15 Restrictive measures against Belarus
|Committee's decision||Cleared from scrutiny (decision reported on 18 November 2015); further information provided
|Document details||(a) Council Decision; (b) Council Implementing Regulation; (c) Council Regulation regarding restrictive measures against Belarus
|Legal base||(a) Article 29 TEU; unanimity (b) Article 215 TFEU; QMV (c) Article 8a(1) of Council Regulation (EC) 765/2006; QMV
|Department||Foreign and Commonwealth Office
|Document Numbers||(a) (37240), ; (b) (37242), ; (c) (37241),
Summary and Committee's conclusions
15.1 EU sanctions were first imposed on Belarus in 2004 because
of the disappearance of four political activists in 1999 and 2000.
Then, in 2006, following the fraudulent presidential election
and the subsequent crackdown on protesters, the EU imposed an
asset freeze and travel restrictions on 41 individuals, including
President Lukashenko, as well as embargoes on arms and related
material, and equipment which could be used for internal repression.
Following a period of suspension, sanctions were re-imposed in
January 2011 following the Presidential election of 19 December
2010; and, a year later, in January 2012, the listing criteria
were expanded to target those responsible for serious human rights
abuses (not directly linked to presidential elections) and beneficiaries
and supporters of the Lukashenko regime.
15.2 Latterly, the EU has wrestled with what it describes
as its policy of "critical engagement". Last autumn,
the Minister for Europe (Mr David Lidington) told the Committee
that the latest manifestation prolonging the "asset
freeze and travel ban" measures for four months, until 29
February 2016, and, at the same time, suspending them for 170
persons and three entities though signalling continuing
EU concerns about democracy, human rights and the rule of law,
also responded to the release of political prisoners last August
and, then, the peaceful conduct in October of the latest presidential
election (which was again won by President Lukashenko), and was
"to be coupled with the implementation of additional concrete
measures to deepen the EU's policy of critical engagement with
15.3 Then, in January, the Minister explained that,
at the beginning of 2015, the Council had "agreed a list
of measures for the EU to use to deepen critical engagement with
Belarus". But all that he said was that they "included
increased cooperation, particularly technical information sharing,
removing quotas imposed on Belarusian goods and the negotiation
of a new EU-Belarus visa facilitation agreement". The measures
were "designed to be used progressively should relations
with Belarus improve, and in particular should the human rights
situation in Belarus improve". He also told us that the full
OSCE/ODIHR report on the October presidential elections would
not now be available until later that month; and that it and the
latest local Heads of Mission' assessment would then inform decision-making
in February, prior to the end-month deadline.
15.4 In its most recent Report, the Committee noted
that the Minister had still said nothing about what was going
on in Belarus and what the EU should be doing about it. In particular,
we had no information, let alone comment, on the human rights
situation, e.g., on the use of the death penalty and the behaviour
of the judicial authorities in general, or whether the political
prisoners released last August now enjoyed the full civil and
political rights for which the EU High Representative and the
Enlargement Commissioner had called at that time.
The Committee therefore sought clarification as to: what had been
happening on the "human rights" front; which of the
"engagement-deepening" measures had been implemented
in 2015, and what the circumstances were; and how, beyond generalities,
ways in which this now decade-long process had changed and was
changing governance in Belarus for the better (see "Background"
for full details).
15.5 In the meantime, the 15 February Foreign Affairs
Council has taken the political decision not to extend restrictive
measures for the 170 individuals and three companies whose listings
were currently suspended, and adopted substantive Conclusions
explaining the Council's underlying rationale and its aspirations
for the future development of EU-Belarus relations. HR/VP Mogherini
described this as a process of "critical engagement"
in which "some [were] more focused on the critical, others
on the engagement"; noting that the EU was "not recognizing
a situation that turns from black to pink overnight", but
"we have seen over the last couple of years some steps that
are encouraging and that we want to try to support and encourage
15.6 All of this was followed on 17 February by an
EU statement condemning the announcement of a further death sentence
handed down on 16 February 2016 by the Belarus judicial authorities
(see "Background" and the Annex for full details).
