Parliamentary group on death penalty resumes its work

2012 2012-12-20T18:12:21+0300 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en

The National Assembly's working group on the death penalty has resumed its work, BelaPAN said.

The seven-member group will hold its first meeting in January, Mikalay Samaseyka, chairperson of the International Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives, told reporters on Thursday.

There was uncertainty after September's elections for the House of Representatives and the Council of the Republic whether the group would continue to exist.

In June 2009, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided that the Belarusian parliament's special guest status in the Assembly might be restored only after Minsk imposed a moratorium on the death penalty.

Mr. Samaseyka, who chaired the parliamentary working group on the death penalty, earlier said that a moratorium could have been discussed if the April 11, 2011 Minsk subway bombing that left 15 people dead had not occurred.

Two 25-year-old men, Dzmitry Kanavalaw and Uladzislaw Kavalyow, were sentenced to death in the case and executed in mid-March 2012.

Belarus' national legislature held special guest status in PACE between 1993 and 1997. The status was suspended in 1997 following a November 1996 national referendum condemned by foreign observers as undemocratic. Shortly after that, Belarus' application to join the Council of Europe was frozen, and it remains the only European nation that is not a member of the organization.

Belarus is the only country in Europe and the post-Soviet region where the death sentence remains a sentencing option and prisoners are executed. The Belarusian authorities have preserved the death penalty for "premeditated, aggravated murder" and 12 other peacetime offenses.

The death penalty was abolished thrice in Belarus since 1912 but was always restored. More than 80 percent of those who took part in a 1996 national referendum reportedly voted against abolishing it. In 2006, the government enacted an amendment to the Criminal Code, which indicated the temporary nature of the use of the death penalty in Belarus.

The European Union and many international organizations have long called on Belarus to declare a moratorium on the death penalty.

Executions in Belarus are carried out by a gunshot to the back of the head. Neither the condemned nor relatives are told of the scheduled date of the execution, and the relatives are not told where the body is buried.