposition not represented in Parliament, trade union leaders, potential candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections, civic organisations, think tanks, media representatives, and relatives of disappeared political figures. Details on the programme can be found in Annex 2.
II. MAIN FINDINGS
- The main findings of the delegation are summarised in the press communiqué issued at the end of the visit (Annex 3e). This communiqué was discussed and approved by the members in the presence of the NATO countries ambassadors who found it well-balanced overall.
- From the wide ranging discussions held by the delegation, three points stand out:
1. General political and sociological trends
- A wide spectrum of the population would like to see a loosening of government control in favour of a wider distribution of political and economic power, and greater reliance on the market and private enterprise. In this sense, the delegation felt that the country has a vocation to join the family of democratic nations of Europe, even if, for historical and cultural reasons, Belarus's future political and economic system is more likely to resemble that of Russia than those of Western Europe. Nevertheless, several Western diplomats warned against the risk that current Western policies, which tend to de facto isolate Belarus, could leave the country with no other option but "to throw itself in the arms of Russia". It was essential, in their view, to send the Belarusians a clear message that Europe is interested in them and that they have a due place in Europe.
- At present, if the aspirations to greater democratic freedoms and freedom of enterprise are confirmed in opinion surveys, apathy still seems to prevail in large swaths of society. On the positive side, however, "actors of change" are engaged in all wakes of life - the media, politics, the environment, women's rights, think tanks, trade unions, etc. - as the delegation could witness in many meetings. In the words of the U.K ambassador, Ian Kelly, there exists in Belarus "a foundation for change in the future". The question is how long it will take for the small, involved groups and individuals to gather the "critical mass" necessary to impel a transformation of the system. The greatest potential for change, in the eyes of several members of the delegation, lies in the trade unions, which, unlike other groups, have a wide membership (Belarus has four million unionised workers, out of a population of about ten million), and are beginning to express deep discontent in the government's social and economic policies. This discontent is manifested by such moves as a joint suit of the government by the state-controlled and free trade unions in the ILO for violation of workers' rights. Timewise, a key moment of recognition of Belarus's potential for change will be the presidential election due later this year.
2. Democratic process
- Successive delegations that have visited Belarus recently have pointed to the country's shortcomings on the democratic front (see communiqué of the EU Troika of 9 February and communiqué of the European Parliament, OSCE and Council of Europe Parliamentary Assemblies Troika of 7 March in Annex 4b&c). Basic freedoms such as freedom of speech, association, demonstration, freedom of the press, the right to due process of law, workers' rights, etc. are frequently violated. The judiciary remains largely submissive to the executive power; the regime has failed to seriously investigate the disappearance of leading opposition figures; and the harassment of political opponents remains common. An example was the temporary arrest of Mr Vintsuk Vyachorka, a leading opposition figure, the day before the delegation arrived. As a result, the group was unable to meet with him. When rights are not denied directly, obstacles arise such as the rationing of printing material for the print media; loss of jobs for active trade unionists; denial of study places for politically engaged students, etc. These sanctions are not applied systematically but their arbitrary use contributes to entertain an atmosphere of fear, and to dissuade political and social commitment as one never knows whether and how harsh one will have to pay for criticism of the executive.
- Elections have focussed the international community's attention on the many freedoms that may be infringed upon on that occasion, leading to a severe assessment of last October's parliamentary elections. Among the conditions for free elections that have been identified by international observers (see Annex 4a&b, and Section IV.2 below), two were particularly brought to the attention of the delegation as deserving special care in the context of the forthcoming presidential elections: the possibility for opposition candidates to have fair access to the state media; and the freedom for domestic independent groups to observe the proceedings. Many civic group representatives, independent trade unionists, analysts, and opposition figures believe that Decree #8, issued by the President on 12 March and due to enter into force on 1 April, directly targets this observation. Decree #8 submits to minute government control the type of international aid that has helped NGOs and civic organisations to organise just such observation, and supported free media outlets. It comes in the wake of a visible deterioration of relations between the Minsk-based OSCE Advisory Monitoring Group (AMG) and the Government due to the latter's discontent about the active efforts of the AMG to organise and train networks of domestic observers in the autumn 2000 parliamentary elections (more on this subject in Section IV.2).
3. The powers of Parliament
- The autumn 2000 legislative elections divided the opposition on whether it was worth participating in a competition, the rules of which were short of free and fair, and the prize of which risked being an honorary position in a rubber stamp Assembly. In the end, only a small part of the opponents to President Lukashenko decided to run, while the majority of the opposition boycotted the elections.
- All political forces met by the delegation, whether in or outside Parliament, consider that the National Assembly must reinforce its powers vis-à-vis the President. This desire is expressed, however, in different degrees. While the President's supporters explain that they have proposals in the work to that end, opposition members in Parliament give concrete examples on how they are using the powers they possess to call the government to account. The extra-parliamentary opposition, for its part, continues to claim that the Parliament is only a legitimising instrument of Lukashenko; therefore there is no reason to risk being compromised by participating.
- It was, of course, difficult for the delegation on the basis of a two-day visit to assess the validity of the arguments of the opposition in and outside Parliament, each side obviously trying to justify its choice in the last elections. Members were, however, impressed by the determination by the small opposition in the National Assembly (3-4 deputies) to assert their rights. They were also pleased to learn that the opposition seems to have a potential for support among other MPs, as indicated by the fact that each of its members received 10-12 votes in the nomination for leadership positions in Parliament (out of 97 members). They were also sensitive to the argument made by Ms Abramova, one of the leading opposition figures in Parliament, that her holding an elected position had made it much easier for her to work with her constituents without fearing harassment by the authorities.