15.7 The Minister now says that the decision of the
Council "is the best outcome given differing opinions amongst
Member States", as "[f]ailure to come to a consensus
view would have seen the restrictive measures against Belarus
15.8 The Minister has also responded fully to our
request (see paragraph 15.21 below for details). On the human
rights front, he says that concerns remain. He notes that the
Government of Belarus has agreed to participate in an FCO-funded
UN Development Programme conference on the death penalty, and
also "reached out to the Council of Europe to request consultations
on the use of the death penalty" but a "new
death sentence was handed down on 5 January", two people
"are now on death row", the political prisoners released
last August "have not been fully rehabilitated", changes
in human rights "have not been systemic", and "many
of the actions taken by the Government and authorities in Belarus
can be easily and quickly reversed". In sum: "Too little
time has passed to judge Belarus' long-term commitment to open
and democratic governance".
15.9 We are grateful to the Minister for his full
and thoughtful response. We leave it to interested Members and
others to judge how much constitutes "too little time",
given that President Lukashenko has now been in office since July
1994, and to pursue these matters further, should they so wish,
via the many means at their disposal.
Full details of
the documents: (a)
Council Decision (CFSP) 2015/1957 of 29 October 2015 amending
Decision 2012/642/CFSP concerning restrictive measures against
Belarus: (37240), ; (b) Council Implementing Regulation
(EU) 2015/1949 of 29 October 2015 implementing Article 8a (1)
of Regulation (EC) No. 765/2006 concerning restrictive measures
in respect of Belarus: (37242), ; (c) Council Regulation
(EU) 2015/1948 of 29 October 2015 amending Regulation (EC) No.
765/2006 concerning restrictive measures in respect of Belarus:
15.10 When we cleared these documents last November,
we noted that the release of the political prisoners and, then,
the peaceful conduct of the presidential election were clearly
developments with respect to which the EU needed to respond positively.
On the other hand, it was equally clear that there was still a
long way to go, not just in the electoral process where
there were to be parliamentary elections in 2016 but more
widely; as the Minister noted, there had been no other changes
in the human rights situation on the ground or in the respect
for democratic principles. The period between October 2015 and
February 2016 would thus be crucial, and the final OSCE ODIHR
(Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Office for
Democratic Institutions and Human Rights) election report due
at the end of November and any other developments within Belarus
were to be taken into account before deciding the next move. The
EU was also due to bring forth as-yet-unspecified "additional
concrete measures to deepen the EU's policy of critical engagement
15.11 It was now nearly ten years since the EU embarked
on this process, of using "critical engagement" and
"smarter sanctions", including imposition/suspension/re-imposition,
in its long-standing tussle with President Lukashenko and his
closest allies, in line with the fundamental bases of its European
Neighbourhood Policy and in support of those who seek, at great
personal cost, to create a proper, law-based democratic process.
However, given that, under President Lukashenko, Belarus had turned
its face evermore eastwards, towards Russia, it was debatable
as to how successful this had been. We therefore asked the Minister
to write to us by mid-January 2016, explaining what additional
concrete measures had been taken "to deepen the EU's policy
of critical engagement with Belarus" and outlining what his
thinking then was about the review process, in the light of the
final OSCE ODIHR election report and developments within Belarus
since the elections.
