The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in Belarus to promote democracy and human rights. For background on Belarus' human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Reports at 2009-2017.state.gov.
Part 1: U.S. Government's Democracy Objectives
The U.S. Government's principal foreign policy objective in the country is to promote the emergence of a democratic, peaceful, and prosperous government that respects human rights and the rule of law. Belarus' political and economic policies effectively limit most of its citizens from traveling to the west, while ever-tightening restrictions on media and the Internet restrict the flow of information into the country. Broadening knowledge of the outside world will contribute to key U.S. Government policy objectives to promote openness, discussion of alternative approaches on governance and economics, and domestic pressures for change. Importantly, our views of the problems in Belarus are shared by the EU, and policy coordination with the EU has been close and effective throughout. The United States also cooperates closely with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and neighboring countries to promote democracy and human rights through the coordinated release of press statements and other actions on specific human rights abuses.
Although the United States and Belarus have diplomatic relations, the United States selectively engages with government officials at the assistant secretary level and below, and places a priority on empowering the country's people to determine their future and reform their state. Through Embassy Minsk, which has been limited by the government of Belarus since May 2008 to five diplomats, the U.S. Government asserted its policy interests and concerns to government authorities at senior levels, while simultaneously reaching out to the country's people with educational and professional exchanges for citizens and other programs to develop a cadre of prodemocracy professionals. Despite restricted bilateral relations with Belarus, the United States continues to support engagement with the Belarusian authorities in areas of mutual benefit, such as nonproliferation, counterterrorism, and combating trafficking in persons.
Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
The United States continues its policy of promoting democracy by: denying direct, non-humanitarian assistance to government entities; monitoring, reporting, and speaking out on governmental abuses; supporting democracy and human rights programs; and facilitating educational and professional exchanges. These efforts take place despite Embassy Minsk's limited staffing.A new U.S. assistance strategy was formally adopted in December 2009. The new strategy expands the portfolio into previously under-resourced areas of assistance and engages the government on issues of tangible benefit to a broad cross-section of the population in order to achieve U.S. strategic objectives. The new multi-year strategy lays out the following three priority areas: a continued focus on democracy and governance to open participation in public life, expanding the informed voter base, fostering a broad-based civil society capable of public advocacy, training a new generation of leadership, strengthening independent media outlets and media support structures, and expanding the constituency of Belarusian political parties; support for health programs that promote engagement of civil society and communities in their advocacy for improved service by enhancing the rights and responsibilities of patients, while demonstrating that NGOs can facilitate reforms for average citizens; and a re-engagement to expand the private sector, in particular small and medium size enterprises, to help reduce those dependent on the state for employment and strengthen the private business sector.
The United States also supports efforts to reduce trafficking in persons, with a particular focus on the sexual and labor exploitation of women between the ages of 16 and 35 and, increasingly, men recruited for labor exploitation. The United States funded programs to increase awareness of trafficking among risk groups and the general public, to help prevent human trafficking by improving job searching skills and vocational training, to facilitate trafficking victim reintegration into society, and to build the capacity of NGOs to improve victim identification and protection. The antitrafficking NGO network is the first foreign-funded NGO sector the government has accepted as a partner. The United States facilitates direct humanitarian aid through funding the transport of supplies donated by private Americans and U.S. companies.
The United States closely monitors and publicly condemns the government's persistent, calculated attacks on rallies and demonstrations, opposition political parties, civil society organizations, religious groups, and independent media outlets. U.S. officials demonstrate support for prodemocracy forces by attending or monitoring politically motivated trials of opposition members, independent journalists, and civil society activists, as well as holding regular meetings with opposition and civil society leaders. A Helsinki Commission delegation led by senior U.S. officials met a group of opposition and civil society leaders in Minsk in June 2009. The Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs also met a group of opposition leaders in Minsk in August 2009.
In 2007 and 2008 the United States increased existing sanctions on the regime and imposed new sanctions targeting government entities, as well as officials responsible for human rights abuses and repression. Following the release of the last political prisoners in 2008, the United States suspended sanctions against two subsidiaries of state-owned petrochemical conglomerate Belneftekhim. The suspension was extended in November 2009. At every opportunity, the United States stresses to Belarusian government officials that further action on sanctions depend on additional positive human rights steps taken by the government.