Status on South Africa’s Programme to deepen Economic and Political Relations with Belarus
FOR WRITTEN REPLY
QUESTION NO: 1133
PUBLISHED IN INTERNAL QUESTION PAPER NO 24 OF 3 AUGUST 2007
1133. A J Leon (DA) to ask the Minister of Foreign Affairs:
(1) “Whether, with regard to South Africa’s embarking on a programme to deepen economic and political relations with Belarus through signing the Intergovernmental Committee on Trade and Economic Co-operation (Itec), she has been informed of the current political conditions in Belarus that include a number of human rights violations, such as (a) the violent suppression of opposition party protests against the widely condemned elections held in 2006, (b) the five-year prison sentence handed down to the official opposition party leader for his role in the protests and (c) the violations of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of association, fair trial, physical and mental integrity and liberty, as founded by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Freedom of Expression, Torture and Independence of Judges and Lawyers; if not, what is the position in this regard; if so,
(2) whether she took these violations into account before signing Itec; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;
(3) whether she condones these human rights violations; if so, why; if not,
(4) whether she still plans to deepen relations with Belarus in the future; if not, what is the position in this regard; if so, what are the relevant details?” N1593E
In response to the question posed by Honourable Leon in respect to human rights violation in Belarus I wish to inform the Honourable Member that;
(1) Belarus is a country in transition and one would expect it to face challenges.
(2) South Africa’s engagement with Belarus is an effort to assist it to overcome the challenges they face economically, socially, etc. so that Belarus could emerge from transition and be able to deal with its socio-economic and political challenges.
(3) The Government of South Africa condemns human rights violations wherever they occur. The erstwhile Commission on Human Rights, which was replaced by the Human Rights Council in March 2006, had a special mandate for Belarus. However, during the fifth session of the Human Rights Council the special mandate on Belarus was terminated. Prior to the termination of the special mandate on Belarus the special rapporteur was denied entry into Belarus. The information obtained by the special rapporteur was gathered from the neighbouring states. The report became controversial and was rejected by the Human Rights Council. However, should there be a consideration of the issue South Africa would actively participate.
(4) The termination of the special mandate on Belarus by the Human Rights Council, refusal by the Belarusian government to co-operate with the Special Rapporteur as well as the rejection of the report of the Special Rapporteur by the Human Rights Council, poses a further challenge to the Human Rights Council if this matter is brought before it in future.