( AP ) - A U.N. General Assembly committee approved a draft resolution on Wednesday criticizing the deteriorating human rights situation in Belarus and urging the government to stop politically motivated prosecutions.
In his 13-year tenure, President Alexander Lukashenko has quashed dissent and prolonged his rule through elections regarded in the West as illegitimate. The nation of 10 million remains frozen in the Soviet era, with a planned economy, a rubber-stamp legislature and virtually no independent media.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the U.S.-sponsored draft's approval not only highlights a lack of human rights in Belarus but sends a strong message that "we don't just hold developing countries accountable but developed countries as well."
"As the last dictatorship in Europe, ( Belarus) continues to imprison people as part of its political strategy," Khalilzad said, and it places severe restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly and prevents free elections.
The vote in the assembly's human rights committee passed 68-32 with 76 abstentions. The resolution now needs the backing of the 192-nation world body. General Assembly resolutions are not legally binding but reflect world opinion.
Russia, which has close ties to Belarus, tried to block a vote on the draft resolution. That motion was defeated by a vote of 79 against to 65 in favor, with 31 abstentions.
After the vote, the representative of Belarus said his country would not recognize the draft, calling its accusations "unfounded" and saying it had no legal, political or moral force.
The draft resolution expresses concern "that the situation of human rights in Belarus in 2007 continued to significantly deteriorate."
It cites the "severely flawed" presidential election in March 2006 "due to arbitrary use of state power" and the government's failure to ensure that local elections in January 2007 met international standards, including its use of intimidation and arbitrary registration standards to exclude opposition candidates.
The draft resolution expresses "deep concern" at the government's continued use of the criminal justice system to silence political opponents, human rights defenders and journalists.
The draft urges the government of Belarus "to release immediately and unconditionally all individuals detained for politically motivated reasons and other individuals detained for exercising or promoting human rights."
It also urges the government to meet international standards for elections, to respect the rights to freedom of speech, assembly and association, and to suspend any officials implicated in cases of forced disappearance, summary execution and torture.