Foreign ministers step up rhetoric against Belarus

 

Belarus has been turned into a country “driven by fear” and is run by a dictator who has lost the legitimacy to rule his own people according to a damning joint statement from the foreign ministers of Britain, Sweden, Germany and Poland published exclusively in The Independent.

The joint letter – which is signed by Britain’s foreign secretary William Hague, Germany's Guido Westervelle, Sweden's Carl Bildt and Poland's Radoslaw Sikorski – is a stinging critique of Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and represents a significantly more confrontational stance by Europe towards the continent's last dictatorship.

The foreign ministers say they will push for further sanctions against the Belarusian regime which is currently in the middle of a brutal crackdown against pro-democracy dissidents and protesters. The timing of the letter is significant. One year ago today [MON], riot police marched on tens of thousands of protesters who had gathered in Minsk following last year's disputed presidential elections and beat them remorselessly.

Hundreds were arrested and imprisoned including virtually all those who had dared to run against Mr Lukashenko in the elections which were dismissed by independent observers as falling far short of international standards. While Europe has been condemnatory of the crackdown, its response has largely rested on increasing the number of Belarusian officials placed on its travel ban list – something many opposition figures say has been ineffective.

Now Britain, Sweden, Germany and Poland will lobby for much tougher sanctions including going after the finances of anyone involved in human rights abuses.

“In the face of Lukashenko’s continuing repression against his own people, we have no choice but to argue for a strengthening of EU policy towards Belarus, both in terms of the sanctions regime, and in terms of EU support for Belarusian civil society,” the statement reads. “We will push for harsher EU sanctions, targeted at those responsible for serious human rights abuses and those who back the regime financially – not ordinary Belarusians.”

The foreign ministers say Mr Lukashenko's “crass and selfish” policies has led to economic crisis in his country, which is desperately in debt and has seen a significant decline in living standards over the last nine months.

In condemning Mr Lukashenko's human rights record they write: “Belarus is reduced to a country driven by fear. Brave individuals are suffering inhumane treatment in prison because they refuse to give in to attempts to make them ‘confess’ to crimes they have not committed.”

Individuals named by the foreign secretaries as prisoners of conscience include political dissidents Andrei Sannikov, Mikalai Statkevich, Zmitser Daskevich and Dzmitry Bandarenka. They also lament the recent jailing of prominent human rights activist Ales Byalyatski on “trumped up tax evasion charges”.

The joint statement comes just days after the Foreign Office held secret talks with Belarusian opposition candidates, as revealed in The Independent. The dissidents called for greater and more unified action from Europe to halt what they described as a human rights tragedy happening on their doorstep.

Letters: Belarus and human rights

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all