Congressman Chris Smith introduced the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2020 in the House of Representatives on September 29. On October 1, 2020 the bill passed the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
Smith’s remarks on the bill are as follows:
Excerpts of remarks by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) October 1, 2020
During markup of H.R. 8438 in Foreign Affairs Committee
Belarus was perhaps the nation most mired in its Soviet past, with an inefficient economy and a strongman autocrat in charge for over two-and-a-half decades. Yet the irrepressible spirit of freedom stirred among the people of Belarus, and when a patently false election result was announced on August 9 declaring Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner, the people took to the streets.
Mr. Chairman, it’s been almost two months since the fraudulent poll, and the people of Belarus—despite Lukashenka’s brutal crackdown in which he has arrested thousands, tortured hundreds,—are still organizing rallies of 100,000 people demanding that Lukashenka leave power, and leave Belarus to the people, to whom it belongs.
According to the UN Special Rapporteur, more than 10,000 peaceful protestors have been detained as of September 18.
They need our help.
Recent reports out of Belarus indicate that police are using increasingly violent tactics against these peaceful demonstrators.
As my colleagues know, the leading opposition presidential candidate SviatlanaTsikhanouskaya—who likely won the election—formed the Coordination Council.
Ms. Tsikhanouskaya ran a brilliant campaign but today is in exile in Lithuania where she continues to rally the Belarusian people and the world and demand human rights for all the people of her nation.
Last night I read portions of the transcript of a hearing I chaired in 2011—after another fraudulent election. Then, as now, and on many other occasions, Lukashenka’s bullies beat, jailed and assaulted peaceful protestors.
We must remain in solidarity with the great people of Belarus—not the oppressors—no matter what.
The big mistake of the past—fatigue or lack of commitment and perseverance by the international community—can’t be repeated this time.
On two separate occasions, I met with Lukashenka in Minsk and came away resolved to accelerate the struggle for democracy and freedom.
My bipartisan bill, H.R. 8438—the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2020—updates, strengthens and expands the Belarus Democracy Acts of 2004, 2006, and 2011 that I also authored, and renews the personal economic and visa sanctions on an expanded list of actors in the Belarusian Governmentand Russian individuals complicit in the crackdown.
Among its many provisions:
- It calls for new elections.
- It recognizes the Coordination Council as a legitimate institution to participate in a dialogue on a peaceful transition of power.
- It calls for the release of all political prisoners.
- It supports the aspirations of the people of Belarus to exercise their religious freedom.
- It authorizes assistance to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus.
- It unequivocally states that it is the policy of the United States “not to recognize any incorporation of Belarus into a ‘Union State’ with Russia.
- It requires a U.S. strategy to promote broadcasting, internet freedom and access to information.
- In addition, it gives much needed support to the Belarusian media, and to the IT sector.
Again, I ask our Committee members for their support.