Saturday, 16 January 2021

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Belarus : calls for a death penalty free zone in Europe

Speakers at Brussels Press Conference on the Death Penalty in Belarus. Photo:  ©Célia Dejond/UNRIC.

Miklós Haraszti, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, has called for the abolition of the death penalty in the country.

At a press conference in Brussels, with a group of human rights campaigners, the Special Rapporteur called for “a death penalty free zone in Europe”, with its abolition in Belarus, the last European country to practice capital punishment .

Belarus stopped executions for one and a half years during negotiations on the sanctions imposed on the country by the EU.  Since the conclusion of the negotiations and the subsequent lifting of the sanctions, four executions have been carried out. The first execution was  in January last year right after the Government in Belarus had told a conference at the British embassy in Minsk, that it would  “study” the abolition of capital punishment. Three followed in total secrecy in December, a total of 400 executions since the incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko took power in 1994.

“Europe rightfully expects this country, which prides itself of being the physical center of the continent, to stop being the only country in Europe where this cruel, veiled way of handling its people, is still practiced, Mr. Haraszti said. “Despite waiting, demanding, expecting , despite years of promises of stopping executions,  this has not happened.”

Mr. Haraszti condemned the secrecy and inhuman treatment of prisoners on death row and their families.  He pointed out that the existence of the death penalty was not the only way Belarus stood out since until September last year there was no opposition in parliament, no private TV and the command economy was still the rule, with 70-80% of the economy belonging to the state.

He said the issue of the death penalty was in the hands of President Lukashenko who “totally presides over the judiciary”, names all judges and prosecutors and can dismiss them.

“There is no independent judiciary in the country and all laws are prepared by the presidential administration, not by parliament.”

Among the human rights defenders appearing at the Press Conference was Ms. Lubov Kovaleva, who has campaigned against the death penalty in Belarus, since her son Vladislav Kovalyov  was executed,  for his alleged complicity in carrying out a bomb attack at a Minsk metro station on 11 April 2011. The family was not told when the execution was carried out or where he was buried. 

Miklós Haraszti, was appointed the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2012.  “In a nutshell, nothing has changed in Belarus on the human rights front,” he concluded his report to the UN General Assembly 28 October 2016.

See also: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus

Photo caption: Mr. Haraszti (center) with Valiantsin Stefanovich of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and  Andrei Palud, the  coordinator of the campaign Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus. Célia Dejond/UNRIC.


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