CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Monday, December 19, 2011, the House is scheduled consider a Senate Amendment to H.R. 515 under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage. The resolution was introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) on January 26, 2011, and was approved by the House on July 6, 2011 by voice vote. The bill was approved with an amendment in the Senate on December 14, 2011 by voice vote.
H.R. 515 would amend the Belarus Democracy Act of 2004 to authorize assistance to promote democracy and civil society in Belarus. The legislation would affirm that the President should continue to support radio, television, and Internet broadcasting within the scope of increased support and funding for U.S. government and surrogate broadcasting into Belarus. The legislation would also expand a reporting requirement to include certain information on weapons-related training and censorship or surveillance of the Internet
Additionally, the legislation would condemn the conduct of the recent presidential election and the crackdown on opposition candidates and activists. The legislation would expand the conditions under which sanctions may be lifted, requiring the government of Belarus to release individuals who were jailed based on political beliefs or human rights violations in connection with the repression that attended the December 2010 election.
The legislation would also expand on existing sanctions, including the denial of entry visas to any member of the Belarusian security or law enforcement services who participated in the crackdown on opposition leaders, journalists, and peaceful protesters or in the persecution of religious groups or human rights defenders that occurred in connection with the December election.
According to findings in the legislation, the Government of Belarus has engaged in a pattern of clear and uncorrected violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms. The Government of Belarus has engaged in a pattern of clear and uncorrected violations of basic principles of democratic governance, including through a series of fundamentally flawed presidential and parliamentary elections undermining the legitimacy of executive and legislative authority in that country.
Additionally, the Government of Belarus has subjected thousands of pro-democratic political activists to harassment, beatings, and jailings, particularly as a result of their attempts to peacefully exercise their right to freedom of assembly and association.
The Government of Belarus has attempted to maintain a monopoly over the country’s information space, targeting independent media, including independent journalists, for systematic reprisals and elimination, while suppressing the right to freedom of speech and expression of those dissenting from the dictatorship of Aleksandr Lukashenka, and adopted laws restricting the media, including the Internet, in a manner inconsistent with international human rights agreements.
After the December 19, 2010, presidential election the Government of Belarus responded to opposition protests by beating scores of protestors and detaining more than 600 peaceful protestors. They jailed seven of the nine opposition presidential candidates and abused the process of criminal prosecution to persecute them. Following the election, the Government of Belarus also disrupted independent broadcast and Internet media, and engaged in repressive actions against independent journalists. The Belarusian security services and police also conducted raids targeting civil society groups, individual pro-democracy activists, and independent media.
According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), enacting the bill would increase direct spending and decrease revenues; therefore pay-as-you-go procedures apply. However, CBO estimates those effects would not be significant and would cost less than $500,000 over the 2012-2016 period, assuming the availability of appropriated funds.