- The question of the powers of Parliament, in the end, may be as much a political as a legal one. Should President Lukashenko be toppled in the autumn elections, many analysts and political actors seem to suggest that the dynamics of power between Parliament and the executive branch could change, leading key opposition figures to alter their position even before the letter of the law has been amended.
III. RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE STANDING COMMITTEE
- Delegation members initially approached the question of the Assembly's relations with the Belarusian Parliament with wide differences of views. While some were asking "why this double standard vis-à-vis Belarus, whereas we work with Parliaments that have been elected in at least as dubious conditions, at the end of the spectrum others strongly warned of any move that could lend legitimacy to a non-democratic entity: "partnership, yes, but not at any price" was their position. Following extensive discussions in the delegation, with the NATO diplomatic community, and more than 15 hours of hearings, the delegation agreed on the following premises and recommendations:
a. Status of the Belarusian Parliament
- The mandate of the 13th Supreme Soviet has elapsed; it can therefore in no circumstances represent Belarus in the Assembly (as explained above, this has not been the case since 1997, but the fact that only members of the former 13th Supreme Soviet were invited to take part in Assembly activities could have led to that conclusion);
- However, the Assembly cannot recognise the National Assembly of Belarus as its legitimate interlocutor, given the conditions in which it has been elected and operates;
- Therefore, the suspension of Belarus's Associate status should be upheld at this time.
b. Cooperation with Belarus
It is vital not to isolate Belarus and to support its democratisation process, short of recognition of the official Parliament. To that end, the delegation recommends:
- that the Assembly invite three individuals as "special guests" to the Spring session in Vilnius:
- Mr Anatoly Lebedko, former member of the 13th Supreme Soviet, now a leader of the opposition outside Parliament, Chairman of the United Citizens Party; Mr Lebedko has been a regular participant in Assembly activities these past few years;
- Ms Olga Abramova, former member of the 13th Supreme Soviet, opposition member in the current National Assembly, Chairperson of the Belarusian Yabloko Party;
- a trade union leader, to be identified at a later stage.
The delegation, however, was unable to agree on the proposals of some of its members that one supporter of President Lukashenko in the current National Assembly also be invited.
- that the Committee on the Civil Aspects of Security invite an independent political analyst from Belarus as a speaker in Vilnius; the recommended choice would be Mr Alexander Feduta, President of Social Technologies, a think tank specialised in the analysis of public opinion;
- that the International Secretariat explore the possibility of holding a Rose-Roth seminar in Belarus, in cooperation with a local NGO or think tank; as this may not be immediately possible, that a half-day session be set aside in the agenda of the Rose-Roth seminar scheduled in Riga in October 2001, so as to discuss the situation in Belarus with a variety of local guests;
- that the Assembly consider favourably the suggestion put forward by the NATO ambassadors to send members on individual missions to Belarus, in the context of talking tours or participation in seminars or conferences organised by various NGOs and civic groups. In addition to increasing the collective Assembly's knowledge of Belarus, these speaking engagements should be used to develop understanding and appreciation of NATO in Belarusian public opinion (see background elements in Section IV.3). In that context, it would be important to consider events outside Minsk as well as in the capital itself.
- that the Committee on the Civil Aspects of Security, and in particular its Sub-committee on Democratic Governance, keep a close watch on developments in Belarus. The chairperson of the Sub-committee, Alice Mahon, expressed her readiness to undertake this task.
- that the Assembly re-evaluate its position on Belarus after the presidential elections to be held no later than October.
IV. COMPLEMENTARY BACKGROUND INFORMATION
1. The forthcoming presidential elections
- The presidential elections to be held later this year will be a test of Belarus's democratic capacity in many ways, including through the possibility of alternance in power at the top. Several opposition leaders have indicated their intention to compete against President Lukashenko. They include Mr Mikhail Chigir, Prime Minister between 1994-96, who resigned in protest against the 1996 constitutional referendum, tried to run in the presidential elections of 1999, but was prevented to do so by temporary imprisonment under dubious allegations; Mr Vladimir Goncharik, Head of the (official) Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions and a former member of the 13th Supreme Soviet; Mr Pavel Kozlovsky, former Minister of Defence, who was dismissed along with the whole government following Lukashenko's victory in the 1994 presidential elections; and Mr Semion Domash, former member of the 13th Supreme Soviet, former Head of the Regional Executive Committee of Grodno, the only regional leader to have openly defied the president at the time of the 1996 referendum.
- Key issues are the opposition's appeal in the electorate and its capacity to unite. According to outside observers and analysts, extra-parliamentary opposition forces represent no more than 10-15% (at most 20%) of the electorate. In order for one of their candidates to win in the next elections, he (she) would have to gather the support of large groups in society that are dissatisfied with the current leadership but have so far refrained from entering into active opposition. This includes a large number of industrial and agricultural workers who can be mobilised through the trade unions, and some parts of the "nomenklatura" who are keen to see the system evolve.
- This potential for change would more likely be realised if the opposition succeeded in uniting its forces. The disastrous consequences of failing to do so in the past seem to be beginning to "hit home". About a month or so ago, Messrs Chigir, Goncharik and Kozlovksly basically agreed to support, among the three of them, the one who was best positioned in the race. At the time of the visit, it seemed that Mr Domash was inclined to join that agreement.
