It is impossible that a genuine democratic election could be held in these deplorable circumstances. Madam Chair, So long as the regime in Belarus continues to fail to meet its OSCE human dimension commitments, and to violate the human rights and democratic freedoms of its people, we will continue to speak out and to raise our concerns. Viasna Human Rights Center continues to report over 1,400 current political prisoners, and that a staggering total of over 6,300 people have been the victims of political repression through criminal and administrative convictions in 2023. Belarus’ failure to uphold its human dimension commitments further extends to its clear disregard for its OSCE commitments in regard to democracy, and the Belarusian authorities’ refusal to ensure that the people of Belarus can freely and fairly express their will in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Many political prisoners face isolation, mistreatment, and a lack of medical care which has led to instances of death in detention, such as the recent appalling cases of Vadzim Khrasko, Vitold Ashurak, and Ales Pushkin. Individuals are sometimes held without any contact to the outside world nor do their families have any information about their whereabouts or condition. We call for the immediate and unconditional release of all political prisoners in Belarus. Madam Chair, Like the brutal post-election crackdowns in 2020, these actions appear to be aimed at intimidating the people of Belarus in the lead up to scheduled parliamentary elections this month. Thank you. Let us also be clear: Belarus’ refusal is inconsistent with the commitments made by participating States in Istanbul in 1999 to invite election observers from ODIHR, and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and to follow up on ODIHR’s election assessment and recommendations. We share the concerns that have been expressed by both ODIHR Director Mecacci and OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Pia Kauma on this vital democratic issue. We call on the Belarusian authorities to fully implement their international obligations and OSCE commitments, including by taking all necessary steps to create conditions for free, fair and genuinely democratic elections. The Lukashenko regime, of course, knows that this is the case. It is for this reason that Belarus has refused to invite election observers through the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Parliamentary Assembly. In rejecting these observers, the regime seeks to avoid the transparency essential for holding genuinely democratic elections. The Lukashenko regime, of course, knows that this is the case. It is for this reason that Belarus has refused to invite election observers through the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) and Parliamentary Assembly. In rejecting these observers, the regime seeks to avoid the transparency essential for holding genuinely democratic elections. In 1991, OSCE participating States “categorically and irrevocably” declared that the commitments undertaken in the human dimension are “matters of direct and legitimate concern to all participating States and do not belong exclusively to the internal affairs of the State concerned” (Moscow Document, 1991). I am delivering this statement on behalf of the following participating States, who are members of the Informal Group of Friends of Democratic Belarus: Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and my own country, Canada. This regrettable situation has been clearly documented in both the 2020 and 2023 Moscow Mechanism Reports, by the UN Special Rapporteur on Belarus and the OHCHR examination of the human rights situation in Belarus, as well as by the International Accountability Platform for Belarus and by Belarus’ courageous human rights defenders. The OSCE Representative on the Freedom of the Media has spoken out repeatedly against repressive measures aimed at journalists and media actors in Belarus. It is evident that the authorities in Belarus have no intention to hold the genuine elections that are required under OSCE commitments. It is impossible so long as all forms of dissent or opposition are met with intimidation, harassment, persecution and imprisonment. In Belarus: there is no freedom of expression; there is no freedom of association; and there is no free and independent media to share a plurality of ideas. We condemn the continued military support provided by Belarus for Russia’s illegal, unprovoked and unjustifiable war of aggression against Ukraine. We call on Belarus not to provide further support for Russia’s war of aggression.