Human rights situation in 2014: Trends and evaluation

2015 2015-01-27T13:30:50+0300 2015-01-29T20:47:35+0300 en http://spring96.org/files/images/sources/viasna-logo-eng.jpg The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

The situation of human rights during 2014 remained consistently poor with a tendency to deterioration at the end of the year. Human rights violations were of both systemic and systematic nature: basic civil and political rights were extremely restricted, there were no systemic changes in the field of human rights (at the legislative level and (or) at the level of practices).
The only positive development during the year was the early release of Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and Vice-President of the International Federation for Human Rights. However, his release did not become a positive trend and received no further continuation.

- as of late 2014, Belarusian prisons held six political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Yauhen Vaskovich and Yury Rubtsou;

- the release of political prisoners Mikalai Autukhovich, Andrei Haidukou, Uladzimir Yaromenak, Vasil Parfiankou and Eduard Lobau was solely due to the expiration of their sentences and is not indicative of the political will of the country’s leadership to address the issue of political prisoners;

- the practice of criminal prosecution for political reasons still persisted. During the year, the authorities opened three new politically motivated criminal cases: against political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok (Article 411 of the Criminal Code), a journalist of the newspaper Belorusy i Rynok Aliaksandr Alesin (Article 356.1 of the Criminal Code) and activist from Homel Yury Rubtsou (Article 391 of the Criminal Code). Yury Rubtsou was sentenced to 18 months of imprisonment in an open penal facility under a ruling of Minsk’s Tsentralny District Court;

- the authorities still used the practice of administrative prosecution of peaceful protesters. A total of 53 persons were prosecuted under administrative procedures (Article 23.34 of the Administrative Code, “violation of the order of organizing and holding mass events”). According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, politically motivated administrative arrest was imposed in 104 cases (arrest was applied to 88 people, some of them faced repeated penalties), and 57 people were fined;

- during the year, the authorities made extensive use of the practice of arbitrary detention of civil society and political activists, especially on the eve of important political and social events. In particular, 38 activists were subjected to arbitrary detention ahead of the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk. In addition, arbitrary detention during this period was used against so-called social outcasts in order to create a positive image among foreign tourists coming to Minsk;

- the local elections, which took place in March 2014, according to the campaign “Human Rights Defenders for Free Elections”, were accompanied with serious violations of the OSCE principles of democratic and fair elections and the standards set forth by the Belarusian legislation. The atmosphere of political persecution and repression of opponents of the regime, against which the electoral campaign was held, restrictions during the formation of election commissions and campaigning activities had a negative impact on the freedom of choice. Lack of transparency of vote counting did not give grounds to assert that the election results reflected the will of the Belarusian people.

- human rights defenders still reported the practice of putting pressure on them and their organizations. A decision to expel director of the Centre for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”, a citizen of the Russian Federation, Elena Tonkacheva is a striking example of government policies on the issue of human rights defenders;

- the authorities still used the practice of administrative responsibility and the use of other forms of pressure against independent journalists working for foreign media without accreditation. The newly-adopted amendments to the Law “On Mass Media” created a legal basis for further control over the Internet and are perceived as a risk of the introduction of total censorship of media sphere. A wave of blocking a number of independent websites and online outlets further confirmed these negative effects of legislative innovations;

- three death sentences were carried out during the year and one death convict was on death row in the Interior Ministry’s jail No. 1 awaiting execution;

- During the year, state media and governing bodies actively conducted a discussion on the need for responsibility for unemployed persons and the possibility of using forced labour against this category of citizens, which in a cluster with the existing elements of forced labour in the country indicates the continuation of violations of social and economic rights of citizens;

- Belarus continued a policy of ignoring its international commitments and mechanisms for the protection of human rights within the UN system.

I. Global challenges to human rights activities

The entire 2014 was marked by serious geopolitical changes that affected both the international context as a whole, and the political situation in Belarus. The Russian aggression against Ukraine, occupation and annexation of Crimea became a serious challenge to the former Soviet Union, Europe and other countries of the world. For the first time ever after the collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the guarantors of independence and territorial integrity of Ukraine, in accordance with the Budapest Memorandum, undertook a military aggression against the country. Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s territory, a blatant interference in its internal affairs helped fuel the military conflict in the south-east of the country, threatening its territorial integrity, and resulted in the deaths of thousands of people, destabilizing the situation in the entire post-Soviet region and triggering an international crisis.

Events in the neighbouring state had a heavy impact on society in Belarus, most of which is under the influence of Russian media propaganda. Sociologists reported a decrease in the pro-European sentiment of the Belarusian society and, consequently, the growth of pro-Russian attitude, an increasing demand for the idea of a “strong government” and authoritarian leaders. These trends had a clearly negative aftermath both for the opportunity to promote the ideas of human rights and for human rights activities in the territory of the former Soviet Union and in Belarus, in particular.

The ideas of revisiting the principles of universality of human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration were increasingly voiced in the rhetoric of the leaders of a number of post-Soviet and other countries. Moreover, as a rule, they were expressed in the context of a general anti-Western rhetoric. Human rights were often proclaimed the invention of the Western civilization, strange and even hostile, destructive for “traditional values”, a threat to “specific and spiritual civilizations”. Following the outburst of crisis in Ukraine, anti-Western rhetoric, especially in the Russian media, considerably increased.