- Asked about the wisdom of maintaining four candidates (or more) in the race at this time, the opposition leaders told the delegation that this was a tactical choice aimed at protecting themselves against the regime. A single candidate would be easy to target, politically or legally (for example by being denied registration). It was therefore safer to "keep several horses in the race" at least until after registration and perhaps until after the first round. Several NATO diplomats confirmed that this was the best course of action, and strongly hinted that this choice had been inspired by them. They also stressed that the combination of the four current leaders was probably the best coalition to gather broad-based support in the population, with Mr Chigir appealing to the disgruntled elements in the bureaucracy, Mr Goncharik to rebelling trade union members (whether state-run or independent, as the delegation learnt), General Kozlovsky to parts of the army, and Mr Domash providing a regional base to the opposition movement.
- Much speculation is taking place among Belarusian intellectual elites about the role that Russia could play in the presidential elections. Some believe that Russia "is looking for a candidate", who could be someone else than President Lukashenko. Names that have appeared in the Russian press, however, do not seem to have much credibility. Some Belarusian independent analysts seem to suggest that Moscow's influence will be the key factor in the elections. NATO diplomats, for their part, believe that Moscow is in a "wait and see" attitude and are uncertain whether the Kremlin will obviously favour one candidate or the other. The reasons why President Lukashenko may have lost his appeal in Moscow is that President Putin may be reluctant to back a leader with such a poor image in the West whilst he is trying to improve relations with Europe, and that he has an interest in pushing for faster economic reform in Belarus at a time when the two countries have made a commitment to integrate their economies and currencies.
- A further matter of discussion is the date of the elections, which could be set either by Parliament or by the Government. The failure of President Lukashenko to make a choice so far is interpreted in Minsk as a sign of his insecurity.
2. The conditions for fair and free elections
- As the OSCE has pointed out, improvements need to be made in several domains for future elections in Belarus to be deemed free and fair: registration of candidates and voters; conditions of campaigning; access to the media; and possibility of independent observation of the electoral process (see documents in Annex 4a&b). Among these elements the questions of media access and election observation were discussed in greater detail by the delegation.
- The media issue, actually, transcends the question of elections. Independent media are very weak, whether in the printing or the broadcasting world, for several reasons. One is the unavailability of financing, due to the underdevelopment of Belarus's private economy; another is the lack of know how; another yet is related to the various forms of harassment to which private media are subject, from lawsuits, to the seizure of newspapers, to restrictions on printing paper availability and the imposition of fines so unbearable that they leave news outlets and printing establishments no other choice but to close. Ambassador Wieck, the Head of the AMG, estimates the circulation of independent print media conveying a political message at some 200,000 weekly, against 500,000 daily for state newspapers. Besides, independent media are hardly available in the provinces because of distribution problems.
- The situation in the broadcast media is even worse, with very few free radio channels and no private Belarusian television. Actually, the main sources of independent news are the two Russian television channels, NTV and TV6, which cover between them close to 90% of Belarus's territory, and in the west of the country, Polish television channels. In parallel with the discussions about the potential influence of the Russian Government on the forthcoming elections, there is much speculation in Minsk about the role of Russian television outlets. NTV's message is strongly critical of President Lukashenko, whereas TV6 is also unsympathetic, but in milder fashion. Both could possibly serve as campaign vehicles for the opposition. It has to be noticed that television will play a key role in the election campaign, given the limited availability of the printed press.
- Both because of the weakness of the independent press and for reasons of fairness the OSCE will be particularly vigilant in the forthcoming campaign - as it has been in the past - to access of opposition candidates to state media, in particular state television. If experience is any guide, only determined external pressure will bear results, and then only temporarily, as long as it is sustained.
- Election observation is one of the key conditions for fraud and irregularities to be exposed to a large public, as demonstrated in the last parliamentary consultation - and even more evidently at the same time by the Yugoslav experience. Last October, a cohesive network of domestic observers had been set up by the AMG, with the technical and financial assistance of Western public and private organisations. Plans to reinforce that network and train new observers could now be put in jeopardy by Decree # 8 - although domestic observation is explicitly permitted by the electoral law. The AMG is therefore trying to obtain assurances from the Government that the new regulations will not be used to hamper the electoral process. Whether Decree #8 is actually implemented - some diplomats believe that it only ratifies an already existing situation - or not, its adoption at this time is widely seen as a sign of the insecurity of President Lukashenko. Being prone to conspiracy theories, the President sees the creation of an integrated system of observation, together with the ongoing process of unification of the opposition, as the emergence of an obscure force directed against him. Further crackdowns on NGO and opposition activities in the context of the elections therefore cannot be ruled out.
3. The delegation's contacts with the Belarusian authorities
- The delegation's relations with the Belarusian authorities went through a series of ups-and-downs in the course of preparation and implementation of the visit.
- The original aim of the authorities was obviously to achieve an indirect or direct recognition of the National Assembly by the NATO PA. They did so by sending President Estrella an official invitation from the Speakers of the two chambers, Mr Popov, for the House of Representative, and Mr Voitovich, for the Council of the Republic, as preparations for the visit were already largely underway. That invitation was seconded by a letter of Mr Seleznev, Speaker of the Russian Duma, in his capacity as Chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia. The authorities also originally resisted Ambassador Benazzo's proposition that a meeting with National Assembly members, if it was to take place at all, had to be organised on neutral grounds, i.e. elsewhere than in the Parliament building. The tenacity of the Ambassador, jointly with the Belarusian desire for contacts, finally overcame this resistance.
