Europe of Human Rights

Death penalty in Belarus

On 30th November the Belarusian court will pronounce the death penalty to two Belarussians, Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou. On April 11th, an explosion tore through a Minsk subway, 14 people were killed and over 200 were injured. This terrible event was followed by, what many believe, an unfair and sensational trial without hard evidence of guilt. The two men accused of the terrorist attack will be executed in less then two weeks.

Concerned activists issued an online petition and are collecting signatures to stop the execution. It is the first time such an initiative is launched in Belarus. Up until this moment it was mainly human rights organizations who stressed the need to abolish the death penalty or, at least, to declare a moratorium on it. Now the protest comes from the people themselves, who do not trust the results of the investigation. This is symptomatic of the societies distrust in the judiciary.

In 1996 in a referendum 80,44 % of Belarusians opposed the abolition of death penalty. According to the Belarusian Criminal Code death penalty may be imposed in case of aggression against the state, the murder of a diplomat or foreign correspondent, international terrorism, genocide, crime against humanity, crimes related to the use of mass destruction weapons, murder, State treason, sabotage or murder of a police functionary. Death penalties in Minsk take the form of shooting execution, the place of burial is a state secrecy. The families are only informed about the fact of the execution.

Valiantsin Stefanovich, vice-chair of the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and co-founder of the campaign against the death penalty, in response to the possibility of sentencing the two young men to capital punishment, released an urgent appeal to the people of Belarus. In the appeal we read: “it may seem that justice is ready to ‘win’ again. It is the execution of persons who themselves committed murder, that many see as the restoration of the very justice.” At the same time “there is a strange metamorphosis within the society. It was this terrible tragedy that perhaps for the first time highlighted the issue of capital punishment, forced to think about it. The people do not believe in Kanavalau and Kavaliou’s guilt, having launched a petition to protect them from execution.”

Stefanovich names several arguments against the death penalty in Belarus. For him the crucial ones are “the lack of an independent judiciary in the country, the extreme dependence and powerlessness of lawyers, the complete lack of public control over the activities of secret services, police and prison system. Under these conditions, the application of the death penalty raises the possibility of a forced, torture-related, self-inculpation, a miscarriage of justice and as a result a death sentence to an innocent person”.

The direct neighbor of the EU is the only country in the region, which failed to abolish the death penalty. Protocol No.6 to the European Convention on Human Rights restricted the application of the capital punishment. It was the Parliamentary Assembly that proposed to abolish the death penalty in peacetime, as a result of which the protocol was adopted in Aprli 1983. In 2002 another important step was taken when Protocol No. 13 on the total abolition of capital punishment, even for acts committed in time of war, was adopted. Also the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights includes in art. 2 the ban of capital punishment. The EU has been an active promoter of worldwide abolition of the death penalty. Also the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights adjudicated that the principle of non-refoulement covers the risk of arbitrary deprivation of life, in particular through the imposition of the death penalty without fundamental guarantees of fair trial.

All the organizations mentioned above regularly call on the Belarusian authorities to abolish the death penalty. However the appeals bring no effect.

Discussions on death penalty are also a reality in some of the member states of the EU. At the end of November 2011, Jarosław Kaczyński, former Polish Prime Minister and opposition leader, lodged with the Polish Parliament a draft of ammendments to the Criminal Code restoring the capital punishment.

Dominika Bychawska-Siniarska and Zuzanna Warso, “Europe of Human Rights”

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