US President Barack Obama [official website] on Tuesday signed the Belarus Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2011 [text, PDF], which will impose new sanctions on Belarus. The law labels President Alexander Lukashenko [BBC profile; JURIST news archive] a dictator and states that he "established himself in power by orchestrating an illegal and unconstitutional referendum that enabled him to impose a new constitution, abolishing the duly elected parliament." The new sanctions require the US to investigate Belarus' arms deals and its possible censorship of the Internet, as well as denying visas to a list of Belarusian officials. The bill also calls on the International Ice Hockey Federation [official website] to change the location of the 2014 International World Ice Hockey Championship, currently scheduled in Minsk, which the US believes will "legitimize" the Belarusian government. The legislation was passed by Congress [JURIST report] in late December.
Belarus has been under increasing criticism for what many see as a rapid decline of human rights in the Eastern European nation. In November a Belarus court convicted [JURIST report] human rights activist Ales Bialiatski, the president of Viasana and vice-president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) [advocacy websites], of tax evasion, sentencing him to a four-and-a-half-year prison term amid international criticism. In September UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] suggested a need for UN intervention in Belarus [JURIST report] and demanded the nation free non-violent political prisoners. Her report also cited Belarus as the only European nation to still enforce the death penalty. Ambassador Mikhail Khvostov said his country disagrees with the UN on what constitutes a peaceful demonstration and that Belarus is committed to human rights.