- The corrective communiqué issued by President Estrella on 23 March, following the publication of a declaration by the Foreign Ministry's spokesman on 22 March that the delegation was visiting Belarus at the invitation of the National Assembly (see Annex 3b&c) was met by a harsh reaction of the authorities: Ambassador Benazzo was summoned to the Foreign Minister's office, to whom he personally re-explained the purpose and nature of the visit.
- By the time the delegation had reached Minsk, tensions had somewhat appeased. The planned meeting with the Parliament did take place, however only with the participation of the leadership of the Council of the Republic (Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee). The delegation was given no explanation for the absence of the leadership of the Chamber of Representatives. The presence of Mr Malofeyev, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee of the Chamber, at the reception hosted the same evening by the Italian Embassy, seemed to indicate an interest in contacts with the delegation, at the same time as it expressed the leadership's discontent with our procedure. Press renderings of the meeting were cautiously positive, with Mr Cherginets, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Council of the Republic, characterising our discussions as "correct and productive" (see press communiqué in Annex 3d). During our meeting Mr Cherginets also ventured that "there are people worth talking to" in the opposition, and that he had been criticised for holding that position.
- Another snub to the delegation was the cancellation, two days before the visit, of the appointment planned with Mr Ural Latypov, State Secretary of the Security Council, a close adviser to President Lukashenko.
- On the other hand, the meeting with the Foreign Minister, which lasted an hour and a half, was cordial, as was the tone of the press communiqué issued afterwards (see Annex 3d). His message on NATO was very similar to that of Russia, but expressed in milder terms as regards Belarus's concerns and criticisms. Those concerns affect enlargement, as Belarus is in the first line of the new NATO neighbours; the allegedly possible stationing of nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO members; and NATO's new missions and doctrines, including "humanitarian intervention" without UN approval. On the positive front, the Minister expressed his country's strong interest in cooperation with NATO through PfP, in particular in order to ensure that enlargement would not be at the expense of Belarus's security.
- Noticeably the press statements issued after the two meetings were either silent or accurate on the purpose of our visit, a visible gesture of appeasement on the part of the authorities.
4. Belarus in Inter-parliamentary Assemblies
- Besides CIS structures, only the Inter-Parliamentary Union has accepted the National Assembly as the legitimate legislative representative of Belarus. Like the NATO PA, the OSCE and Council of Europe Parliamentary Assemblies are uncomfortable with the present situation, and are looking for ways around the problem.
- Meeting in Vienna in February, the OSCE PA's Standing Committee could not accept the recommendation of its Credentials Committee to keep Belarus's chair empty, by explicitly cancelling the representation of the former 13th Supreme Soviet and submitting the eventual recognition of the National Assembly to the country's holding fair and free elections. The rejection of the motion means that at its forthcoming OSCE PA session in Paris (July 2001) delegations of the two Parliaments will be present, as they have been in the past few years, with the 13th Supreme Soviet still claiming Belarus's seat, while the National Assembly uses the garb of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Union of Belarus and Russia to secure attendance.
- The Council of Europe PA, which suspended Belarus's "Special Guest" status in 1997, has been looking for ways to reach out to both the government side and opposition. In January 2001 it organised, at its expense, a hearing at which representatives of the National Assembly (three supporters of Lukashenko and two opponents) and the extra-parliamentary opposition (without reference to the 13th Supreme Soviet) were invited. In March the Bureau of the Assembly decided to "take note" of the intent of the Chairman of the Political Committee, Terry Davis, to "promote contacts with the Belarusian National Assembly" on the occasion of its April session. How this will be done is still being defined. However, it seems that members of the Assembly (including both supporters and opponents of the President) will be invited as guests of Mr Davis. Extra-parliamentary opposition leaders will presumably be present as well, at the invitation of another member. This is allowed by the Council regulations, which provide that Assembly's sessions are public and members can invite outside guests. Short of a particular status, all Belarusian participants will be able to take advantage of the "corridors" to meet Assembly members.
