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ICAN meets with Sviatlana Tsihanouskaya about Belarus and Nuclear Weapons

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On February 3 2022, ICAN met with Belarusian human rights activist and opposition leader Sviatlana Tshianouskaya in Vilnius, Lithuania to discuss the disturbing threats of nuclear weapons deployment in Belarus. Below is a readout of the meeting:

Today, Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya welcomed Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) to discuss the disturbing threats of nuclear weapons deployment in Belarus as the prospect of open conflict grows in the region. The Belarusian Constitution includes a founding pledge to remain nuclear-weapons-free following the removal of Soviet nuclear weapons at the end of the Cold War. Alexander Lukashenko intends to remove that guarantee through an illegal referendum on February 27 of this year.

The Nobel Peace laureate and the leader of democratic Belarus shared their concerns regarding statements made by Lukashenko and echoed by Russian officials about deploying nuclear weapons to Belarus. They agreed that nuclear weapons represent an unacceptable and inhumane threat to all and the will of the governed must be respected in all decision regarding nuclear weapons. Ms. Fihn encouraged the people of Belarus to stand firm against this violation of the peoples’ will and called for a diplomatic offensive to reverse the dangerous push to regional conflict.

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya affirmed that under her leadership, Belarus would follow popular opinion to retain its nuclear-weapon-free and neutrality status. She agreed that once democratic process is established in Belarus, its people would take a close look at the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons that would formalise its popular opinion on stationing nuclear weapons on its territory.

Ms. Fihn reaffirmed the support of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons for free and democratic societies in Belarus, Europe and around the world, where the will of people for a security free of nuclear weapons is respected by their governments.

The two agreed that:

  • The nuclear threat is growing, and real, nuclear weapons cannot be used as bargaining chips.
  • Efforts to amend the constitution of Belarus to remove nuclear-weapons-free status must be halted.
  • Exercises and overflights with nuclear capable systems must cease immediately.
  • Nuclear weapons are inhumane, weapons of mass destruction, banned under international law.
  • A free and vibrant civil society is a must for security and prosperity in Belarus.

Beatrice Fihn commented, “We cannot turn a blind eye to the suppression of civil society in Belarus or anywhere. A state will never be strong and secure without a robust and respected civil society raising the voices of the people. The region and world are safer because the people of Belarus have rejected nuclear weapons for three decades. I thank Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya for standing with the people and continuing that proud Belarusian tradition of strength that respects human dignity and humanitarian law.”

Ms. Tsikhanouskaya said, “Belarus is a case study on how the collapse of democratic institutions led the regime to becoming a threat to international peace and security: a hijacked Ryanair flight, an engineered migration crisis, military intervention in Kazakhstan, allowing Russia to threaten Ukraine from Belarus’s territory. Now Lukashenka wants to abandon nuclear-weapons-free and neutrality status. All these steps are made without the mandate from the people and are illegal. We will work together with ICAN and other international actors to ensure that Belarus remains a nuclear-weapon-free and neutral state. This is what Belarusians wanted in 1990. This is what they want today.”