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(a) any expenses of a government department incurred in consequence of the Act; and
(b) any increase attributable to the Act in the sums payable out of such money under any other Act.[Mr. Caplin.]
Mr. Michael Trend (Windsor): As this is my first opportunity to do so, may I welcome the Minister to his new position? He will know that I am raising the issue of Belarus as a governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, which is ably led by the hon. Member for Dundee, West (Mr. Ross). It continues to make good progress in countries newly arrived at democracy and civic society around the world. Indeed, sitting in at European Union summits such as that held in Gothenburg a few weeks ago are a number of aspirant countries which only a few years ago were bound fast into a system wholly opposed to the democratic process.
The Westminster Foundation for Democracy's earlier work in countries such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary has played a significant part in bringing nations through the often painful and difficult transition from tyranny to democracy. However, there remains much for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy to do. Recently, it has been busy in Bosnia and Kosovo. Currently, we are all thinking about the position in Macedonia.
Much work also goes on in other parts of the world, especially in Africa, and I am thinking particularly of Nigeria, Zimbabwe and Sierra Leone. We should commend the work of the professional staff who work for the WFD and also that of the non-party governors. The House should also recognise that the co-operation of our political parties in the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is a testimony to what we as Members of Parliament can achieve together in the important work of representing our country's basic values overseas.
This is the third time in 12 months that I have brought before the House the current situation in Belarus, and I make no apologies for doing so. The people of Belarus have severe difficulty in getting their voice heard in the world, and it is surely our duty to help give them a voice. Belarus has the worst human rights record of any European country; with the fall of Milosevic in Yugoslavia, Belarus's President Lukashenko holds the unenviable title of our continent's most despotic and tyrannical leader. Belarus is in crisis again at this very moment.
I visited Minsk last year. In a subsequent debate in Westminster Hall, I described the atmosphere of oppression and fear that exists in Belaruswhose ruling elite is proud still to run its own KGB and quite aggressively to call it that. Last year we also had a powerful report from Amnesty International, which, sadly, often reminded one of its earlier excellent work in the former Soviet Union. Belarus is a country where prominent public figures still all too often flee into exile or are disappeared or murdered.
All is not gloom in Belarus, however. The country has developed a remarkably cohesive democratic opposition, which approached last year's elections to Lukashenko's puppet parliament in a united spirit of defiance. I asked the Government for their reaction and was told that they endorsed the assessment of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe mission, that the elections did
Last December, I returned to the subject in the Chamber, in particular to criticise the withdrawal of the British Council from Minsk. We should not lose sight of that mistaken and shameful act. I was pleased to see that the Foreign Affairs Committee followed up the cause and gave the British Council a hard time in January at one of its evidence sessions.
The hon. Member for Thurrock (Andrew Mackinlay), who has a distinguished record on Belarus matters, did well to attack the view, shared by the British Council and the Foreign Office, that Belarus had a "relative lack of importance"a direct quotation from the British Council's statement. Dr. Baker of the British Council told the Committee that the matter was
In sending the wrong signal to Belarus, we betray all those brave men and women in its political parties, trade unions and non-governmental organisations, across the political spectrum, who are struggling to establish the most basic human rights in their country. I ask the Government urgently to review the decision and restore the British Council's presence in Belarus.
Belarus faces a presidential election, set for 9 September. The four basic conditions laid down for last year's elections, which were not met then, have still not even been addressed. First, Belarus still needs a fully powered, properly functioned parliament, as part of a proper division of powers, for President Lukashenko still rules by decree. Secondly, Belarus's electoral legislation still needs thoroughgoing reform. Thirdly, there is still no guaranteed real and regular access to the state-run electronic media. Fourthly, and in many ways most important, there has been no effective or visible change in the political atmosphere.
In other words, there has been no end to political repression. Indeed, in many ways it has got worse. This March, the president issued a decree banning any outside help for the democrats and enabling the authorities to block the activities of political parties and NGOs directly involved in the process of preparation for the presidential elections, including such simple matterssimple to us, at leastas collecting signatures, distributing leaflets and direct campaigning.
The decree was followed by demonstrations in Minsk on 25 March, during which Mr. Vintsuk Viachorka and Mr. Ales Belyatsky, respectively chairman and deputy chairman of the Belarus Popular Front, were arrested and imprisoned. Again, I tabled questions to the Foreign Office to discover the Government's view of the matter and was told eventually that the Government, together with EU partners, had delivered a démarche to the Belarus authorities about the cases, for which we are grateful.
