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Pavel Latushko’s speech in the Parliament of Austria

30.01.2024, Vienna

Dear Madam President, ladies and gentlemen

This year there will be 4 years since the beginning of the events in Belarus in the summer of 2020. 2 years since the start of the war between Russia and the Lukashenko regime against Ukraine.

In the context of world history, these years and events are a moment. But for millions of Belarusians the events of recent years have become the biggest and most difficult test in their lives. And the longest.

I am often asked what motivates me not to give up and keep fighting. What I believe in, despite the fact that the situation in Belarus continues to worsen every day.

I could tell you about this in detail. And it would take hours and it still won’t be enough to cover everything. So instead, I will give you several numbers that speak for themselves.

According to the human rights center “Viasna”, as of the end of 2023, there were more than 1400 officially recognized political prisoners in custody in Belarus. 745 former political prisoners who served their entire sentences. As you see the number is not decreasing; in place of political prisoners released from prison Lukashenko’s regime is putting new ones. 

At least 48 political prisoners are pensioners. At least 42 are people with disabilities and serious illnesses. At least four political prisoners already died in prison: Witold Ashurok, Ales Pushkin, Nikolai Klimovich and Vadzim Khrasko. Torture, inhuman conditions of detention, lack of medical care - this is what political prisoners face in Lukashenko’s prisons. And they die.

There are more than 200 people on the humanitarian list of political prisoners compiled by the United Transitional Cabinet together with human rights activists. These are people who, due to age, health, disability and other factors, need urgent medical care and must be released immediately.

And all these are only officially confirmed cases. 

In reality, in conditions of fear and repression, not all cases are made public by the victims of the Lukashenko regime or their relatives, and not all of them contact human rights activists or the media. The majority don’t do it – fearing for themselves or their loved ones. 

And in conditions of total censorship and disinformation, in conditions when all human rights organizations and independent media were expelled from the country, along with thousands of NGOs and hundreds of thousands of Belarusians, and cannot work in Belarus – it's simply impossible to see the full picture of the number of political prisoners in Belarus and record all the cases.

Organizations and activists involved in this process believe that the real number of political prisoners at the moment is at least three times higher than officially confirmed. That is, we can talk about about 4500-5000 people.

But that's not all.

According to a report by the Center for Law and Democracy “Justice Hub”, from May 2020 to May 2023, at least 136 thousand people became victims of crimes against humanity in Belarus. Illegal imprisonment, torture, murder, rape and other serious forms of sexual violence, including against minors, forced disappearances, deportations - this is what is happening in Belarus. Every day.

The scale and nature of the repressions of the Lukashenko regime are also highlighted by the resolution of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe “A democratic future for Belarus”, adopted on January 25. Quote: “The repression by the Lukashenka regime against the Belarusian people is so serious, widespread and systematic that it may amount to crimes against humanity and warrants full accountability under domestic and international law”.

And these repressions, these crimes don't stop for a day. 

Just last week more than 200 people were caught up in another wave of harassment when Lukashenko's regime organized an intimidation raid against the relatives of political prisoners. Just think about it, many of them were left without breadwinners and turned to initiatives that were delivering food packages to support the families of political prisoners. And just for this they are subjected to new repressions. Many of them were eventually detained. 

Among those detained is Mikalai Statkevich's wife - Maryna Adamovich, who was arrested for 15 days. Mikalai Statkevich is a well-known Belarusian politician who was sentenced by the Lukashenko regime to 14 years in prison and as for today there has been no contact with him for a year. This is another form of repression - many political prisoners are in the status of incommunicado for months and we know nothing about their condition. We don't even know if they are alive.

So, here are the shocking figures for a country with a population of 9 million people, at least half a million of whom left it, fleeing terror and repression. 

These are the facts. But what about sanctions? What can be – no, MUST BE done? 

And – returning to the beginning of my speech – what do I personally believe in, knowing that the shocking figures continue to grow, the repressions continue to grow and that crimes against Belarusian people do not stop for a day? 

I will answer – I still believe in international law and responsibility.

And this is precisely what lies at the heart of the strategy within which we continue to operate and which we have been offering to our international partners all these years.

Lukashenko and his accomplices must be brought to accountability - so that Belarusian society could see the long-awaited justice and an alternative to the state of lawlessness and legal default.

And, what is extremely important in terms of values ​​and worldviews – is for society to see a civilized and civilizational alternative to Lukashenko’s dictatorship and an alternative to the “Russian world” into which Lukashenko is dragging our country. An alternative in the form of Western democracy, the European Union, where law and its institutions operate. Where law and human rights are a fundamental value.

How to create this alternative and make it the basis of the West’s overall strategy for Belarus? The strategy that is needed.

1. International prosecution.

It is necessary to issue an arrest warrant for Alexander Lukashenko.

And here we have two types of crimes committed by a dictator, which can become the basis for issuing such a warrant by the International Criminal Court:

  1. Crimes against humanity against Belarusians, which I mentioned above.

  2. War crime – the illegal movement of Ukrainian children from temporarily occupied territories.

Our team, the National Anti-Crisis Management, has already handed over to the prosecutor of the ICC in The Hague 2 parts of the Communication "On the illegal deportation or movement of Ukrainian children from the territories occupied by Russia to Belarus" in accordance with Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

In addition, in mid-November 2023, a report by the Humanitarian Research Lab at Yale School of Public Health "Belarus' Collaboration with Russia in the Systematic Deportation of Ukraine’s Children"  was published. This report actually confirmed all the facts we previously submitted to the ICC.

