THE MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF NORWAY: THE SITUATION WITH THE DEVELOPMENT OF DEMOCRACY IN BELARUS IS STILL REPREHENSIBLE
The Council of the European Union has decided to maintain sanctions against Belarus, while the suspension of visa restrictions will be extended to encourage reforms. Belarusian Christian Democracy Party (BCD) conducted a second attempt to register a party. After BCD's founding congress which took place on October 31, many of those who signed the application for registration received threats from the authorities that they would lose jobs and housing if they do not withdraw their signatures.
What will the foreign minister do to watch the situation with freedom of organisations in Belarus and registration of the BCD?
Jonas Gahr Støre: The situation in Belarus regarding human rights and promotion of democracy is still reprehensible, and it gives Mr. Svendsen the reason to ask a question about the inadequate attitude to the right for freedom of organisations. From the Norwegian side, we watch the developments in Belarus closely and we seek to contribute to the international community's efforts to promote democratisation and respect for human rights. Norway supports a number of specific projects and we also contribute in other ways. As for the EU's decision of 17 November, Norway will also maintain the special measures against Belarus, including travel restrictions for a number of key officials, at the same time the suspension of most of these restrictions will be continued until the next autumn. The reason for the suspension is a desire to continue to encourage further steps in the right direction from the country's authorities, especially some important points considered by the international community last year. For example some political prisoners were released, and international observers were invited to the parliamentary elections in Autumn 2008. The fact that the restrictions in principle are maintained shows that the situation in the country is still considered to be reprehensible. This is a message we convey in our own dialogue with Belarusian authorities. In bilateral consultations with high-ranking Belarusian officials, we have clearly stated that a further integration of Belarus in European cooperation is based upon that we also share basic values with regard to democracy and human rights. This is a view shared by our neighbours. Thus, a Belarusian desire for full membership in the Baltic Sea Council have not been met, but the country has been granted observer status. We welcome Belarusian authorities' desire for closer cooperation with the rest of Europe, and we emphasize that Belarus also gets encouraging signals about the integration and cooperation if the development goes in the right direction. Actions from the Council of Ministers and Nordic Council play a role in this context. At the same time it must not cause us to weaken the demand for democratisation and respect for basic human rights, including freedom of organizations. Political parties access to register is of course an important part of this picture. In contact with the Belarusian authorities, we will also from the Norwegian side continue to pay attention to the problems that still exist in this area, both for political parties as the Belarusian Christian Democracy, for volunteer organisations and others.