The death penalty in Belarus has been a stumbling block in relations with the EU, the Council of Europe and other international organizations for a long time. Nonetheless, Minsk is not going to do anything about it and will keep delaying the issue, experts believe.
The Belarusian authorities don’t intend to abolish the death penalty with their political decision until there are more opponents than supporters in society.
The will of the majority excuses
The EU and international organizations have repeatedly called on Belarus to abolish the death penalty or at least introduce a moratorium. However, Minsk is still not ready for serious steps.
Speaking at the World Congress against the death penalty in Brussels, the deputy Andrey Naumovich once again referred to the results of the referendum of 1996.
Back then the majority of voters voted in favor of retaining the death penalty. The official stressed that little has changed since then and the majority advocate for retaining this type of punishment.
The Belarusian authorities may consider abandoning the death penalty when public opinion polls indicate that there are less than 50% of supporters of the death penalty.
According to the official statistics, the share of supporters of the death penalty is at least 60% at the moment.
It indicates that the share of Belarusians supporting the use of the death penalty has increased from 52% in 2016 to 60% in 2017. For the abolition of the death penalty were 18.5% of respondents, for a moratorium –12.5%.
At the same time, 12% of respondents believe that the death penalty has already been abolished, 4% believe that a moratorium has been introduced and 7% that the death penalty has not been applied for many years.
Society will never be ready
Human rights activist Valentin Stefanovich notes that the state has been promoting the position of not being able to abolish the death penalty due to the negative attitude in the society for years.
“On the one hand, Minsk demonstrates attention to the topic, but at the same time refuses to abolish the death penalty until the society is ready. Well, society will never be ready.”
Stefanovich called such promises doubtful and explained: “Public opinion is not static, it is changing under the influence of various factors.
For instance, if a high-profile crime or a brutal murder occurs, it will affect public opinion at this particular moment, and will lead to an increase in supporters of the death penalty.”
During the trial of Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalev accused of an explosion in Minsk metro, polls recorded an increase in supporters of the abolition of capital punishment.
“At that moment, mistrust in the investigation and the court verdict, as well as the fast execution influenced the fact that the number of opponents of the death penalty increased.”
Against any discussions
According to Stefanovich, the state does nothing to work with society and change people’s attitude to the issue.
“There is no discussion in the broad sense, it does not exist either on television or in print. We simply don’t have a discussion of the topic in public space.
Human rights activists are somehow trying to raise the topic in media, hold the Week against the death penalty every year, push the society into a discussion.”
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He believes that despite the efforts of the human rights agencies, their forces are disproportionately small compared to the state capabilities.
“In general, the authorities don’t like any discussions in society. Our state format doesn’t provide for any discussions and doesn’t welcome them on any topic, ” said Stefanovich.
The lack of political will
Andrei Egorov, the head of the Center for European Transformation and a political scientist, sees the references to the referendum that took place 23 years ago as an excuse.
“The authorities don’t demonstrate any progress towards conducting a dialogue with society on the abolition of the death penalty, as well as on other problematic issues.
The state doesn’t believe that public opinion on any issues matters. The decision-making monopoly still belongs to the state, which does not want to share this right, ”said the political scientist.
Another obstacle to abolishing the death penalty in Belarus is the lack of “political will at the highest level to change the approach on this issue”.
Valentin Stefanovich notes that solving the problem of the death penalty depends on the opinion of the head of state, who “actually decides everything in the country.”
Egorov believes that the authorities understand that the abolition of the death penalty alone won’t significantly improve the relations of Belarus with the EU and other Western partners.
Moratorium or abolition of the death penalty will be seen as progress and a symbolic step that will be welcomed and highly appreciated. However, it won’t bring any significant improvements or benefits for Belarus in the international arena.