15.12 In his response of 14 January 2016, the Minister
looked back to the beginning of 2015, at which point, he said,
the Council "agreed a list of measures for the EU to use
to deepen critical engagement with Belarus". But, as this
document was classified as EU Restricted, all he could
say was that they "included increased cooperation, particularly
technical information sharing, removing quotas imposed on Belarusian
goods and the negotiation of a new EU-Belarus visa facilitation
agreement". The measures were "designed to be used progressively
should relations with Belarus improve, and in particular should
the human rights situation in Belarus improve". The Council
also agreed "that further measures, such as the suspension
and even removal of sanctions, could be introduced once further
improvements were seen". In the meantime, he revealed that
last October's PSC
meeting had also agreed at the instigation of Belarus
resumption of a Belarus/EU human rights dialogue. The
29 October 2015 measures "aimed at supporting constructive
steps without losing sight of continued human rights violations
in Belarus". Going forward, the EU would "continue to
monitor events on the ground and, if appropriate, pursue further
measures to deepen engagement", and also consider "additional
ways in which Belarus can increase its engagement with the Eastern
Partnership", including the offer of technical assistance
"should Belarus wish to accede to the WTO". More immediately,
the final OSCE ODIHR election report was not now expected until
"the second half of January"; along with the Minsk EU
Heads of Mission' assessment of the situation on the ground, the
PSC would "need to act quickly to assess how the results
affect decisions about the restrictive measures" when it
next discussed them in February. Whilst the Minister could not
"comment on internal EU discussions", he could "assure
[the Committee] that the UK will continue to work to ensure the
EU maintains a strong focus on human rights whilst signalling
its commitment to improving relations with Belarus".
15.13 We noted that we had been given no information,
let alone comment, on the human rights situation, e.g., on the
use of the death penalty and the behaviour of the judicial authorities
in general, or whether the political prisoners released last August
now enjoyed the full civil and political rights for which the
EU High Representative and the Enlargement Commissioner had called
at that time. Nor was it possible to discern from the
little the Minister had to say as to whether the EU had used any
of its "measures" to "deepen critical engagement
with Belarus"; or, therefore, when and why, and with what
15.14 We therefore asked the Minister:
clarify what had been happening on the "human rights"
· to know
which of the "engagement-deepening" measures agreed
a year ago by the Council had been implemented in the meantime,
and what the circumstances were; and
· to illustrate,
beyond generalities, ways in which this now decade-long process
had changed and was changing governance in Belarus for the better.
15.15 On 15 February 2016, the Foreign Affairs Council
reached a political decision not to extend restrictive measures
for 170 individuals and three companies whose listings were currently
suspended; and to extend the arms embargo on Belarus and restrictive
measures related to four individuals listed in connection with
the unresolved disappearances of two opposition politicians, one
businessman and one journalist, for a period of 12 months.
15.16 The Council also agreed Conclusions in which
they explained the rationale underlying this decision
highlighting the importance attached to relations with the Republic
of Belarus and its people; noting its ongoing concerns with the
human rights situation; recalling that EU-Belarus relations should
be based on common values, especially respect for human rights,
democracy and the rule of law; acknowledging the steps taken by
Belarus over the last two years that have contributed to improving
EU-Belarus relations; and recognising "that there is an opportunity
for EU-Belarus relations to develop on a more positive agenda
and that progress in a variety of fields can better be achieved
through enhanced channels of communication".
15.17 After the Foreign Affairs Council meeting,
HR/VP told the media that Belarus was "showing a positive
trend which we want to encourage", and that:
"It is not a rosy or perfect picture, that
was the general assessment, but we agreed on a critical engagement;
some more focused on the critical, others on the engagement."
15.18 On 17 February 2016, the EU issued a further
"A death sentence was handed down on 16
February 2016 to Sergei Khmelevsky by a Minsk Regional Court.
Mr. Khmelevsky's legal right to appeal should be fully guaranteed.
"Mr. Khmelevsky was convicted of a serious
crime and we extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends
of the victims.
"The EU opposes the use of death penalty,
a cruel punishment, which fails to act as a deterrent. We call
on Belarus, the only country in Europe still applying capital
punishment, to join a global moratorium as a first step towards
the abolition of death penalty. Commuting the sentences of persons
sentenced to death and launching a public debate on the death
penalty with Belarusian society would be an important move in
The Minister's letter of 18 February 2016
15.19 The Minister responds to the Committee's latest
WHAT HAS BEEN HAPPENING ON THE HUMAN RIGHTS FRONT?