Meanwhile, however, it is left to the OSCE to make the running in Minsk. In April, the Belarus authorities ludicrously accused the OSCE of training spies rather than election observers. The OSCE robustly denied that, insisting that the observers' work was both legitimate and necessary. Later the same month, Freimut Duve, the OSCE representative on freedom and media, publicly cancelled his scheduled visit to Belarus, stating that he could not accept what he called
Persecution in the run-up to Belarus's presidential elections spreads much wider. The bigger picture was well summarised by the deputy chief of the US OSCE mission, Josiah B. Rosenblatt, a few days ago. His view closely reflects the tougher thinking of the US Government. Mr. Rosenblatt points out that the presidential elections present Belarus with an opportunity to end its self-imposed isolation. He says that Belarus needs in particular to release political prisoners Andrei Klimov and Valery Shchukin and account for the missing, among whom are the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Yury Zakharenko, the Deputy Chairman of the legitimate Representative Assembly, Viktor Gonchar, and his associate, Anatoly Krasovsky, as well as the television cameraman, Dmitri Zavadsky.
Mr. Rosenblatt added that Belarus must allow all candidates equal access to the state media; cease the arbitrary disqualification of candidates; and enable the electoral commission to ensure that the votes are counted accurately. But the problems are starting even earlier in the process in Belarus. At the moment, evidence is mounting from all over the country that opposition parties are deliberately being excluded from the local territorial electoral commissions. It appears that none of the 600 applications nationwide made by the opposition or the presidential candidates to the commissions have been accepted by the state authorities. Lukashenko is forming the electoral commission for his own presidential election on his own. The Belarus Helsinki Committee states that it has been formed in violation of the law.
In the past few weeks, further worrying developments have taken place. While it has always been difficult to get the western media to take an interest in Belarus, a story of the sort our media understands has broken into news reports. Among others, the BBC has reported on the allegations that a death squad working for the country's senior leadership has assassinated key political opponents of President Lukashenko. That is not a new claim, but for the first time it has been made by insiderstwo former staff members of the state prosecutor's office, one of whom was formerly one of the investigating officers in the Zavadsky case. In particular, they allege the complicity of the country's leadership in the murders of Mr. Zakharenko, Mr. Gonchar and Mr. Zavadsky, all of whom I mentioned earlier in a context in which it was hoped they might still be alive. In all, it is claimed that there have been more than 30 murders.
What else can we do to help? The OSCE Parliamentary Assembly is meeting in Paris and I very much hope that progress will be made there to extend its tough line against Lukashenko. I believe the British Government should also speak out and strongly condemn tyranny in Belarus. In particular, I would urge the Government to bring what pressure they can to bear on the Belarus authorities to form their electoral commissions in a proper and acceptable way. It is also vital to send a clear message to Lukashenko that all contenders in the presidential election must have equal access to the mass media.
Moreover, every effort should be made to insist that both domestic and international observers are allowed to scrutinise the election. We need to be sure that the registration of the presidential candidates and a most curious and suspect procedure for early voting in Belarus will be watched with as much care as the main polling process. We must also tell Lukashenko in the clearest terms that threatening political opponents and opposition parties, and creating an atmosphere of fear and intimidation, will not be tolerated.
Some might say that we have little power to influence a country such as Belarus, but I do not agree. The work of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy became necessary because, in the not-too-distant past, we bore down heavily on countries where oppression was the order of the day. We did that in many ways, but especially by refusing to accept the legion of lies that support the totalitarian structures of such states. Each little lie is a vital part of the great lie that sustains tyranny, and each blow we make chips away at its foundations. In this case, we must make it quite clear to Lukashenko that if he does not observe the basic minimum standards we expect, we shall refuse to recognise the validity, the legitimacy, of the election, and we should make that clear in advance.
In today's Belarus, an event the like of which we thoughtwe hopedhad disappeared into European history is going on. I believe that our Government should take a lead in condemning the corrupt processes of the Belarusian presidential election. This policy could and should be a centrepiece of a new approach by the Foreign Office ministerial team. Here is a country where the police are far more efficient at harassing their own citizens than in combating the ever-growing flood of drug trafficking and organised crime. This is a country that we very much hope will soon share a border with the European Union. A former Home Secretary, now at the Foreign Office, will surely understand the importance of that.
Here is a country which, in one way or another, understands its need for western investment and economic assistance. Britain and the European Union have clear self-interest in the condition of Belarus and real leverage on the situation there. Here also is a causethe cause of libertythat we in Britain should champion, as we did those of other central and eastern European countries not so many years ago. I ask the Government to speak with a clear and urgent voice on this matter.