Obama Signs Belarus Sanctions into Law
January 11, 2012
By: Garrett Nada | Printer Friendly
On January 3, President Obama signed the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 into law. Congress passed the act in December in response to a growing list of alleged human rights abuses on the part of Belarus. Most recently, on January 6, a law restricting the use of the Internet by Belarusian firms and state institutions came into force. According to Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, the new legislation bans users from accessing 35 specific websites, many of which are pornographic or extremist. However, some opposition political websites appear on the list as well. The law also requires Internet cafes to collect information on the web pages their clients visit.
The New American recounts how the Government of Belarus, headed by President Alexander Lukashenko, has spent the last year violently cracking down on pro-democracy activists, harassing select ethnic and religious minorities, tightening control over media and suppressing the right to freedom of speech and expression. This behavior prompted the European Union (EU) to pass a series of sanctions on June 20, 2011. According to The Independent, a major issue for the EU is the imprisonment of scores of political prisoners. RIA Novosti reported in December that the EU added individuals to its list of 245 Belarusian officials banned from travelling to the EU and whose foreign assets were frozen due to their alleged involvement in cracking down on the opposition.
The new US law labels Lukashenko a “dictator” for “orchestrating an illegal and unconstitutional referendum that enabled him to impose a new constitution, abolishing the duly elected parliament, the 13th Supreme Soviet, installing a largely powerless National Assembly, extending his term in office, and removing applicable term limits.” Also the law requires the US to investigate Belarus’ arm deals, media censorship and refusal to issue travel visas to some Belarusian officials.
The law does, however, give Belarus the opportunity to redeem itself. The bill states that the US will “remain open to reevaluating its policy toward Belarus as warranted by demonstrable progress made by the government of Belarus.” Likewise, in December, RIA Novosti reported the EU’s announcement that it would only lift the sanctions if political prisoners were freed.
For previous news on Belarus, please see:
Belarus Strengthens Anti-Protest Law Amid Growing Popular Discontent
US Government Printing Office - Belarus Democracy and Human Rights Act of 2011
The New American - Obama Signs Belarus Sanctions; Calls Belarus President a "Dictator"
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty - Law Tightening Internet Use In Belarus Goes Into Effect
The Independent - EU passes Belarus sanctions
RIA Novosti - EU says will only lift Belarus sanctions after political prisoners released