What the author of the “Belarus Democracy Act” said at the hearings in the US Congress.
On May 6, the Human Rights Commission of the US Congress held a hearing on democracy and human rights in Belarus. The hearings were held online, they were led by American congressmen who actively support the democratic movement of Belarusians: James McGovern and the author of the “Belarus Democracy Act” Christopher Smith.
Radio Svaboda published Congressman Smith's opening remarks at the hearings:
- Nine months ago, the world witnessed tens of thousands of Belarusian demonstrators - in some cases, more than a hundred thousand - took to the streets of Minsk and other cities in protest against extremely dishonest elections.
These peaceful protesters were - and continue to be - smart, resourceful, determined, and extremely heroic.
According to one estimate, thirty-three thousand women and men were temporarily detained or imprisoned in places where many of them were subjected to extreme cruelty, torture, and other forms of violence.
The thugs of Aliaksandr Lukashenka beat and persecute peaceful demonstrators and journalists. On the streets, Belarusian women in white contrast strongly with Lukashenka's thugs.
People of different ages and backgrounds want Lukashenka to leave. They want reliable democracy. They want freedom and universally recognized human rights. And they want the repression to end and the release of political prisoners.
A few days ago, the Associated Press reported that "the Olympic silver medalist, who is one of the most famous athletes in Belarus, declares that he is on a 10-day hunger strike in support of victims of political repression in the country."
"Andrei Krauchanka, who won a decathlon medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, said on Friday that he is also selling a gold medal from the 2011 European Decathlon Championships to help families of political prisoners."
Today's hearings will examine Lukashenka's systematic violations of human rights since August last year, but in fact - during the entire period of the last dictator in Europe since July 1994.
In the August elections, Lukashenka lost to Sviatlana Tsikhonouskaya.
Lukashenka lost the election but is still in power.
According to the OSCE, the elections were not transparent, free, and fair.
Lukashenka's illegitimate rule, backed by his security forces and Russia, continues to have dire consequences for the Belarusian people.
On April 26 - literally last week - Lukashenka residents dispersed the procession on the occasion of the 35th anniversary of Chernobyl, a huge disaster at the nuclear power plant that occurred at the end of April 1986 in Chernobyl. As a result of that disaster, many people in Belarus and Ukraine suffer from cancer caused by radioactive releases.
I held two hearings, on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Chernobyl and then the 20th, and was shocked by the health consequences for the citizens of both countries. Now in Belarus, even a march in memory of those victims has been dispersed by the authorities.
A quarter of a century after he first came to power, a Soviet-style communist dictator still rules Belarus. Lukashenka denies Belarusians well-being, freedom, and dignity, which are their birthright.
I will note that these hearings are taking place shortly after the anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1791, which included Belarus. On that day 230 years ago, Europe made a giant leap forward in the first written Constitution on the continent, establishing the principle of government responsibility to popular will and the rule of law. In this spirit, peaceful protests took place in Belarus, and my colleagues in Congress and I believe that Belarusians will be able to determine the path to a flourishing democracy that will consolidate human rights after Lukashenka.
However, expecting this dictatorship to come to Jefferson's principle of governed consent is a hopeless affair.
This power is supported by strength, not respect for the dignity of one's own people. The world community should not be blind to this. In the past, the United States and European countries have taken tough measures after another rigged election by Lukashenka. But, over time, these measures have softened.
Not this time.
I am the main author of the 2020 law on democracy, human rights, and sovereignty of Belarus, which was first passed by the House of Representatives and then signed by President Trump. I was also the author of the Belarus Democracy Acts 2004, 2006, and 2011; this time, our resolve must be consistent.
I welcome the efforts of the courageous people of Belarus to ensure true democracy and respect for human rights for their country - especially since August 9, when the people began mass rallies.