The Recognition of Governments under International Law: The Challenge of the Belarusian Presidential Election of September 9, 2001 for the United States

By Burger, Ethan S. | The George Washington International Law Review, January 1, 2003 | Go to article overview

The Recognition of Governments under International Law: The Challenge of the Belarusian Presidential Election of September 9, 2001 for the United States


Burger, Ethan S., The George Washington International Law Review


When a people tolerates being compelled, this tells much about a people.1

-Aleksandr Veshnyakov

Chairman of Russia's Central Election Commission

Russia does not influence the election because Lukashenka offered factories in return for his victory. But the situation is very bad for him. Russian oligarchs will receive no factories for their support because Lukashenka will cheat them; this is when Russia voices its clear and unequivocal position. That is why I believe we should start thinking now about what to do after the election.2

-Pavel Sheremet

Head of the Special Information Project Department

Russian Public Television Channel (ORT)

During the September 10, 2001, celebration in honor of his victory in the Belarusian presidential election conducted the previous day, President Aleksandr Lukashenka3 indicated that those who criticized his policies in the past would have to accept the decision of the Belarusian electorate.4 He seemed confident that in the aftermath of his overwhelming victory, the leaders in principal Western countries would have to learn to deal with him and that he welcomed such a situation.5 President Lukashenka exuded similar confidence that complaints about the nature of his rule and his treatment of political opponents would fade over time.6 The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, and subsequent events appear to demonstrate President Lukashenka's prescience. Nonetheless, the apparent rapprochement between the United States and Russia, as well as Belarus' alleged training of Iraqi military personnel and export of weapons to states that make those weapons available to terrorist organizations, as discussed more fully below, might ultimately prove President Lukashenka to be wrong.

This Article examines the domestic and international context of the September 9, 2001, Belarusian Presidential Election (Election), its implications for the member states of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the potential consequences for the Belarusian state and people.7 section I offers an overview of the political situation and the basis of political power in Belarus. section II discusses the Election's legal framework, its political context, and the results of the balloting, including the OSCE's evaluation of it. section III examines the international legal framework for the recognition of governments under international law. Section IV addresses the political consequences of the Belarusian election for the OSCE, with an emphasis on the United States and Russia. Section V analyzes the implications of the Election for both international law and the international community's policy towards President Lukashenka's government. This analysis contends that where an election does not comply with internationally recognized electoral norms irrespective of whether they are deemed to be "political" or "legal," its outcome should be treated as illegitimate by the world community through the withholding of diplomatic recognition of the resulting "government." The failure by states to do so hinders the development of international law and the furtherance of human rights, while undermining existing international legal norms.

I. OVERVIEW OF THE POLITICAL SITUATION AND THE BASIS OF POLITICAL, POWER IN BELARUS

The Republic of Belarus (Belarus), achieved its independence upon the official demise of the Soviet Union in December 1991.8 In November 1996, President Aleksandr Lukashenka organized a referendum on a number of issues, including the introduction of major amendments to the country's 1994 Constitution (1994 Constitution).9 Although a majority of voters purportedly voted to amend the 1994 Constitution, the Presidium of the Belarusian Supreme Soviet (the legislature at the time), the Belarusian Constitutional Court, the European Union (EU), the OSCE Troika, the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, and the United States have refused to recognize the results as "legitimate" for multiple reasons. …

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