The EU has renewed its remaining sanctions against Belarus for 1 year, until 28 February 2018. The sanctions include an arms embargo, and a travel ban and asset freeze on 4 people listed in connection with the disappearances of 2 opposition politicians, 1 businessman, and 1 journalist in 1999/2000. Renewing the measures, the EU Council reiterated that “tangible steps taken by Belarus to respect universal fundamental freedoms, rule of law, and human rights” will be key to the future of EU policy towards the country. In February 2016, the EU lifted most of its sanctions against Belarus (see previous blog).
The General Court of the EU has rejected Vadzim Ipatau’s 2nd application for his listing on the EU’s sanctions against Belarus to be annulled – in Joined Cases T-694/13 & T-2/15 Ipatau v Council . The reason given for his listing on these measures which target people (inter alia) responsible for violations of electoral standards in Belarus, is that he is the Vice-President of Belarus’ highest electoral authority (the CEC).
This is the same as the reason given for his previous designation; the revised version adds Mr Ipatau’s involvement in the Parliamentary elections of September 2012, in addition presidential election of December 2010. His previous application for annulment was dismissed by the General Court in a judgment upheld by ECJ in June 2015 (see previous blog). This case is very similar; the Court said the reasons for his listing sufficiently clear, Mr Ipatau did not dispute that he was Vice-President of the CEC, the highest electoral authority in Belarus, and an OSCE report supported the Council’s reasons. The Court (as it usually does) rejected the rights of defence and proportionality arguments and ordered the applicant to pay the Council’s costs.
The USA has renewed its sanctions on Belarus, by President Obama continuing the national emergency declared in respect of actions of the Belarus Government under the National Emergencies Act. This has the effect of renewing US sanctions on people who directly or indirectly “undermine Belarus’ democratic processes or institutions, commit human rights abuses related to political repression, or engage in public corruption” for a year.
The sanctions automatically expire if not renewed by the President within 90 days prior to the anniversary date of the national emergency being declared. The White House statement is here.
The General Court of the EU has annulled Aliaksei Mikhalchanka’s inclusion on the EU’s sanctions against Belarus, in Case T-693/13 Mikhalchanka v Council . His inclusion on previous EU measures against Belarus was annulled by the General Court in 2014 (see previous blog), but his application to annul the listing that replaced it in 2013 was inadmissible at that time. He has now successfully applied to have the replacement listing annulled.
The statement of reasons for the applicant’s listing under the new measures was the same as under the previous measures, so as before the Court found that the Council had made a manifest error of assessment when it sanctioned him for supporting the regime’s anti-democratic behaviour as an influential journalist on state television, without adducing any evidence to demonstrate his influence on the repression of political opponents and civil society or that of the program he presented. The Court also found that his interest in the proceedings remained even though he was de-listed after his application was lodged, as have been all but 4 other people targeted by the EU’s sanctions on Belarus (see previous blog).
The Court dismissed the applicant’s argument that the rights of the defence had been violated, finding that new notification was not needed for the replacement listing, in spite of the subsequent annulment of his old listing, because the reasons for his listing were the same in both cases and annulment of a listing does not also annul the original notification of that listing. It also dismissed the argument that the Council’s reasons for the applicant’s listing were inadequate. The Council was ordered to bear the applicant’s costs.
Canada will lift its sanctions on Belarus, following similar action in the EU, US, and Switzerland. While Canada completes the regulatory process necessary to remove Belarus from the Area Control List by which the sanctions are imposed, it has said that it will normally issue export permits for the export of goods to Belarus, provided they are not listed on the Export Control List.
In its press release, the Canadian government said that its decision was “in response to recent positive developments in Belarus” and that it “will continue to monitor the evolving situation”.
OFAC has renewed its authorisation of transactions with all sanctioned Belarusian entities for a further 6 months, until 31 October 2016. The renewal was made by Belarus General Licence 2A, which replaces and supersedes General Licence 2 under which the authorisation was previously granted.
The General Licence requires any US person taking advantage of the authorisations to report any such transactions, or series of transactions, in excess of $50,000 to the US Department of State no later than 30 days after their execution. No new property has been unblocked by General Licence 2A.
Earlier this year, the House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee asked Europe Minister David Lidington to comment on the EU’s decision to lift its Belarus sanctions against 170 people and 3 entities on 15 February 2016 (see previous blog). The Minister did so in March, informing the committee that EU member states had noted improvements in the human rights situation in Belarus, and that his view was that “in order for sanctions to remain a credible and effective foreign policy tool, it is important that we remain willing to lift measures in response to positive changes in behaviour”. The Committee has now cleared the EU measures implementing that decision from scrutiny, although expressing its surprise that the Minister did not submit the related measures and Explanatory Memorandum for scrutiny until 9 March. The Committee said that “the ensuing year will tell if the policy of ‘carefully calibrated engagement’ that the Minister says he is seeking is any more effective than hitherto in securing fundamental change”.
The House of Commons EU Scrutiny Committee (meeting summary here) asked the Europe Minister to comment on the EU’s decision to lift its Belarus sanctions against 170 people and 3 entities on 15 February 2016, leaving only 4 people still listed (see previous blog). The Minister David Lidington stated that the UK “continues to advocate a cautious approach to EU-Belarus relations”, but that the Council’s decision “is the best outcome given differing opinions amongst Member States” since “failure to come to a consensus view would have seen the restrictive measures against Belarus expire” on 29 February.
The Minster said that “too little time has passed to judge Belarus’ long-term commitment to open and democratic governance”. The Committee left it to others “to judge how much constitutes ‘too little time’, given that President Lukashenko has now been in office since July 1994”.