The pursuit for a peaceful transition in Belarus
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by David McAllister

The European Parliament has been awarding the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought since 1988 to individuals or organizations who make outstanding contributions to human rights. Over the years, this prize has become the most visible expression of Parliament’s collective, cross-party engagement towards the protection and promotion of human rights. It is about supporting those who stand up for freedom and justice every day all around the world.

By awarding the democratic opposition in Belarus on December 16, represented by the Coordination Council, the European Parliament is honoring the determination, the courage and the power of Belarusian citizens in their fight for dignity, freedom and democracy.

The Belarusian presidential “election” on August 9 became a major turning point. People finally had enough of sham elections with pre-determined results. They no longer feared to question the official narrative, which denies the existence of many serious challenges facing their country. The people in Belarus wanted change and they voted for it. When the authorities obviously falsified the results, the people rose up to defend their right to determine the future of Belarus through free and fair elections.

The Belarusian movement is an inspiration to all of us who believe in fundamental human rights and democracy. It took and takes courage to stand up to a regime that tolerates no competition. Thousands of people have suffered severely from police brutality and state repressions. I particularly think of the opposition members who are currently in prison for daring to demand change. The European Union has called for an immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners and persons arbitrarily detained for participating in protests against the election results or against the violence used by the authorities. Let us not relent until all political prisoners are free!

Since the fraud presidential elections, the European Union has put in place restrictive measures against a total of 88 individuals, including Alexander Lukashenko, and seven entities in Belarus. Sanctions include travel bans and the freezing of assets. In parallel, the European Parliament is actively involved in supporting the Belarusian civil society. It is key to identify the needs of the opposition representatives on the ground. We are committed to ensure that the EU does everything in its power to resolve the crisis in Belarus, to facilitate a national dialogue for organizing free and fair elections, to achieve the halt of violence against peaceful demonstrators and the release of all political prisoners.

There are far too many places in the world where individuals and groups continue having to fight daily for these fundamental rights, for the possibility to determine their own lives and future. This continuous struggle shows how precious and important the whole human rights framework is, but also how vulnerable. We must not compromise the human rights, for which the European continent has struggled so hard to achieve.

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