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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus Told By U.S. to Fix Rights Record




MINSK, Belarus -- The United States will not normalize its relations with Belarus unless the ex-Soviet republic improves its human rights record, a U.S. official said Thursday.


Belarus and its president, Alexander Lukashenko, have come under increasing pressure from the West, especially after a crackdown on protesters last month and a number of controversial arrests of prominent opposition figures.


"Normalization cannot and will not occur until the government of Belarus takes concrete steps to ensure democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law," Harold Koh, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor, told reporters outside the Belarussian Foreign Ministry.


Koh was speaking at the end of a two-day visit to Belarus.


"We have adopted a policy of selective engagement - restricting the number and level of official contacts while maintaining and developing our relationship with democratic forces," Koh said.


"Here in Belarus those of you who have chosen to speak the truth...have done so at great risk of your freedom and even your lives," he said in a speech at a non-governmental human rights conference Wednesday. He also met with opposition figures and families of critics of Lukashenko who have been arrested or who are missing.


But a human rights official from Russia, in Belarus at the same time as the U.S. delegation, gave a positive assessment. "I came here to dispel the myth that Belarus violates human rights," Russian Human Rights Commissioner Oleg Mironov told state newspapers.