Tuesday

4th Oct 2022

Opinion

The EU and Belarus: Sanctions? What Sanctions?

  • Relatives of jailed opponents plead for access outside prison in Belarus (Photo: EPA)

Last week the Belarusian interior minister, Anatoly Kulyashou, travelled to France for a conference at Interpol in Lyon. This may not appear out of the ordinary. But he is wanted for questioning amid allegations of torture and hostage-taking. He is also under a European Union travel ban.

His visit had a silver lining for the Belarusian opposition. If the French had denied him a visa, the NGO Free Belarus Now would not have been able to petition the French justice ministry for his arrest over alleged breaches of the UN Convention on Torture.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

After a flurry of excitement came the failure of both the EU and French authorities to respond. Now, just one question remains: Why is the international community once again ignoring Belarus and the human rights abuses there?

On 19 December 2010, some 30,000 peaceful protesters took to the streets of Minsk in the largest demonstration Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus has ever seen. They were demonstrating against alleged vote-rigging fin the presidential election. Lukashenko was declared winner with almost 90 percent even before polls had officially closed and international observers said the ballot was flawed.

Protesters gathered outside parliament and began to demand a fresh election. "Leave office now!" they chanted. Lukashenko reacted by unleashing his security forces in a brutal show of force.

The crackdown was so violent it led EU countries to impose fresh sanctions in January 2011. Some assets were frozen and a large number of officials were placed under a travel ban, including Kulyashou.

Brussels had nothing to say on why the restrictions were put aside for his visit last week.

It may be that there was no sanctions violation in a technical sense. The Official Journal of the European Union says the travel ban "shall be without prejudice to the cases where a member state is bound by an obligation of international law, namely ... as a host country of an international intergovernmental organisation." In other words, the Interpol conference entitled him to a free pass.

So why are invitations from intergovernmental bodies excluded from EU sanctions?

Maybe it is a good thing if Belarusian regime members go to a conference on, for instance, how to catch paedophiles. But what if the meeting was about how to catch internet criminals? What if Kulyashou in Lyon got some new ideas on how to crack down on opposition websites?

We are not allowed to know because Interpol - astonishingly - refuses to say what the event was about.

When one considers what is happening in Belarus, it begs the question, why do international organisations continue to engage with it at all? Surely the point of EU sanctions is to isolate the regime. But if this EU sanctions clause lets its ministers participate in international events as if everything was normal, one might conclude the travel ban is not just futile, but even dishonest.

On Wednesday this week, Belarusian presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov - imprisoned for his role in last December's protest - emerged after having disappeared into the prison system back in November. He passed a note to his wife pleading for help, saying that he is being tortured and that he fears for his life.

As interior minister, Kulyashou is directly responsible for what is happening to Sannikov and to many others like him. He runs the state security service, still called the KGB, the police and the prisons. He was also in charge of the security operation which so shocked EU ministers and the wider world back in December 2010. He must be held accountable for the allegations that are being made against him and against the officers under his command.

Last Thursday, the French minister of justice and the Paris prosecutor roundly ignored Free Belarus Now's petition to detain him and to launch an investigation.

In doing this, France has diminished its international standing and its moral authority. They might not have had an obligation to refuse him entry to Lyon, but they have ignored France's commitments as a signatory to the UN Convention on Torture.

The collective failure of both Brussels and Paris on the Kulyashou visit is a shameful betrayal of the Belarusian people.

Mathew Charles is a lecturer in journalism at the University of Bournemouth in southern England and the director of a forthcoming documentary on Belarus and Lukashenko entitled 'Europe’s Last Dictator'

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Feature

Belarus' brutal crackdown – the 19 December anniversary

On 19 December one year ago, 50 000 people gathered at Independence Square in central Minsk to protest the reelection of Belarussian President Aleksander Lukashenko. response was decisive and violent. Around 600 were arrested and thousands of others beaten.

Hockey-loving EU states oppose Belarus championship ban

The EU is to impose a travel ban and asset freeze on another 15-or-so Belarusian officials. But harsher measures, such as economic sanctions or blocking the 2014 hockey finals in Minsk, are not on the table for now.

EU sanctions not as tough as they sound

The EU is to add some 160 names to its Belarus and Syria blacklists later this month. But being put under an EU ban is not as categorical as it sounds.

EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges

EU commissioner Ylva Johansson's words on refugee protection were welcome. But, worryingly, the commitments made by EU leaders at the forum have not translated into action. There is still time for them to save face — but it's running out.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs warn joint-nationality citizens in Russia on mobilisation
  2. Greece to unveil proposal for capping EU gas prices
  3. Four dead, 29 missing, after dinghy found off Canary Islands
  4. Orbán: German €200bn shield is start of 'cannibalism in EU'
  5. Lithuania expels top Russian diplomat
  6. Poland insists on German WW2 reparations
  7. Russia halts gas supplies to Italy
  8. Bulgaria risks hung parliament after inconclusive vote

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  3. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  4. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  6. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries

Latest News

  1. Last-minute legal changes to Bosnian election law stir controversy
  2. EU wants probe into alleged Nagorno-Karabakh war crimes
  3. EU officials were warned of risk over issuing financial warning
  4. EU debates national energy plans amid calls for more coordination
  5. What Modi and Putin’s ‘unbreakable friendship’ means for the EU
  6. EU leaders have until Friday for refugee resettlement pledges
  7. Cities and regions stand with citizens and SMEs ahead of difficult winter
  8. Editor's weekly digest: A week of leaks

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us