STANDING COMMITTEE AND SUB-COMMITTEE ON DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE
ANNEX 1: PARTICIPANTS LIST
VISIT TO BELARUS
26-27 MARCH 2001
Co-Chairs of the delegation
- Vice-President of the NATO PA / Head of the German Delegation: Mr Markus MECKEL (Germany)
- Chairperson of the Sub-committee on Democratic Governance : Alice MAHON (United Kingdom)
Members of the Standing Committee and Heads of Delegation
- Poland: Mr Czeslaw BIELECKI
- Turkey: Mr Tahir KÖSE
Officers of the Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance
- Vice-President: Mr Firat DAYANYKLY (Turkey)
- Germany: Mrs Uta ZAPF
- Germany: Mr Ulrich IRMER
- Norway: Mr Jon LILLETUN
- United Kingdom: Mr Michael CLAPHAM
- Poland: Mr Mikolaj KARLOWSKI
- Deputy for Policy Co-ordination to the Secretary General: Ms Catherine GUICHERD (France)
Sunday, 25 March
ANNEX 2: PROGRAMME OF THE NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY VISIT TO MINSK, MARCH 25-27 2001
Arrival of the members of the delegation and transfer to the Hotel Oktyabraskaya
15.30 Meeting with NATO countries Ambassadors to Minsk
16.30 Meeting with the Russian Ambassador to Minsk
17.00 Meeting with the Head of the OSCE's AMG, Mr Hans-Georg WIECK
18.00 Reception for the Greek National Day hosted by the Ambassador of Greece
20.00 Meeting with relatives of disappeared political figures
Monday, 26 March
8.00 Breakfast at Hotel Oktyabraskaya with members of the National Assembly:
- Mr A. VOITOVICH, Chairman of Council of the Republic
- Mr M. AVLASEVICH, Deputy Chairman of the Council of the Republic
- Mr N. CHERGINIETS, Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Relations Committee
Counterparts from the House of Representatives were also invited, but they did not attend
9.30 Meeting with civic and political leaders:
- Mr Vladimir BELOZOR, the Republican Party
- Mrs Galina NACHOVKINA, the Belarus Union of Women
- Mr OBRAZOV, the Chernobyl Foundation
- Mr Anatolij NATYLKIN, the Republican Party of Labour and Justice
- Mr PALCHENKO, the Belarus Patriotic Foundation
- Mr Mikhail SHIMANSKIJ, Agrarian Party
- Mr Vladimir ALEKSANDROVICH, the Social and Sports Party
10.30 Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mikhail KHVOSTOV (Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
12.30 Lunch at Hotel Oktybrskaya with opposition candidates in the presidential elections:
- Mr Semion DOMASH, former Head of the Regional Executive Committee of Grodno
- Mr Pavel KOZLOVSKY, former Minister of Defence
- Mr Mikhail CHIGIR, former Prime Minister
- Mr Vladimir GONCHARIK, Head of the Belarusian Federation of Trade Unions
15.00 Meeting with representatives of opposition political parties:
- Mr Nikolaj STATKEVICH, Head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party Popular, Gramada
- Mr Anatolij LEBEDKO, Head of the United Civic Party
- Mr Vintsuk VYACHORKA, Head of the Belarusian Popular Front Adradzennie (could not attend)
- Mr Stanislav SHUSHKEVICH, Head of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party
- Mr Mechaslav HRYB, Belarusian Social Democratic Party Popular, Gramada
16.00 Meeting with opposition members in the National Assembly:
- Mr Vladimir NOVOSYAD, Head of the Public Youth Organisation 'Civic Forum'
- Mr Yurij MOROSOV
- Ms Olga ABRAMOVA, Chairperson of the Belarusian Yabloko Party
17.00 Meeting with trade union leaders:
- Mr Alexander BUKHVOSTOV, Chairman of the Council of Belarusian Automobile Farm Machinery Workers' Union
- Mr Gennadij BYKOV, Head of the Belarusian Free Trade Union
- Mr Viktor BABAYED, Head of the Belarusian Congress of the Democratic Trade Unions
- Mr Aleksandr YAROSHUK, Head of the Federation of Trade Unions
19.00 Reception at Hotel Oktyabrskaya hosted by the Ambassador of Italy
Invitations sent to all participants in the meetings:
Tuesday, March 27
8.00 Breakfast with local think-tank representatives:
- Mr Viacheslav POZDNIAK, Director of the International Institute for Policy Studies
- Mr Oleg MANAEV, Director of the Independent Institute for Social-Economic and Political Research
- Mr Leonid ZAIKO, Director of the Analytical Centre Strategy
- Mr Alexander FEDUTA, President of Social Technologies
- Mr Vitalij SMIRNOV, Presidential Admin. Academy Management
- Mr Andrei VARDOMATSKI, President of Novak
- Mr Alexander POTUPA, Chairman of Entrepreneurs Union
- Mr Mikhail PASTUKHOV, President of the Institute for the Protection of Mass Media within the Belarusian Association of Journalists
- Mr Vasily SHLYNDIKOV, President, Association Contributing to Economic Reforms
- Mr Andrei FEDERAU, International Institute for Policy Studies
10.00 Meeting with media representatives:
- Ms Zhanna LITVINA, President of the Belarusian Association of Journalists
- Mr Roman YAKOVLEVSKY
- Mr Iosif SEREDICH, Editor in Chief, Narodnaja Voliaj
- Mr Vladimir GLOD
- Mr Pavel JAKUBOVICH, Editor in Chief, Sovekskaja Bielorussya
- Mr Yury BUDKO, President of Magic Printing House
- Mr Pavel ZHUK, Editor in Chief, Nasha Svoboda
A delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will be in Minsk from 25 to 27 March 2001. It will be jointly chaired by Mr Markus MECKEL, Vice-President of the NATO PA and Head of the German Delegation to the Assembly, and Alice MAHON (United Kingdom), Chairperson of the Sub-committee on Democratic Governance.
ANNEX 3 - a
NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS TO VISIT BELARUS
BRUSSELS, 21 MARCH 2001
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly is an independent body, which comprises Parliamentarians from the 19 member countries of the Alliance.
The members of the delegation will seek an update on the latest developments in Belarus in view of a report to be written by the Sub-committee which deals with matters of democratisation in Central and Eastern Europe; it will also report back to the Assembly's Standing Committee.
FOREIGN AFFAIRS, NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY DELEGATION TO VISIT TO BELARUS
Belarus Press Agency: Bela PAN
Press releases prior to visit
Minsk, 22 March
A delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly will be in Belarus from March 25 to 27 on a study visit at the invitation of both chambers of the Belarusian National Assembly, Mr Pavel Latushko, press secretary of the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Minsk on March 22.
