U.S. Envoy Contrasts Belarus with Flourishing Democracy in Ukraine

Ambassador Finley chides Russia over its support for Belarus dictator

By Jeffrey Thomas

Washington -- Russian support for the Belarusian regime of Aleksandr Lukashenko in the wake of fraudulent elections in March drew a rebuke from the U.S. representative to Europe's largest human rights organization, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have referred to Lukashenko's government as the "last outpost of tyranny in Europe."

Russia welcomed the result of the March 19 presidential election in Belarus, declaring the poll free and fair, even as the international election observation mission charged with evaluating the electoral process deemed it "severely flawed." Citing the election observation mission's findings, the United States refused to accept the results and supported opposition calls for a new vote. (See related article.)

During the 11 days since the vote, while the United States and Europe have united to impose new sanctions on those responsible for the sham vote and to call for the release of jailed journalists, peaceful protestors and leaders of the opposition, Russia has accused the OSCE of taking sides before the vote and instigating the protests. (See related article.)

President Bush sent words of support to Belarusian protestors March 24, promising the United States "will continue to stand with the people of Belarus and all those who are working to help Belarus take its rightful place in the community of democracies." (See related article.)

"We have been disappointed with recent criticism by the Russian Federation of the Belarus opposition protests and of OSCE activities including most notably ODIHR [Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights]," said Ambassador Julie Finley, addressing the OSCE March 30 in Vienna, Austria.

One of the primary tasks of ODIHR is to monitor elections. Georgia's "Rose Revolution" in 2003, Ukraine's "Orange Revolutyion" in 2004 and Kyrgyzstan's "Tulip revolution" in 2005 all forced out governments after elections judged seriously flawed by international election monitors associated with ODIHR.

Finley contrasted the Belarusian government's "flagrant and total disregard for the democratic process and OSCE values" with the free and fair electoral process provided by the Ukrainian government. "Ukraine has made an astonishing amount of progress in the past year and should serve as an inspiration to others," Finley said.

She also criticized a Russian observer participating in the Belarus Election Observation Mission for breaking the observer code of conduct by publicly criticizing ODIHR's findings. Russian criticism of the OSCE's observation mission in Belarus appeared to be based on "political disagreement with the conclusions," Finley said.

"We call on all OSCE participating states, and of course including the Russian Federation, to help press and encourage the Belarusian authorities to respect the rights of the Belarusian people and to fulfill their OSCE commitments," Finley said.

The United States has "serious concerns" about the lack of due process accorded to those who have been arrested in the post-election crackdown in Belarus and the reported conditions in detention centers, Finley said.

"The United States calls on Belarusian authorities to release without delay the hundreds of citizens who have been detained for simply expressing their political views," the permanent U.S. representative to the OSCE said.