"The Committee is already aware of the release
of political prisoners and the conduct of elections resulting
in the suspension of the majority of listings under the EU restrictive
measures against Belarus. There have been further small but positive
steps on human rights, which are set out below.
"The Belarusian authorities have signalled their
acceptance of the OSCE ODIHR final report on the conduct of the
2015 Presidential elections. The report highlights that there
are still significant steps needed to bring election practices
in Belarus into line with international standards. The Central
Election Commission has confirmed they will work with ODIHR to
implement some of the recommendations. The EU will monitor closely
the progress of this and review what steps are taken before the
Parliamentary Elections due in September 2016.
"Protests since the elections have been allowed
to take place peacefully. Organisers have been fined, but no arrests
have been made.
"The Government of Belarus has agreed to discuss
further the possibility of a National Human Rights Institute or
similar body, and has accepted 158 out of 265 recommendations
from the UN Universal Periodic Review process, which will serve
as the basis for a National Human Rights Action Plan.
"The willingness of the Government of Belarus
to engage more with the EU and international institutions has
noticeably increased, including issuing an open invitation to
the EU Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, Mr Stavros Lambrinidis.
Mr Lambrinidis is looking to visit Belarus in March.
"The Government of Belarus has agreed to participate
in an FCO-funded UN Development Programme conference on the death
penalty. The Belarusian authorities have also reached out to the
Council of Europe to request consultations on the use of the death
"Concerns about the human rights situation remain.
A new death sentence was handed down on 5 January. Two people
are now on death row. The political prisoners released on 22 August
2015 have not been fully rehabilitated. They remain under administrative
conditions requiring them, for example, to register on a regular
basis with local police. The changes we have seen in human rights
have not been systemic, and many of the actions taken by the Government
and authorities in Belarus can be easily and quickly reversed.
Too little time has passed to judge Belarus' long-term commitment
to open and democratic governance.
IMPLEMENTATION OF "ENGAGEMENT-DEEPENING"
MEASURES AGREED A YEAR AGO BY THE COUNCIL
"The EEAS and Commission have taken forward
implementation of a number of the measures agreed at the Political
and Security Council in January 2015.
"The EU has taken steps to improve its visibility
in Belarus by raising its profile in the Belarusian media and
through direct contact with Belarusian citizens. One strand of
this was to secure more high-level EU visitors to Minsk, such
as the EEAS Deputy Secretary-General Helga Schmid and Neighbourhood
Commissioner Johannes Hahn, in order to create a sustained forum
for dialogue on all issues of interest to Belarus and the EU.
We have sought to engage civil society in this dialogue.
"Further short term measures included signing
a Memorandum of Understanding on an Early Warning Mechanism in
case of emergency or threat to energy supplies and/or energy transit.
The EU is also negotiating a Mobility Partnership and a Visa Facilitation
and Readmission Agreement, though neither has been completed yet.
"Belarusian involvement within the Eastern Partnership
framework has increased. With the European Neighbourhood Review
completed, the EU will now look at what differentiation means
for Belarus and how we can engage further in a carefully calibrated
"Other measures that have been implemented include
helping Belarus to become a member of the Bologna Process (the
European Higher Education Area). Belarus is following a roadmap
of reforms for its higher education to bring it in to line with
other countries in the Process. The EU has also offered technical
assistance to help Belarus reform its economy to meet WTO accession
"Further measures are envisaged once Belarus
meets the criteria of concrete and long-term progress in improving
human rights and democracy. These measures continue to be developed
in more detail.
HOW THIS DECADE-LONG PROCESS HAS CHANGED AND IS CHANGING
GOVERNANCE IN BELARUS FOR THE BETTER?
"We do not expect significant changes in the
governance of Belarus to take place rapidly. It continues to be
dominated by President Lukashenka. However, Belarus has in the
last two years demonstrated an increased willingness to engage
with the international community and take seriously our recommendations
with regard to elections, political prisoners, and other key issues.