Among the purposes of the visit will be to establish contact with new members of the National Assembly, Mr Latushko said.
The delegation will be led by German MP Markus Meckel, Vice-President of the Assembly and head of the German delegation to the NATO PA, and Alice Mahon, chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance.
Delegation members plan to discuss Belarus' relations with Russia, Ukraine and the Baltics in the area of security, prospects of the country's cooperation with NATO within the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council, its attitude towards the alliance's expansion and social, political and economic situation in the country, according to Mr Latushko.
The delegation is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov and other Belarusian officials, members of the National Assembly, representatives of the opposition and independent research establishments, Mr Latushko said.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, founded in 1955 with a Brussels-based secretariat brings together 214 national parliamentarians from the 19 NATO countries. Seventeen associate delegations from Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine and Russian take part in nearly all Assembly activities and meetings.
NATO PARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY TO ESTABLISH CONTACTS WITH NEW BELARUS PARLIAMENT
Minsk, 22 March
A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of NATO (PA NATO) is going to visit Belarus on March 25-27, told journalists at a press-conference Belarus Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Pavel Latushko.
The NATO delegation will be headed by chief German delegate to PA NATO Markus Meckel and chairman of the Sub-Committee on Democratic Government Alice Mahon.
One of the basic aims of the visit is establishing contacts with the new Belarus parliamentarians, Mr Latushko said. In the course of their visit the NATO parliamentary officials are to discuss the relations between the North Atlantic Alliance and Belarus, Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic States in the field of defence as well as NATO co-operation with Belarus and the attitude of the latter to the Alliance enlargement. Another issue to be put on the agenda is the political and economic situation in Belarus.
During their visit to Belarus the NATO delegates are to meet with Belarus deputy premier and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov, members of the Belarus parliament and representatives of the Belarus opposition, mass media, political parties and independent research institutes.
According to Mr Latushko, the visit had been initiated by the leadership of the Belarus parliament.
Contrary to the allegations of the Press Secretary of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Belarus, Mr Latushko, the NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation visiting Belarus on 25-27 March is not responding to an invitation of the Parliament of Belarus. The visit is a fact-finding mission, initiated and authorised by the Assembly's Standing Committee in November 2000 during which the delegation will meet with the diplomatic community, the Government of Belarus, Belarussian politicians, and respresentatives of the non-governmental sector. The NATO Parliamentary Assembly considers the present attempt by the Belarussian authorities to misrepresent the true nature of this visit as particularly unhelpful to the establishment of good relations between the Assembly and the people of Belarus.
Press Release [Ref: 2 PR - CC/DG (01)]
NATO PA Visit to Belarus - Clarifying the Objectives
23 March 2001
Background: The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, founded in 1955 with a Brussels-based secretariat, brings together 214 national parliamentarians from the 19 NATO countries. 17 Associate delegations from Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia take part in nearly all Assembly activities and meetings. Since 1994 the Assembly has developed regular contacts with 10 countries of the Maghreb and Middle East, as well as Cyprus and Malta.
UPPER PARLIAMENTARY CHAMBER REFER TO DIALOGUE WITH NATO PA "CORRECT AND PRODUCTIVE"
ANNEX 3-d: Belarus Press Agency : Bela PAN, Press releases following visit : 26 March 2001
The upper house of the Belarusian parliament views the negotiations with representatives of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly (NATO PA) as "correct and productive". Interfax learned this evaluation from Mr Nikolay Cherginets, chief of the parliamentary commission for international affairs and national security.
According to the senator, NATO parliamentarians were eager to know information about preparations for the presidential elections, amendments to the Constitution, disappearances of the political and public figures.
Members of the NATO PA delegation expressed doubt that the forthcoming presidential elections in Belarus will be held in compliance with European democratic standards.
According to Mr Cherginets, the parties have come to realise contacts of the Belarusian parliament with international parliamentary organisations is both necessary and useful.
BELARUS INTERESTED IN COOPERATION WITH NATO-FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTRY
Belarus is interested in "constructive cooperation" with NATO, vice-PM, Foreign Affairs Minister Mikhail Khvostov has informed on Monday during his meeting with the NATO PA delegation.
Mr Khvostov believes, cooperation with NATO is extremely important for national and international security, yet Belarus and NATO's approaches to crises settlement differ, in particular with regard to use of force in conflict territories.
Mr Khvostov has also announced Belarus's position in respect of NATO expansion, namely, that it has no geopolitical prospects in the view of the Warsaw Treaty self-dissolution. "Belarus is interested in a good-neighbourly border with NATO, not a demarcation line", he adds.
As far as NATO expansion is concerned, Belarus is worried by "the nuclear arms presence in the countries who had no such weapons before they joined NATO". The Minister confirms Belarus's initiative to form a nuclear-arms-free zone in Central and Eastern Europe.
Besides, Mr Khvostov wants to know NATO PA aims as its delegation is visiting Belarus, and the MP's role in "implementing NATO ideology", in settling the Macedonia conflict, as well as how PA cooperates with other countries' MPs and what Belarus's prospects are in restoring its international parliamentary membership.
Interfax has reported earlier, the NATO PA delegation is staying in Belarus since March 25 with a "get-to-know" visit aimed at "estimating the political and social-economic situation on the eve of presidential election", members of the delegation informs.
