Death Penalty in Belarus : Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds

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(Minsk, Paris) In Belarus, the rights of people sentenced to death are violated at all stages of the legal proceedings, making the application of death penalty in the country unlawful and arbitrary, said today FIDH and HRC "Viasna" in Minsk during the presentation of their report "Death Penalty in Belarus : Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds".

On 4 October 2016, FIDH and HRC "Viasna" attended the death penalty verdict reaffirmed in appeal by the Supreme Court of Belarus, in the case of Sergei Vostrikov. The two organisations call on the Belarusian authorities to suspend immediately his execution and more generally to abolish death penalty in the country, or to establish a moratorium as a first step towards the abolition.

After almost one and a half year break, executions in Belarus resumed in April 2016 after the EU lifted most of the restrictive measures imposed on Belarus for human rights violations. Belarus is the last and single retentionist country in Europe. The EU should go vocal and assure that a moratorium on the death penalty is among “major tangible steps” which should shape the EU’s future policy towards Belarus.

The 84-page report shows that in Belarus torture and ill-treatment are widely used to force suspects to incriminate themselves in the absence of a lawyer. The right to defense is systematically violated. Lawyers and judges generally lack independence, as does the judicial system as a whole.

Throughout his entire trial my son maintained that his confessions had been obtained during the first interrogations, under torture and psychological pressure. The speed with which they sentenced and executed my son, and the fact that the Prosecutor General and the Minister of Justice were dismissedbefore the court’s judgment show that the case was purely political, stated Lyubov Kovaleva, mother of Vladislav Kovalev executed in 2012.

In such a context, the probability of a wrongful conviction is very high and the report includes the most blatant examples of judicial mistakes that led to the execution of innocent people. Examples are also given for violations that have occurred in each step of the judicial process, including the detention conditions, procedure of execution and violations of the rights of relatives.

While on death row, death convicts and their relatives go through severe mental anguish. Detention conditions amount to torture, humiliation is systemic and isolation of death convicts renders them particularly vulnerable to abuse.

"In 2011, I had spent four months in detention in a prison on Valadarski street in Minsk where death convicts are held one floor below, and close to where the executions take place. Contrary to other prisoners, death convicts are not allowed for walk, their communication with the outside world is often impossible. Detention conditions in death row amount to torture", stated Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of HRC "Viasna".

The families of those sentenced to death are not informed in advance of the date of the execution, the body is never handed over to them and the location of the burial site is kept secret. The United Nations Human Rights Committee (UN HRC) concluded on several occasions that psychological stress endured by the relatives of convicted and executed in Belarus amounts to inhumain treatment and torture.

I received a notification from the post office to pick up a parcel from Minsk. It was the robe and boots of my son. When I got home, I just didn’t know what to do, said Tamara Selyun, mother of Pavel Selyun, who was executed in 2014.

The UN HRC requested in ten different cases that Belarus authorities do not carry out sentences pending their examination by the UN HRC following individual complaints. But in eight cases Belarus systematically disregarded its obligations towards the UN and proceeded with the execution; fate of two others is alarming. In six cases, the UN subsequently established that the Belarusian authorities had violated various rights including the right to life of those executed.

According to the campaign "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus", around 400 people were executed in Belarus since its independence in 1991. Currently, four persons are on death row, including the one whose verdict was confirmed at the 4 October hearing during the FIDH mission to the country.

Background information

The report « Death Penalty in Belarus : Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds » is released ahead of the 14th International Day Against Death Penalty on 10 October 2016. This year, campaigners against the capital punishment shall raise awareness on the application of death penalty for terrorism related crimes. In 2012, Belarus hastily executed two death convicts sentenced for terrorism in a trial that, like litmus paper, exposed all the shortcomings of the Belarusian legal system.

FIDH member organisation in Belarus HRC "Viasna" leads a campaign called "Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus", launched in 2009, with the aim of gaining public support for the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus. In addition to awareness-raising activities, the campaign is focusing on legal aid to family members of death convicts.

FIDH is part and founding member of the World Coalition Against Death Penalty. FIDH and its 184 member organisations will continue to oppose the death penalty for all crimes and in all circumstances and work for its global abolition.

Download the report Death Penalty in Belarus : Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds

Download the executive summary of the report in English

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