The Council of Europe is asking Minsk to impose a temporary moratorium on the death penalty as an experiment. There are more and more supporters of it in the society, and there are plans to resume the working group on the death penalty in the parliament, Belarus responds.
These and many other powerful statements were made today at the confierence “The abolition of the death penalty and public opinion” organized by the Council of Europe and the Belarusian Foreign Ministry in Minsk on 13 December.
The event was opened by Deputy Foreign Minister Evgeny Shestakov. He noted that according to the Constitution the death penalty will be applied in Belarus,”until its abolition” and is “an exceptional punishment”. Deputy FM added that Belarusians officials are aware of the regular calls for a moratorium on it, and treat such appeals with respect, but do not always understand the “sharp or ultimativy tone of such statements”.
“Such an important decision should be taken only once there are all the prerequisites. It is important to prevent any split in society or breaches of public consent”, Evgeny Shestakov believes.
Deputy Foreign Minister recalled the results of the referendum of 1996, when more than 80% of voters supported the retention of the death penalty.
“In the following years the number of supporters of the death penalty increased, but has not reached a sustainable or an overwhelming majority”, the official underlined.
Alexander Gessel, the head of the department for political affairs of the Council of Europe, said that the organization expects Belarus to join it as all the other European states have done.
“The fundamental issue in our relationship is death penalty. We hope that Europe will soon become a continent entirely free from it. We hear the arguments of our Belarusian partners – the referendum of 1996, public opinion and the need to take it into account. We agree with that entirely. The authorities need to work with public opinion, and we are ready to help”, the official reassured.
Speaking of the public oponion, the UK Ambassador to Belarus Fionna Gibb said that her country’s parliament decided to ban the death penalty in 1964 after several cases of judicial error had led to the execution of innocent people in 1950s.
“The Parliament made this decision despite the fact that public opinion at the time was on the side of the retention of the death penalty”, the ambassador noted.
The head of Commission on Human Rights, National Relations and Mass Media in the House of Representatives of Belarus Andrei Naumovich said that on 9 December 9 the Belarusian parliament decided to resume the work of the working group on the issue of the death penalty.
“The position of citizens on the issue differs a lot. There are those who are in favor of the ban, and hose who consider it necessary to retain the death penalty. Many are in two minds. But we should admit more and more people support the introduction of a temporary moratorium”, Naumovich stated.
PACE Rapporteur on Belarus Andrea Rigoni, known for his relatively benign approach to official Minsk, this time was unusually direct and spoke for over 20 minutes. He said Europe does not press on Belarus to change its traditions overnight, but insists on the first step.
“How much longer will we have to wait for it? Time has come to take a step forward and to impose a moratorium for at least one year as an experiment. And then look at the result – whether the crime rate will increase or not”, he believes.
Rigoni added that the death penalty does not solve any problems, and statistics and studies have shown that this kind of punishment does not reduce the number of violent crimes.
He also recalled the recent executions held in Belarus in November and expressed surprise that the country decided to execute three inmates while preparing the conderence on the death penalty.
UN Resident Coordinator in Belarus Sanaka Samarasinha suggested Belarus should introduce of a temporary de facto moratorium on executions as a compromise while continuing a dialogue on this issue. Alexander Gessel did not agree with that.
“I do not understand what a temporary moratorium is in this case. To me, it is merely the time between two executions, it’s like a hunger strike between breakfast and lunch”, he retaliated.
The idea of a temporary moratorium was supported by former head of the Constitutional Court and the Prosecutor General of Belarus Ryhor Vasilevich. He, however, offered to make exception for crimes related to terrorism.
Belarus remains the only country in Europe still applying death penalty. The Council of Europe and other international organizations have appealed to the Belarusian authorities many times urging them to introduce a moratorium on capital punishment. Since 1990 over 400 people were sentenced to death penalty in Belarus. In 26 years only one person had his death sentence commuted.
Four executions were carried out in Belarus in 2016, three of them – in November, according to human rights defenders.