A delegation of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, co-chaired by NATO PA Vice-President Markus Meckel and Alice Mahon, Chairperson of the Sub-Committee on Democratic Governance, visited Minsk on a fact-finding mission on 25-27 March 2001.
NATO Parliamentarians Conclude visit to Belarus
Brussels, 27 March 2001
Over the two day visit the delegation held extensive discussions with the diplomatic community, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Mikhail Khvostov, Belarusian parliamentarians, members of the political opposition not represented in Parliament, trade union leaders, potential candidates in the forthcoming presidential election, civic organisations, think tanks, media representatives, and relatives of disappeared political figures.
The NATO PA delegation expresses its conviction that Belarus has a vocation to join the family of democratic European nations. It is ready to back all efforts that will help bring about the realisation of that perspective, stressing that policies tending to isolate Belarus would be counter-productive.
It voices its concern that some recent developments, such as Decree number 8 (12 March) submitting international aid to NGO_s and civic organisations to exacting government control, are not conducive to the goal of democratisation.
It considers that the conditions in which the presidential elections due later this year will be carried out shall be a key test of the Belarusian Government_s real commitment to democracy.
In accordance with its conviction that an open door should be kept for Belarus_ integration into European institutions, the NATO PA delegation emphasises the importance of pursuing dialogue with all the components of Belarusian society, including Belarusian Parliamentarians, with a view to furthering democracy in the country.
Background: The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, founded in 1955 with a Brussels-based secretariat, brings together 214 national parliamentarians from the 19 NATO countries. 17 Associate delegations from Central and Eastern Europe, Ukraine, and Russia take part in nearly all Assembly activities and meetings. Since 1994 the Assembly has developed regular contacts with 10 countries of the Maghreb and Middle East, as well as Cyprus and Malta.
I. EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS, 15 and 29 October 2000
OSCE/ODIHR Technical Assessment Mission, Final Report 1
The 15 and 29 October parliamentary elections in Belarus failed to meet international standards for democratic elections, including those formulated in the 1990 Copenhagen Document of the OSCE. In particular, the elections fell short of meeting the minimum commitments for free, fair, equal, accountable, and transparent elections. Despite some improvements since previous elections, the process remained flawed.
Considering the pre-election environment in Belarus and flawed election day provisions in the law, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), and the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG), together with the Council of Europe, the European Parliament, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the Inter-Parliamentary Assembly of the CIS decided at a conference in Vienna on 30 August that OSCE/ODIHR would deploy a Technical Assessment Mission (TAM) for the 15 October elections. In addition, the conference decided not to deploy observers to monitor election-day proceedings, as in the best of circumstances, the fundamental shortcomings of these elections could not be remedied.
However, eleven representatives of the Parliamentary Troika of the OSCE, the Council of Europe and the European Union also visited Belarus during the election period and prepared a political assessment in light of the OSCE/ODIHR Technical Assessment Mission's findings and conclusions. The assessment of the Parliamentary Troika (see Annex 1) was presented jointly with the TAM's findings during a press conference on 16 October.
The factors contributing to the failure of these elections to meet international standards include:
- The electoral legislation, adopted in early 2000 and amended in June, while improved, still includes substantial and fundamental deficiencies;
- The executive apparatus maintained control on election commissions;
- Candidate registration procedures were abused to prevent undesirable candidates from participating in the elections, limiting voters' choice;
- Campaign activities were regulated excessively, limiting candidate performance;
- Significant restrictions on the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly and association had an intimidatory and constraining effect on the campaign. As a result, the authorities' agreement to respect a "period of peace" during the electoral campaign was not fulfilled;
- Insufficient respect for the rule of law and due process of law, together with observed instances of the executive interfering with the independence of the judiciary, created an uncertain legal environment characterized by arbitrary implementation of laws;
- Heavily biased State-controlled media dominated the electronic and print sectors, and no effective counterbalance was provided by the independent media. In the end, candidates had very limited access to the media; and
- Provisions for early voting, mobile ballot boxes, the vote count and aggregation of results, far short of minimum transparency requirements for independent verification.
These shortcomings remained despite measures undertaken by the authorities during the summer in an attempt to improve the electoral process, including amendments to the new electoral legislation and measures proposed by the President. The most notable of these improvements over previous elections include:
- The electoral appeals process was opened to the public, enhancing transparency in this area;
- Independent domestic observers worked within an improved regulatory framework, and this promoted the transparency of the electoral process;
- The appointment of representatives from some political parties participating in the election as consultative and non-voting members of the Central Election Commission represented a welcome step towards greater pluralism and transparency;
- The opportunity for some leading opposition figures to continue advocating a boycott without being subject to prosecution, including on the eve of polling, or to take part in the elections as candidates, and their ability to campaign and to criticize the authorities was a welcome step; and
- The revocation of a requirement that political parties must be registered at the regional level in addition to the national in order to field candidates in the constituencies.
In view of the concerns outlined above, the OSCE/ODIHR recommends:
- All legislation relating to the elections should be amended to ensure harmonization with the Electoral Code, including all relevant public order legislation, and should remedy concerns outlined in this report and detailed in the recommendations section;
- Fundamental freedoms, including association and expression, should be fully respected during the election period;
- Election commissions at all levels should include full members representing the political spectrum;
- The candidate registration process should be more inclusive; and
- The Electoral Code should be amended to introduce detailed rules and regulations requiring equal access to State media.
