European External Action Service

06/08/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/08/2021 22:29

Belarus: Remarks by the High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell at the EP plenary debate

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Ms President, Honourable Members of the European Parliament,

It is certainly the right moment to talk about Belarus. Belarus is again at the very top of the international agenda for the events that everybody knows and the continued repression by Lukashenko's regime.

This repression has been strongly condemned, as much as the massive human rights violations, which continue unabated since the past elections in August 2020, almost one year ago.

The recent events are related with the hijacking of a European Union airplane flying between two European Union capitals, and forcing it to land in Minsk, with the intervention of a fighter jet, which is an act that overstepped many red lines. Not only it has jeopardised the security of over 100 passengers, but it has also challenged international rules relating with air transportation. The subsequent arrest of a young Belarusian journalist [Raman Pratasevich] as well as his partner [Sofia Sapega] is an abhorrent act. Their forced confessions on state television is another example of the flagrant violations of basic human rights that Lukashenko's regime commit. It was certainly awful to watch these images of these people detained, crying and recognising in front of the state television like he has been committing I do not know how many crimes against Belarus. Believe me, it was a shameful image.

We had to respond decisively against these images, against these facts, and already the day after the hijacking of the Ryanair flight, the European Council met, brought up this issue on the agenda and took decisions.

The European Council called for additional sanctions, and for the first time they decided to include targeted economic sanctions. Until now all our sanctions [vis-a-vis Belarus] are usually taken on a personal basis, affecting individuals and entities, but not the whole economy of the country. This time the Council requested to take targeted economic sanctions.

The Council also requested that all European Union-based air carriers avoid overflights of Belarus.

It called also for adopting the necessary measures to ban overflight of the European Union airspace by Belarusian airlines and prevent access to European Union airports of flights operated by such airlines. And I can tell you that these measures have already been adopted last week and I will give you some details about it.

Listings of individuals and companies, including those involved in the Ryanair incident, are well on track for adoption and they will be adopted by written procedure in the following days.

As mandated by the European Council, and together with the Commission, we have started [preparing] targeted economic sanctions as the Council requested. They will be adopted at the next Foreign Affairs Council, I hope that the technical work will be finished and it will be affecting critical sectors of the Belarusian economy. But the final decision belongs to the Member States; I hope they will be united on that.

In the meantime, we will continue to address the human rights violations in international fora. Let us not forget that there are now, we calculate, almost 450 political prisoners in Belarus. This group includes journalists arrested for simply doing their jobs - informing, students, representatives of civil society and ordinary citizens who protested against their freedoms and rights being taken away by the regime.

We have been contributing to the establishment of mechanism to hold the perpetrators of human rights violations responsible and we will continue to support the victims and look for the accountability of perpetrators.

We have published a plan for a €3 billion economic and investment package in support of a democratic Belarus, sending a message of hope and support to the people of Belarus, showing the prospects for a more prosperous country once they come back to a democratic system. This should be a strong incentive for economic development, should the country change. This €3 billion economic plan will support it. This is a way of proving that we stand with the Belarusian people, and we will continue doing so in the future.

I am very much looking forward to listening to your remarks on this situation.

Thank you very much.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206994

Closing remarks

Ms President, Honourable Members,

I have to agree with all of you. There is no doubt that the repression in Belarus has intensified, that it has reached the point where any expression of dissent is immediately, brutally repressed.

There is no more massive protest in the streets. No, it does not take place anymore because this is not a return to normality but this is the result of systematic and brutal repression. The [Belarusian] legislation has also been gradually amended to shrink even more the limited space for any legal democratic activities of the society and to legally justify abuses and violations of human rights. This includes a decree recently signed by Lukashenko, allowing the law enforcement to use weapons against peaceful protesters.

I agree with all of you, we are facing a dictator. I agree with all of you, he has the support of Russia. I agree with all of you, we have to continue putting pressure and using all our capacities and tools in order to support civil society in Belarus.

We have to consider this idea of holding an international conference on Belarus. We have to continue offering support and the prospect of financial support for a Belarusian democratic country. We have to target our sanctions in order to focus on Lukashenko and his cronies and to try to avoid ordinary citizens. But you know you do not make omelettes without breaking eggs. You have to take measures that will certainly affect the Belarusian economy, but at the same time to support the civil society, independent media, rule of law, in order to push for free and fair elections. We know that we are very far away from that.

We know that the Russian support - they have recently renewed a grant of 500 million USD - is very important for Lukashenko. This will be taken into consideration by the European Union Council when they will discuss, in the next meeting, about our relationship with Russia. I can assure you that we are doing everything we can, from the beginning, to fight this dictatorship and to support the people who are suffering from it, and I thank you also for your commitment for this purpose.

Thank you.

Link to the video: https://audiovisual.ec.europa.eu/en/video/I-206996