Shaheen Introduces Bipartisan Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2023
**Shaheen’s legislation comes on the heels of her meeting with the Democratic Leader of Belarus, Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in Washington for the Strategic Dialogue between the U.S. Department of State and Belarusian Democracy Movement**
(Washington, DC) - U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee and co-chair and founder of the Free Belarus Caucus, introduced the bipartisan Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2023. The legislation comes as Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, leader of the pro-democracy movement in Belarus, visits Washington to participate in a Strategic Dialogue between the Belarus democracy movement and the U.S. Department of State. The legislation is co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Roger Wicker (R-MS), co-chair of the Free Belarus Caucus, and Dick Durbin (D-IL).
“Lukashenka’s autocratic government operates as a puppet for the Kremlin, allowing Belarus’s sovereign territory to be used to further Putin’s agenda as he wages an illegal and barbaric war in Ukraine,” said Senator Shaheen. “Despite this, brave Belarusians continue to fight back against the illegitimate Lukashenka regime, which also commits human rights abuses against the Belarusian people. Lukashenka is not the future – the people of Belarus are, and I have full faith they will prevail. We must continue to support them in their fight for freedom and democracy.”
“No government that tramples its own citizens can prosper,” said Senator Wicker. “Lukashenko’s regime is an accomplice to Russia’s war of terror in Ukraine and must be treated as such. This legislation is a crucial step toward a better future for our friends in Belarus.”
“The Belarusian people have had enough of Lukashenka’s oppression and cowardly sellout to Putin to use their country to attack Ukraine,” said Senator Durbin. “With today’s bipartisan bill, we are reiterating that the United States Senate fully supports the aspirations of Belarusians to live in a democratic, sovereign, independent country, and we stand in solidarity with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, and the Belarusian people, who continues to strive for a free Belarus.”
Shaheen’s bill condemns the Lukashenka regime’s support for Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and recognizes Sviatlana Tsikanouskaya as the Democratic Leader of Belarus. It calls for a return to free and fair elections and for observer status for the Belarus democracy movement at international institutions. The legislation also includes provisions to support a free and independent media environment in Belarus and investigations into the Lukashenka regime’s conduct of and support for war crimes and the crime of aggression against Ukraine. The bill includes a Shaheen-authored provision to establish a Special Envoy for Belarus and mandates an annual Strategic Dialogue session between the State Department and the Belarus democracy movement until free and fair elections take place again in Belarus.
A previous iteration of the bill, the Belarus Democracy, Human Rights and Sovereignty Act of 2020, passed the House of Representatives in the 116th Congress. In 2021, Shaheen and Wicker launched the bipartisan Free Belarus Caucus following the Senators’ meeting with Tsikhanouskaya. Shaheen and Wicker have been urging the administration to appoint a U.S. Special Envoy to Belarus since August. Shaheen and Wicker also led a bipartisan resolution that reaffirms U.S. support for the Belarusian pro-democracy movement, which unanimously cleared the Senate last year.
In July, Senator Shaheen led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to the NATO Summit in Vilnius, Lithuania where the delegation met with Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya to discuss a return to democracy in Belarus and the Kremlin’s illegal war in Ukraine. The Democractic Leader of Belarus has been based in Vilnius since fleeing the Lukashenka regime, who tried her in absentia earlier this year and sentenced her to 15 years in prison. Senator Shaheen previously led a bipartisan Congressional delegation to Eastern Europe, which included stops in Ukraine and Lithuania, where she met with Ms. Tsikhanouskaya to discuss Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s regime increasing human rights abuses against political opposition. Shaheen previously questioned Tsikhanouskaya during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on U.S. policy in Belarus. Senator Shaheen penned an op-ed in USA Today on why the West must come together to address the political situation in Belarus. Last year, Shaheen joined a congressional delegation visit to Poland to discuss Russian aggression against Ukraine and met with former U.S. Special Envoy for Belarus, Ambassador Julie Fisher, and members from the Belarusian pro-democracy movement. Shaheen leads a bipartisan resolution in the Senate recognizing political repression in Belarus.