Moreover, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has already adopted a second resolution regarding the deportation of Ukrainian children, in which these actions, in which the Lukashenko regime and the dictator personally are directly involved, are named as potentially falling under Article II of the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. 

Lukashenko will go for "presidential elections" again in 2025. We realize that in 2020 Lukashenko already lost the elections, rigged them and seized power by force. The new "elections" do not cancel this. Lukashenko is no longer president and will never be again. But nevertheless, we should send Lukashenko to the 2025 "elections" with an arrest warrant. This will be the most powerful blow to his regime, a blow to the center of his system, capable of splitting it.  

2. Sanctions as a tool of responsibility.

It is necessary to tighten sanctions against the Lukashenko regime and seriously tighten control over their compliance. One of the measures we propose is the adoption of a powerful new human rights sanction package in relation to those sectors of the economy and goods in the production of which the labor of political prisoners is used.

We must not forget that the Lukashenko regime is an accomplice in the war against Ukraine. The best solution would be to harmonize economic sanctions against Russia and the Lukashenko regime, while maintaining existing sanctions, such as sanctions on Belarusian potash. 

Any speculation around potash sanctions must stop. The lifting of these sanctions is unacceptable until the Lukashenko regime is abolished.

The very issue of sanctions against the Lukashenko regime cannot be a subject of speculation. 

We can see goods going to Russia bypassing the imposed sanctions through Belarus, the Belarusian industry is working for the war actually as an integral part of Russia's military-industrial complex, a unified Military Doctrine of the Union State is in force, and the military doctrine of Belarus has been updated. And at this time, Europe is preparing for a new war, but does not even try to take real economic measures against aggressors, who have embarked on military rails. It was a strategic mistake to keep the difference in economic sanctions against two aggressors - Russia and Lukashenko's regime - for so long. Now this mistake is turning into a fatal one.

3. Political pressure on the regime – international recognition of the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus under the leadership of Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya.

It is necessary to recognize and support this political alternative to the illegitimate Lukashenko regime

And it is necessary to continue the non-recognition and isolation of Lukashenko and his government. As well as non-recognition of the so-called “elections” they’re trying to imitate. There are no real elections under this regime and there won’t be any – until this regime exists. 

Therefore, the position of our international partners should be firm - there will be no recognition of Lukashenko, his government, his so-called parliament and his so-called elections.

Instead, the United Transitional Cabinet of Belarus and other institutions of the Belarusian democratic forces should be recognised. 

In this regard, we thank the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe for adopting the resolution "A democratic future for Belarus", which, quote: “welcomes the creation of the United Transitional Cabinet, the central executive body of the democratic movement, together with the Coordination Council, a unified representative body of Belarusian democratic society, as entities representing the legitimate democratic aspirations of the people of Belarus”.

Such recognition is also very important for protecting the sovereignty of Belarus, non-recognition of any treaties and agreements that the illegitimate Lukashenko regime signs with Russia and which threaten our independence and sovereignty, which are being rapidly destroyed through the project of the so-called Union State of Belarus and Russia. And under the cover of which, after the signing of a joint military doctrine in November 2021, the so-called military exercises began, which resulted in the invasion of Ukraine.

This is very important to understand: the so-called Union State is not some kind of phantom. This is a truly functioning instrument for the absorption of Belarus and aggression against Ukraine. In addition, within the framework of the Union State and from its budget, the illegal movement of Ukrainian children to Belarus and their indoctrination were financed. 

In addition, within the framework of the Union State, active work is being carried out to destroy the Belarusian identity, culture, and language and replace them with Russian ones. Among other things, this is happening through massive propaganda. Right now, a creation of the single media holding of the Union State is underway.

4. Therefore, it is necessary to support Belarusian culture and independent media by all means.

There is a strong need for a comprehensive programme to support Belarusian cultural projects in exile, first of all, cultural projects in the Belarusian language.

And it is critical to increase support for Belarusian independent media in exile. And to abandon the destructive practice of combining support for independent Belarusian and Russian media and supporting Belarusian media on a residual principle. Such an approach can destroy Belarusian and especially Belarusian-speaking independent journalism. Belarus is not a part of the Russian world. It is not a part of the Russian information environment. And it should not be. We talk a lot about the importance of preserving the sovereignty and independence of Belarus. Independent Belarusian mass media are an integral component of it.

5. An alternative to the Union State and “Russian world” – a European perspective for Belarus.

Our geopolitical choice, the choice of democratic forces, is the European Union. I call for support for this choice by continuing to expand and strengthen the cooperation of EU institutions with democratic forces. The empty chair at the December meeting of Eastern Partnership ministers should not be empty - Belarusian democratic forces can take this place.

These are the key actions, in my opinion, that are necessary to create an alternative that Belarusians will believe in and that will become a catalyst for the onset of democratic changes in Belarus.

Thank you for your attention. Zhyvie Belarus!


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