The regime in Belarus can and should become the main target for sanctions.
Author of the Magnitsky Act, founder of the Heritage Capital foundation Bill Browder gave an interview to leader of the European Belarus civil campaign Andrei Sannikov for the Belarus File blog:
- First, congratulations on the UK list on sanctions on Russia, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia and other countries. You have taken an amazing effort. So, the first question is where are you now, as for promotion of global Magnitsky and in individual countries?
- The big next challenge if the European Union. The EU made a decision in principle in December of last year to have their global Magnitsky Act, but they were supposed to put in place all the fine points the details. However, because of the coronavirus it looks this all has been delayed. And so we need to put pressure on the European Union, because even with the UK, the US, with Canada, possibly Australia in the future, without the EU a huge important part of the world will be left out of this whole campaign.
- You probably know about the situation in Belarus which is again getting very tense, and we have some I would say soft reaction from the European Union and from others, but yesterday there was a letter addressed to the leadership of the European Union, calling on sanctions against the regime of Lukashenka, and by the way they mentioned Magnitsky Act specifically as an instrument, a very effective instrument to fight the criminals in power. You are really promoting the instrument that we need badly in Belarus. So, the question is: do you think that now when there is a wave of repression in Belarus, people are thrown in jail, they are being tortured there, so can the Magnitsky act be applied towards the Belarusian situation because it has two parts, as far as I understand, one is corruption and the second one is mass and gross violation of human rights?
- It’s clear that the actions of Lukashenka and his regime, torturing political opposition candidates and other people, and other human rights abuses will fall squarely under the auspices of the Magnitsky Act. And I would think that Belarus would be an easy country to sanction since they don’t have any huge international economic program for average people, they don’t seem to have any military might that would scare people, and I would imagine that Belarus is a prime target, and it should be a prime target for what Lukashenka has done recently, for what he has done over a long period of time.
- Can you give some advice how to proceed in the United States, because secretary Pompeo also expressed concerns quite clearly about the repression in Belarus and about the need for free and fair election, so how can we proceed both in the United States and in Europe, and in individual countries - what would be the most effective and practical way?
- Well, there is an expression: “The squeaky wheel gets greased.” Everybody in Washington, London, Ottawa are being presented with details, situations, and agendas all day every day. And so it is really important to have well-organized, well-oiled campaign, where you brief the law-makers of these countries, as regularly as you can, on what is happening in Belarus, with the specific ask, which should be to sanction senior officials of the Lukashenka regime for the human rights abuse against opposition politicians, and peaceful demonstrators.
- When I was in jail, you were very supportive for the international efforts to release political prisoners, to stop tortures, to respect human rights in Belarus. First of all, I am very grateful to you for this, and I would also like to have your advice on whom to approach now, not just in connection with the Magnitsky act, but as campaigning for human rights in Belarus?
- Well, I think that everybody who is interested in Russia, is interested in Belarus. There is a very clear and defined group of parliamentarians in different countries, and I think their names are well-known, and if they are not, just look who are the key supporters of Magnitsky Act, and I guarantee you they will be supportive of the issues of Belarus. It’s an easy, moral argument to be made, and I’m sure they will be on your side.
- What are the most important elements of campaigning, I mean both on the public side, the media side, and the politicians side?
- They key of the whole thing is well-documented proof of human rights abuse. I’ve seen the stories in the media, and so there’s no shortage of information, I’m sure there’s no shortage of proof. And so if politicians can understand the story, see the proofs it will be very easy to apply the Magnitsky Act to the people perpetrating these abuses.
- You see what is happening in Belarus, you see how courageously the people of Belarus fight for freedom. Maybe you have some words of support for them?
- You should understand that the time of the dictator is coming to an end. We are in the world, where there are smartphones, YouTube, there are videos, and all the things that dictators used to do in secret, can no longer be done in secret. With the information out, and the tools available like Magnitsky Act, and other things like that, it gives us at least some leveling of the playing field, and the more information in the West, the more understanding we have about the people perpetrating these abuses, what their names are, how they are doing this, the more likely there will be consequences for them.
- Thank you very much, thank you for your support because you provided the most important instrument mainly today against the impunity of perpetrators. Long Live Belarus!
- Long Live Belarus!