The Week against the Death Penalty is taking place in Belarus on 5-10 October. It opened on Wednesday with the presentation of a joint report “Death Penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)Lawful Grounds” by the Human Rights Center “Viasna” and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in Minsk.
The first to speak was Head of Political section of the Delegation of the European Union to Belarus Jim Couzens. The diplomat expressed hope that Belarus would join other European states and would pass a moratorium or abolish death penalty. This year capital punishment has been banned in a number of countries all over the world, Couzens said.
“There’s no reason why Belarus can not join this list. It may happen that part of society or those in power are against such a step. That is why strong and bold leadership is required from the government. You do not need to kill people to maintain order.”
On behalf of the EU, he expressed regret over the confirmation of the death sentence against Siarhei Vostrykau by the Belarusian Supreme Court on October 4.
Speaking at the event were also Florence Bellivier, Deputy Secretary General of FIDH, Sasha Koulaeva, FIDH’s Head of Eastern Europe/Central Asia Desk, and Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus”.
Sasha Koulaeva pointed out to specific problems of the Belarusian legal system in relation to capital punishment prosecution, including the absence of an independent legal system, including the procedure of the appointment of judges by the president; the dependent status of a lawyer, whose access to a convict is limited at all stages of the prosecution process; detention prior to the arrest can last up to 10 days, in which the convict is not always immediately granted a lawyer, leading to a high probability of self-incrimination; lack of access to information for a convict and their relatives.
The Week against the Death Penalty will continue with an international congress, open lectures, exhibitions and other events.
Belarus remains the only country in Europe still applying death penalty. This is one of the main reasons why the country can not regain its special guest status in PACE. The Council of Europe and other international organizations have many times called on the Belarusian authorities 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.