Belarus wasted a golden opportunity to show the international community that it could take an important step towards democracy and freedom.
Two years ago, Belarus held an election that was deemed fraudulent by western observers. That, and a poor human rights record caused the United States to impose travel restrictions on high-ranking government officials, and economic sanctions on a group of companies controlled by the Belarussian government. The European Union has also placed sanctions on Belarus.
The sanctions clearly had an effect, and President Aleksandr Lukashenko made several concessions. He released a group of political prisoners early in the year, and in August, he released the country’s last three political prisoners and promised an election that would conform to international standards. In return, Mr. Lukashenko demanded a lifting of all sanctions.
The United States held high hopes for a substantially improved election as the citizens of Belarus went to the polls on September 28. However, international monitors said the elections fell significantly short of international standards, and the United States agrees with that assessment. International observers reported that the vote count was plagued by cheating, that foreign observers were denied access to the vote count process, and that there were significant discrepancies between the number of voters observed and the number of votes recorded. Any improvements in the electoral process were minimal.
The United States remains hopeful that positive steps on the part of Belarus will lead to better relations between our two countries. “It is the intention of the United States to maintain our dialogue with the government and people of Belarus,” said U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack in a statement.
“We encourage authorities to take steps to uphold Belarus’ international commitments to promote democratic freedoms, including holding genuinely competitive elections, and to improving respect for internationally recognized human rights. Such steps are necessary in order for relations between the United States and Belarus to improve significantly.”