Canada Sanctions Belarusian Officials for ‘Gross and Systematic Human Rights Violations’

On September 29, 2020, the Government of Canada imposed sanctions on several officials representing the Government of Belarus under the Special Economic Measures Act (SEMA), including Belarusian President Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko. According to Government Affairs Canada, the sanctions are part of a broader diplomatic effort in the wake of “a systematic campaign of repression and violence against public protests and the activities of opposition groups” in Belarus that followed its fraudulent presidential election in August 2020.

Under SEMA, the Government of Canada is authorized to impose sanctions on foreign jurisdictions and persons where it is of the opinion that a grave breach of international peace and security has occurred that has resulted in or is likely to result in a serious international crisis. The effect of sanctions under SEMA is to prevent any person in Canada (individuals and corporate entities), and any Canadian outside Canada (including Canadian citizens and Canadian corporations or businesses with activities abroad) from directly or indirectly participating, causing, facilitating, or assisting with certain dealings involving a specified foreign jurisdiction and/or specified persons. Typically, SEMA targets dealings involving property of persons designated under a special regulation, as well as financial or other related services relating to restricted dealings.

Canada’s sanctions on Belarusian officials under SEMA, known as the Special Economic Measures (Belarus) Regulations prohibit the following:

  • Dealings in any property, wherever situated, that is owned, held or controlled by a listed person or by a person acting on behalf of a listed person;
  • entering into or facilitating any transaction related to a prohibited dealing;
  • providing any financial or related services in respect of a prohibited dealing;
  • making available any goods, wherever situated, to a listed person or to a person acting on behalf of a listed person; or
  • providing any financial or related services to or for the benefit of a listed person.

The newly sanctioned persons, who are also inadmissible to enter Canada under section 35(1)(d) of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act are:

  1. Khazalbek Bakhtibekovich Atabekov, Deputy Commander of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs
  2. Dmitry Vladimirovich Balaba, Commander of the Special Purpose Police Unit of Minsk aka OMON
  3. Aleksandr Petrovich Barsukov, Deputy Minister of Ministry of Internal Affairs and Chief of Public Security Police
  4. Yelena Nikolaevna Dmukhailo, Representative of the Belarusian Central Election Commission and a judge in Minsk
  5. Vadim Dmitriyevich Ipatov, Deputy Chairperson of the Central Electoral Commission
  6. Yuri Khadzhimuratovich Karaev, Minister of Internal Affairs and Major General of Militia
  7. Ivan Vladimirovich Kubrakov, Head of the Main Internal Affairs Directorate of the Minsk City Executive Committee
  8. Aleksandr Grigoryevich Lukashenko, President of Belarus
  9. Viktor Aleksandrovich Lukashenko, National Security Adviser to the President and son of Aleksandr Lukashenko
  10. Yuri Gennadevich Nazarenko, Deputy Minister of Internal Affairs and Commander of Internal Troops
  11. Lidia Mikhailovna Vermoshina, Chairwoman of the Central Election Commission

Canada is among several states who have responded to unrest in Belarus by sanctioning Belarusian individuals and state or commercial entities. For example, on October 2, the European Union adopted sanctions against 40 Belarusian individuals. On the same day, the United States expanded its list of sanctioned Belarusian individuals from 16 to 24 people. On September 29, the United Kingdom sanctioned 8 Belarusian government officials. Belarus’ Baltic neighbours have also introduced sanctions against Belarus and over 100 Belarusian officials, including a travel restriction effective August 31.

This recent development in Canada-Belarus foreign relations is a setback in what had been an improving relationship over recent years. In 2016, Canada re-established diplomatic engagement with Belarus, and in 2017, removed the requirement to obtain authorization for trading in goods and technology between Canada and Belarus. Canada’s total merchandise trade with Belarus totaled C$42.5 million in 2017, consisting of C$3 million in exports (mainly equipment/machinery) and C$39.5 million in imports (mainly petroleum products).

Foreign policymakers and geo-political analysts alike remain uncertain as to how long Canada and its allies will maintain their sanctions on Belarus. However, given that violent clashes between anti-regime protestors and Belarusian security forces continue and unrest remains ongoing in Belarus, there is an expectation that sanctions will be maintained for at least the foreseeable future.

On October 14, 2020, the federal government added an additional 31 Belarusian officials to the list of sanctioned individuals under the Special Economic Measures Act. The addition to the schedule of listed persons in the Special Economic Measures (Belarus) Regulations follows Canada’s initial imposition of sanctions against the above-noted 11 Belarusian government officials on September 29, 2020 in connection with Belarusian presidential elections and subsequent public protests. The complete list of sanctioned Belarusian individuals can be accessed here.