50. Belarus (1991-present)

 

Crisis Phase (August 25, 1991-present): Belarus declared its independence from the Soviet Union on August 25, 1991.  Alyaksandr Lukashenka was elected president with more than 80 percent of the vote in a runoff election on July 10, 1994, and he was inaugurated as president on July 20, 1994.  The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly (PA) and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) established an election observation mission to monitor the presidential elections.  Parliamentary elections were held on May 14 and May 28, 1995, but only 119 out of 260 seats in the unicameral parliament were filled.  The OSCE/ODIHR sent observers to monitor the parliamentary elections.  The Council of Europe (COE) Parliamentary Assembly sent observers to monitor the parliamentary elections.  The Norwegian Helsinki Committee (NHC) sent two observers to monitor the parliamentary elections, and the NHC mission issued a report on May 24, 1995.  Another 20 seats were filled in parliamentary elections on November 29, 1995, and 59 seats were filled in parliamentary elections on December 10, 1995.  The OSCE/ODIHR established an election observation mission to monitor the parliamentary elections, and reported that the elections were not free and fair.  Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin of Russia attempted to mediate a resolution of a political dispute between President Lukashenko and members of the parliament on November 22, 1996.  Belarus voters approved amendments to the constitution in a referendum on November 24, 1996, which increased the power of the presidency and extended the president’s term to 2001.  The British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) sent four observers to monitor the referendum.  President Lukashenka dissolved the unicameral parliament, and appointed a new bicameral parliament with a 110-member House of Representatives and 64-member Council of the Republic.  Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir resigned as prime minister in November 1996.  The Council of Europe (COE) Parliamentary Assembly imposed diplomatic sanctions (suspension of membership) against Belarus on January 13, 1997.  The European Union (EU) sent a fact-finding mission to Belarus on January 26-31, 1997, and the EU mission issued a report critical of the government on March 3, 1997.  Sergei Ling was approved as prime minister by the parliament on February 19, 1997.   On September 18, 1997, the OSCE Permanent Council established the OSCE Advisory and Monitoring Group (AMG) to promote and monitor human rights and democracy.  The OSCE AMG consisted of five personnel headed by Hans-Georg Wieck of Germany.  Government police detained Tatyana Protko, head of the Belarussian Helsinki Committee (BHC), on October 23, 1997.  Amnesty International (AI) condemned the government for the detention of Tatyana Protko on October 23, 1997.  The EU imposed diplomatic sanctions (ban on official travel) against the government on July 13, 1998, and the US imposed diplomatic sanctions (ban on official travel) against Belarus on July 14, 1998.  Former Prime Minister Mikhail Chygir was arrested for embezzlement on March 30, 1999.  The US State Department condemned the arrest of Mikhail Chygir on March 31, 1999.  Local elections were held on April 4, 1999, but the elections were boycotted by opposition political parties.  The OSCE AMG, which did not formally monitor the local elections, declared that the elections were not democratic on April 5, 1999.  On June 9, 1999, the COE Parliamentary Assembly called for free elections under international supervision in Belarus, and called for the release of Mikhail Chygir from custody.  The OSCE attempted to mediate negotiations between representatives of the government and opposition groups in Bucharest, Romania on June 11-14, 1999, but the Belarus government refused to participate in the negotiations.  Government police violently suppressed demonstrations by some 20,000 individuals in Minsk on March 17, 1999.  The US condemned the government on October 19, 1999.  Some 20,000 individuals demonstrated against the government in Minsk on March 15, 2000.  The US condemned the government on March 21, 2000. Government police suppressed pro-democracy demonstration in Minsk on March 26, 2000.  The US condemned the government on March 27, 2000.  Parliamentary elections were held on October 15, 2000. The OSCE/ODIHR established a technical assistance mission headed by Elisabeth Rasmusson to evaluate the parliamentary elections beginning on September 14, 2000.  The International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHFHR) sent observers to monitor the parliamentary elections.  The US condemned the government on October 13, 2000.  The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Parliamentary Assembly (PA) sent a fact-finding mission consisting of eleven personnel headed by Markus Meckel of Germany and Alice Mahon of Britain on March 25-27, 2001.  Presidential elections were held on September 9, 2001.  The OSCE/ODIHR established the International Limited Election Observation Mission (ILEOM), which consisted of 265 short-term observers and 15 long-term observers headed by Hrair Balian, to monitor the presidential election from August 17 to September 10, 2001.  The COE Parliamentary Assembly sent nine observers from seven countries to monitor the presidential election on September 5-10, 2001. The British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) sent eight observers from four countries to monitor the presidential election.  The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Inter-Parliamentary Assembly sent observers to monitor the presidential election, and reported that the election had been “free and fair”.  The OSCE AMG was disbanded on December 31, 2002, and the OSCE Office in Minsk consisting of five personnel headed by Ambassador Ake Peterson of Sweden was established on January 1, 2003.  Parliamentary elections were held on October 13-17, 2004, and non-partisan candidates won 98 out of 110 seats in the House of Representatives.  The OSCE/ODIHR sent some 300 observers to monitor the parliamentary elections from September 2 to October 18, 2004.  The CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly sent 248 observers from eleven countries to monitor the parliamentary elections from September 6 to October 18, 2004.  An amendment to the constitution to eliminate the restrictions on the number of terms for president was approved by 90.3 percent of the voters in a referendum held on October 17, 2004.  The US imposed economic sanctions (suspension of economic assistance) against the government on October 20, 2004.  President Lukashenko was re-elected to a third term with 82.6 percent of the vote on March 19, 2006.  The CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly sent 17 observers to monitor the presidential election.  The OSCE/ODIHR sent some 450 observers headed by Ambassador Geert-Hinrich Ahrens of Germany to monitor the presidential election from February 6 to March 20, 2006.

[Sources: Amnesty International (AI) press release, October 23, 1997; Associated Press (AP), April 5, 1999, March 15, 2000; Banks and Muller, 1998, 79-83; British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) October 18, 2004, March 15, 2006, March 20, 2006, March 24, 2006; British Helsinki Human Rights Group (BHHRG) press release, September 10, 2001; Council of Europe (COE) press release, September 4, 2001; Keesing’s Record of World Events, July 1994; New York Times (NYT), March 20, 2006; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) newsletter, January 1996; Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Parliamentary Assembly (PA)/Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) press release, September 15, 2000, September 2, 2004, October 11, 2004, October 18, 2004, February 10, 2006, March 20, 2006; OSCE/ODIHR statement, October 16, 2000, September 10, 2001, October 18, 2004, March 20, 2006; Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), November 21, 1996, November 22, 1996, January 13, 1997, February 17, 1997, March 11, 1997, July 15, 1998, August 17, 2001; Reuters, March 10, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 5, 1999, June 7, 1999, June 9, 1999, June 10, 1999, March 27, 2000; US Department of State press release, March 21, 2000, March 27, 2000, October 13, 2000.]