Members of the European Parliament are set to step up their pressure for international prosecutions to be brought against Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko for involvement in acts of torture and mass repression.
On Tuesday, Lithuanian MEP Andrius Kubilius, former Prime Minister, declared in Strasbourg that “Lukashenko must be brought before the International Court of Justice”.
His position was supported by German Green MEP Sergey Lagodinsky, who said that “legal proceedings for torture must be brought against Lukashenko himself”.
This suggests that the request is likely to make it a European Parliament resolution to be voted on to a full house on Thursday.
MPs say President Lukashenko personally ordered the illegal arrest and torture of opposition demonstrators who protested against the disputed presidential elections in August 2020 – at least 700 of those arrested are still in prison.
According to Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights, the establishment of an international tribunal to investigate crimes committed in Belarus would be possible, “when the state itself is not willing or unable to act and bring these people to justice ”.
Belarus: state sponsored smuggling
The Strasbourg debate also focused on the migrants, mainly from Iraq, that Minsk sends across its border to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.
At least 5 people died during the crossing.
EU Migration Commissioner Ylva Johansson called it “state sponsored human trafficking”.
“They [the Belarus government] attract people to Minsk, which they transport to the border in unmarked transport vehicles by men in unmarked uniforms, ”she told the house.
Poland, Latvia and Lithuania all remain under a state of emergency – after more than 6,000 people crossed the border illegally this year, up from 150 last year.
During the debate in the European Parliament, European Commissioner Ylva Johansen said arrivals had “declined considerably in recent weeks”.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has successfully put pressure on the Iraqi government to suspend direct flights from Baghdad to Minsk.
Minsk’s gestures of defiance towards the EU
On Monday, however, Minsk’s parliament approved a bill to end an agreement Belarus has reached with the EU allowing refugees to return there.
Belarusian Interior Minister Ivan Kubrakov said: “We have duly notified the EU that we are suspending this agreement.”
In response, the European Commission is considering ending a visa deal for Belarusian government officials. This would require a lot more paperwork for applicants and increase the cost of visas, which is currently € 35 ($ 40.55).
More sanctions against Belarus
The EU has already imposed a series of sanctions against Belarus, which began after the August 2020 elections – a vote the EU does not consider free and fair.
The ensuing crackdown on protesters and an incident in which Belarusian authorities forcibly brought a Ryanair plane into Minsk to snatch an opposition journalist from the plane led to four rounds of punitive measures.
A total of 166 senior Belarusian officials are currently subject to restrictive measures such as asset freezes and travel bans.
At the end of June, the EU also imposed economic sanctions, including a ban on Belarus from accessing EU capital markets and a restriction on European imports of potash, a lucrative export from Belarus.
MEPs are expected to use their resolution to call hastily with the fifth round of sanctions currently being prepared by the EU’s external action service.
Tensions in Moscow
While the border issue is currently a priority for the EU, President Lukashenko faces another crisis that has distracted the attention of authorities in Minsk and resulted in a confrontation with Moscow.
The situation stems from an incident on September 28 in which a computer scientist and opposition supporter was killed in a KGB security service raid on his Minsk apartment, but not before the man killed one of the officers in a shootout.
Belarusian state media released a heavily edited video of the raid that includes footage from inside the apartment before officers kicked in the door and entered.
The Lukashenko regime called the man a “terrorist” and then detained a journalist from the pro-Kremlin Russian newspaper. Komsomolskaya Pravda, as well as to force the publication to cease its distribution in Belarus and to block access to its online site.
The measures came after the newspaper published an interview with a classmate of the killed computer specialist, which Minsk said put him in a favorable light.
In response, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “we are waiting for these restrictions to be lifted to ensure the free work of our eminent publication. [Komsomolskaya Pravda] in the territory of our allied Belarus. ”
Jonathan Millins, Belarusian political adviser at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, says these statements are proof of real anger in Moscow.
“It reveals something that people in the West don’t really see,” Millins told DW, “that Lukashenko is a wild card and not as much under Putin’s thumb as you might think.”