The OSCE/ODIHR stands ready to continue the dialogue with the authorities and civil society of Belarus in order to address the concerns contained in this report and in view of the forthcoming presidential election.
PARLIAMENTARY TROIKA ISSUES STATEMENT ON BELARUS
ANNEX 4-b: Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Advisory and Monitoring Group in Belarus, 07 March 2001
MINSK, 7 March 2001 - The Parliamentary Troika, composed of members of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assemblies of the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, visited Belarus 5-7 March 2001.
The delegation was chaired by Mr. Adrian Severin, President of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, Mr. Jan Marinus Wiersm, Chairman of the European Parliament delegation for relations with Belarus, and Mr. Terry Davis, Chairman of the Political Affairs Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. Other members of the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE and the Council of Europe were also part of the delegation.
The visit of the delegation took place as part of a continuing, joint effort of the three Parliamentary institutions to further democratic developments in Belarus and on the basis of a profound wish to integrate Belarus and its people in the democratic structures of Europe.
The members of the delegation held several meetings with representatives of the Government and the institutions of the Republic of Belarus, as well as with representatives of the political opposition and civil society, in order to be informed about the situation in the country after the Parliamentary Elections of October 2000 and in the run-up to the Presidential Elections which will take place later this year. They met with the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Khvostov; the Head of the Presidential Administration, Mr. Myasnikovick; the President of the Electoral Committee, Ms. Ermoshina; the Speaker, Mr Popov, and the Leadership of Chamber of Representatives, the Speaker Mr Voitovich and the Leadership of the Council of the Republic. They also met with potential candidates for the upcoming Presidential Elections, the Advisory Council of Political Parties and the 13th Supreme Soviet Presidium, representatives of trade unions and women organizations and with representatives of human rights groups and NGOs as well as with relatives of disappeared persons.
During the preparation for the Parliamentary Elections, the Parliamentary Troika and its institutions had formulated four criteria, regarding transparency of the electoral process, access to the mass media, meaningful powers for the new Parliament and the observance of a "peace period". These criteria were considered as necessary conditions for the elections to be free and fair. In October 2000, the Parliamentary Troika had to conclude that insufficient progress had been achieved to satisfy the four criteria and that normal relations with the Parliamentary body resulting from these elections could therefore not be recommended. The Parliamentary Troika will be closely watching further developments, in particular the conditions governing the by-elections taking place on 18 March 2001, before taking any further steps on this issue.
With a view to the Presidential Elections, which will take place later this year, the Parliamentary Troika stressed that free and democratic conduct of these elections would be considered as a major progress in the process of democratization in Belarus, and would therefore contribute to ending the international isolation of the country. It must come as no surprise that the Troika will apply the same criteria to those Presidential Elections.
In order for the Presidential Elections to be recognized as free and democratic the Parliamentary Troika expects:
- that the process of preparation and implementation of these elections will be fully transparent and democratic in all its aspects, in particular as regards the process of registration of the candidates, the composition of the electoral commissions and the counting of the votes;
- that the conditions of access to the mass media, in particular to the electronic media, and other possibilities for organising their election campaign will be equal for all candidates;
- that all bodies of the State and the Government will completely refrain from any act that may be considered as harassment of candidates, their relatives or their supporters;
- that all those engaged in (especially non-candidate related) domestic election observation and the recruitment and training for these activities will be completely free in carrying out their work, also in cooperation with international institutions, which constitutes an essential element in guaranteeing the transparency and verifiability of the electoral process.
The Parliamentary Troika stresses that it is part of the democratization process that the people of Belarus will have a true possibility of choice when electing their president.
The Parliamentary Troika points out that the organization of the elections according to international standards as formulated by the OSCE, is only part of the democratization process.
The Parliamentary Troika expresses its continuing concern about the human rights situation and at the lack of progress in investigating the disappearances of political opponents, Mr Zakharenko, Mr Gonchar, Mr Krasovsky as well as the journalist Mr Zavadsky.
The Parliamentary Troika expresses once again its full commitment to improve relations with the people of Belarus as part of the process to increase peace and stability in the whole of Europe. It will therefore continue to offer its support, and the support of the institutions it represents, to all those interested in the strengthening of the democratic process in Belarus, be they opposition or administration.
A European Union Troika delegation consisting of:
OSCE Press Release
9 February 2001
Mr Hans Magnusson: Deputy Director-General, Head of Department of Central and Eastern Europe, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr Luc Jacobs Counsellor, Deputy Head of the Eastern Europe Department, Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Mr Juergen Koeppen Head of the Unit for Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova at the European Union Commission
Mr Manfredo Fanti Desk officer for Moldova and Belarus, European Union Commission
Mr Christian Brunmayr Principal Administrator, Secretariat General of the Council of the European Union
Ms Karin Anderman Desk officer for Belarus, Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs
visited Minsk (8-9 February) on a fact-finding mission.
The delegation had extensive discussions with officials of the Presidential Administration, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, opposition political leaders, deputies, trade union leaders and journalists.
The Troika underlined the importance it attaches to the further development of democratic procedures leading to free and fair elections.
The Troika also expressed its continuing concern about the human rights situation and at the lack of progress in investigating the disappearances of members of the political opposition.
The EU continues to support the valuable contribution of the AMG in advancing civil society and in assisting in the creation of the proper conditions for free and fair elections.
The importance of freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and of a free and independent media as well as a strong and healthy trade union movement was also stressed in this context.