TORONTO, March 23, 2021 – As the Belarus crisis enters the eighth month, Belarusian Canadian Alliance (BCA), a non-profit organization that represents Canada’s Belarusian diaspora, joins the people of Belarus in celebrating the nation’s Freedom Day on March 25. BCA members also urge Canada to step up its sanctions against the dictatorial regime and support an open and inclusive dialogue in the country.
“Every day of the current regime in Belarus costs innumerable broken lives, and we call on Canada to work with the U.S. and the international community on urgent new measures to help us all bring the country closer to democratic change,” says Alena Liavonchanka, head of the Belarusian Canadian Alliance. “These measures should include tougher sanctions against the regime and active support of an open and inclusive dialogue in Belarus that we hope will result in internationally monitored elections before the end of the year.”
The leaders of the Belarusian pro-democracy movement have called for a renewal of mass demonstrations in Belarus on the country’s Freedom Day traditionally celebrated on March 25, the anniversary of the Belarusian People’s Republic that existed for less than a year in 1918.
Joining them that day, Belarusian Canadians will march on the streets of their cities carrying historic Belarusian national flags in solidarity with the protesters. Belarusian Canadian demonstrators will also call for the resignation of Alyaksandr Lukashenka, a new election this year, and the release of all political prisoners.
Canada is among several nations, including the U.S. and members of the European Union, that have denounced the presidential election in Belarus as neither free nor fair and implemented sanctions against Belarusian officials responsible for vote-rigging and a crackdown on protests. On February 7, Canada pledged to provide $2.25 million to support civil society organizations defending human rights and civil liberties against Lukashenka’s dictatorial regime. However, as violence in Belarus continues to escalate, the international community should do more.
The BCA leadership calls on the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada, to work with the U.S. and other international partners to facilitate a mediation and negotiation process led by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and the United Nations. In addition, the organization encourages Canada to implement additional tougher and more comprehensive sanctions against the perpetrators of violence in Belarus targeting the country’s judges, security officials and state-owned enterprises.
“It’s hard to imagine what Belarusians are going through, and it’s very important for them to know the world has not forgotten about them,” says Liavonchanka. “There are many things Canadians can do as gestures of solidarity. One of them, for example, could be sending letters to political prisoners in Belarus.”
A Central European nation of 9.4 million people has been rocked by protests since an August 2020 presidential election widely believed to have been rigged in favor of Alyaksandr Lukashenka ruling the country since 1994. Belarusians, whose voices have not been counted or heard in the election, have participated in the largest protests since the fall of the Berlin Wall. Lukashenka’s government responded with a massive crackdown on dissent, and human rights atrocities became a systematic practice as the regime continues to step up the intimidation and violent repression of Belarusians.
According to Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, 32,000 people have been detained, 2,500 criminal cases have been initiated, 1,000 cases of torture have been documented by human rights NGOs, and 290 people are currently being held as political prisoners. At least eight protesters have been killed, and no government officials have been held accountable for the violence.
Despite these massive challenges, Belarusians have spearheaded a pro-democracy movement that may shape the future of the region, and Canadian support is critical during this transformative time.
About the Belarusian Canadian Alliance
The Belarusian Canadian Alliance has represented the Belarusian community in Canada since 1948. Throughout these years, it has built close relationships with many other Eastern European diaspora organizations in Canada, as well as the Coordination Council of Belarus led by the President-Elect Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya. The organization has repeatedly called on the Belarusian authorities to immediately release all illegally detained Belarusians and political prisoners, fully investigate all violations of human rights and run a fair and transparent election.