In February 2016, the European Union agreed to lift most of the sanctions against Belarus due to “improving EU-Belarus relations”. The sanctions lifted included an asset freeze and travel ban on President Alexander Lukashenko himself. Concerns were raised at the time regarding ongoing human rights abuses in Belarus. Over a year later, in the face of continuing repression in the country, it seems that such concerns were well-founded. Here are just a few examples of the human rights abuses which have taken place in Belarus since the removal of these sanctions:
Continued use of the death penalty
Belarus is the only country in Europe which retains the death penalty. In October 2016, just months after EU sanctions were lifted, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) reported that Belarus had resumed sentencing people to death. According to the report, it is believed that around 400 people have been executed in Belarus since it gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. In a continuance of this trend, Belarus was believed to have carried out its first execution this year in May 2017.
Extraditions & Deportations
The last year has also shown that, for foreign nationals seeking asylum elsewhere, Belarus is a dangerous transit point. Just last week, Belarus police stopped a Chechen woman at Minsk airport who was en route to Norway. She had been offered asylum in Norway after receiving threats on social media regarding her ‘loose’ behaviour. Police returned the woman to her father who was waiting to take her back to the country she had fled. The handing over of another Chechen asylum seeker by Belarusian authorities was similarly reported in June 2017.
Freedom of Expression
Since the lifting of sanctions, President Lukashenko has continued to crack down on freedom of expression. In March 2017, protests took place throughout Belarus against the so called ‘Parasite Tax’. The proposed tax was intended to punish the unemployed in Belarus who the State deemed ‘social parasites’. In response to the protests, riot police arrested hundreds of protesters. The video below shows riot police beating protesters and even arresting the elderly.
As the above examples demonstrate, far from improving the human rights situation in Belarus, the removal of EU sanctions has allowed dictatorship and repression to flourish.