"Restrictive measures are one of the tools we
have used to effect change over a long period of time. To be successful,
they must be used as part of a broader political and diplomatic
strategy which includes both carrots and sticks. We must also
be willing to adjust sanctions when the situation allows in order
to maintain the legitimacy of restrictive measures as a foreign
policy tool. The incentive to change behaviour is increased where
individuals and entities can see that restrictive measures are
lifted in response to positive changes in behaviour.
EXPECTATIONS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE EU RESTRICTIVE
MEASURES ON BELARUS
"The restrictive measures are due to expire
on 29 February unless renewed. Given the demand from many Member
States to respond to recent signs of positive engagement by Belarus,
the Foreign Affairs Council (FAC) was asked to take a political
decision on next steps when it met on 15 February. Many Member
States pointed to improvements that had been made in respect of
human rights, Belarus' constructive role in the region, as well
as the changing regional context and the openness of the Government
of Belarus to dialogue, as signs that this was an opportunity
to further relations that the EU should not pass up.
"The UK Government, among others, continues
to advocate a cautious approach to EU-Belarus relations. We believe
instability in the region and economic difficulties are significant
factors driving Belarus to improve its relations with the EU.
However, we have seen improvements followed by backwards steps
in the past and, as you have noted, for too long the EU's relationship
with Belarus has followed a boom and bust cycle. Dialogue and
engagement will be important, but we remain clear-eyed in our
assessment of the human rights situation and attentive to any
government efforts to crack down on civil society. The progress
Belarus makes in improving the human rights situation should be
met with steps from the EU to encourage further progress and a
mutually beneficial relationship.
"In order to achieve the consensus necessary
for maintaining any restrictive measures against Belarus, we need
to find a position that moves forward the EU's policy of critical
engagement. We feel the proposal to de-list 170 individuals, while
maintaining restrictive measures on four individuals associated
with the disappearances in 1999/2000 as well as the arms embargo,
is the best outcome given differing opinions amongst Member States.
Failure to come to a consensus view would have seen the restrictive
measures against Belarus expire."
Previous Committee Reports
Twenty-second Report HC 342-xxi (2015-16), chapter
9 (3 February 2016) and Ninth Report HC 342-ix (2015-16), chapter
24 (18 November 2015); also see (36431), , and (36432),
: Sixteenth Report HC 219-xvi (2014-15), chapter 11 (29
87 See EU relations with Belarus for the EEAS's summary
of the EU's overall relations with Belarus. Back
On 22 August 2015, the EU High Representative/Vice President (Federica
Mogherini) and Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy
and Enlargement Negotiations (Johannes Hahn) issued a statement
on the release of political prisoners in Belarus, which they described
as "important progress in the efforts towards the improvement
of relations between the EU and Belarus" and in which they
said that they "now expect the authorities of Belarus to
remove all restrictions on the enjoyment of full civil and political
rights of the released". See Statement. Back
See EU lifts almost all sanctions against Belarus in Euractiv
of 16 February 2016. There is also a wide range of comment in
the 17 February 2016 Washington Post, from which the HR's
remarks are taken: see EU warms to Belarus despite its 'dismal' human rights record. Back
Ninth Report HC 342-ix (2015-6), chapter 24 (18 November 2015). Back
Political and Security Committee: the committee of senior officials
from Member State delegations who, under article 25 TEU, monitor
the international situation in areas covered by the CFSP and,
under the general responsibility of the Council, exercise political
control and strategic direction of policy issues and crisis management
See Twenty-second Report HC 342-xxi (2015-16), chapter 9 (3 February
See the Annex to this chapter of our Report for the full Council
See EU lifts almost all sanctions against Belarus in Euractiv
of 16 February 2016. There is also a wide range of comment in
the 17 February 2016 Washington Post: see EU warms to Belarus despite its 'dismal' human rights record. Back
See Statement. Back