Remarks at the Belarus Civil Society Roundtable

Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
Tolerance Center
Vilnius, Lithuania
December 6, 2011

SECRETARY CLINTON: Let me begin by saying what an honor it is for me and my colleagues to be meeting here with you today. There is probably no more difficult and no more important job than the one you are doing, which is to try to build democracy. I want to make just three short points, and then we want to hear from all of you.

First, we recognize that this has been a brutally difficult year for the people of Belarus. We know that every day there is a new arrest or a new restrictive law or further harassment against civil society and the media.

We continue to demand the unconditional release of all political prisoners. By our count, there are more than 50 individuals still in prison or under restrictive release, and I want to assure you that the United States will continue working for their freedom.

Second, we will continue, along with our partners in the European Union and other democracies, to take actions against the Lukashenko regime, including sanctions and travel bans. Until the government takes concrete steps to improve human rights and the conditions for democracy, they will not have improved relations with the United States.

And finally, although we cannot see Belarus 40 kilometers away from here, I want you to know that we have great confidence in your being on the right side of history. And your commitment is not only important to your country, but it is an inspiration to people fighting for their rights and for democracy around the world. In fact, I think your efforts are becoming quite well known. Groups, including Viasna 96, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Belarusian Association of Journalists, and the Belarusian Assembly of Pro-Democratic NGOs, are serving as beacons of courage far beyond your country.

So again, I am honored to be with you, and now I look forward to hearing from all of you.

PRN: 2011/T57-09