Belarus is no exception in this regard. No wonder that human rights activities in this discourse receive a predominantly negative context, it appears as a hostile and anti-state activity, while human rights defenders are labelled as agents of foreign influence or even agents of the “universal liberal conspiracy” and “foreign agents or a fifth column”.

An example of this is the speech of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Belarus Uladzimir Makei at the UN General Assembly in New York on September 30, 2014. He noted in particular:

To be sure, a multitude of factors determine the dynamics of contemporary global politics.

From our perspective, as one of the key factors we would like single out the resistance on the part of the world’s majority population to the imposition on them of something external. Indeed, very much like in the past, the “mighty of the world” persist in believing that only their vision and their development model stand as universal. Therefore, they do not ask others whether they like or dislike, for instance, so-called “liberal democracy” or the “Washington consensus”. Others are just forced to confront a choice – either you accept our “recipes” or be ready to deal with the consequences like threats, sanctions and “colour revolutions”.

To be honest, we, that is, the majority, have already got used to the situation when alien political and economic models are being foisted upon us. We clearly understand what stands behind that. Someone wants our nations to feed transnational corporate capital rather than ourselves. If we resist – we come under punishment. The pretext is always far-fetched – alleged violation of human rights by “unruly” states.

Having been subjected to external attacks for many years, countries like Belarus, Cuba, Iran, and Venezuela surely feel such pressure much more than others.

No less dangerous, however, is something else. Similar attempts at imposing something have been made recently against our identity. Indeed, some have been doing their best to impose on us extraneous cultural preferences.

For example, we are being forced to renounce the values of a traditional family, and recognize instead the diversity of this institution’s forms. In other words, some strive to deprive us of our own “soul”. This may be just another way to subdue the resisters to the capital by turning them into soulless slaves.

This rhetoric is actually nothing more than an attempt to justify human rights violations and lack of democracy by a kind of “imposition” from the outside, as well as an attempt to revise the principles of universality of human rights. Characteristic for this kind of rhetoric is the use of propaganda clichés about the alleged threat to the institutions and values of a traditional family. Very often, such rhetoric is used to justify discriminatory practices and laws that contradict the main international instruments in the field of human rights protection.

Another serious challenge for human rights activists, which appeared as a result of the crisis in Ukraine, was a gradual transition to the “language of the Cold War”.

As shown by our past, the existence of a bipolar world played a negative role in the context of human rights and their protection, because it very often led to the fact that geopolitical benefits were far more important than human rights issues in particular countries. Thus, the United States supported the military juntas in Central and South Americas, in spite of massive violations of human rights there, only for the sake of “protecting” these countries from the communist threat. The USSR, in turn, certainly turned a blind eye to violations of human rights in countries that chose “the path of building socialism”. Both poles abused human rights rhetoric solely for their political purposes – as a means of political pressure and in order to demonstrate the benefits of one political system over another.

In the current crisis, we see a serious risk of the transition of the countries of the West to a similar approach to human rights issues. The peculiarity of the risk is that the evaluation of questions of human rights violations in a given country may be based on the geopolitical preferences of this country and the policy of silence and closing eyes to the obvious facts of gross violations in the countries favouring political positions of convenience for the Western democracies. In such circumstances, there will be a retreat from the value-based approach to human rights in favour of geopolitical expediency.

In addition, the existence of a country in the conditions of the Cold War always enables justification of a variety of violations of human rights and restrictions with reference to the necessity to protect national security and territorial integrity.

II. Politically motivated persecution: main trends of the year

During the year, there was a decrease in the total number of prosecutions for political reasons as compared to previous years. However, the problem of existence of political prisoners failed to receive a comprehensive solution.

All the political prisoners that were released during the year were freed only after the expiration of their prison terms. The only exception was the unexpected release of Ales Bialiatski, Chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and FIDH Vice President, who was freed on the first day of entry into force of the Law “On Amnesty”. His release was a purely political decision of the Belarusian authorities since the amnesty did not apply to Ales Bialiatski because of the status of malicious offender imposed on him by the prison administration, as well as numerous disciplinary penalties he had received in connection with these violations. The Belarusian authorities used Ales Bialiatski’s release in order to intensify their contacts with the EU and the US.

However, the release of the human rights activist failed to become a positive trend for the release of all political prisoners. As of the end of the year, Belarusian prisons and other places of detention continued to hold six political prisoners: Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok, Ihar Alinevich, Artsiom Prakapenka, Yauhen Vaskovich and Yury Rubtsou.

The Belarusian authorities continued the policy of non-recognition of the existence of political prisoners and demonstrated their extreme reluctance to address this issue.

Political prisoners repeatedly reported harassment, either directly from the prison authorities or through other prisoners. It is worth noting that almost all political prisoners were repeatedly subjected to disciplinary penalties, including isolation in solitary confinement and PKT (cell-type premises). Mikalai Statkevich, Mikalai Dziadok and Yauhen Vaskovich continued to serve their sentences in prison, where they were transferred by court decisions after their punishment was replaced with tougher one. By late 2014, Yauhen Vaskovich had served the maximum period of three years in prison and in October he was transferred to a penal colony in Mahiliou. Mikalai Statkevich’s prison term ends in mid-December 2015.

Political prisoner Mikalai Dziadok was expected to be released from the Mahiliou prison in March 2015, but in November it became known that a new criminal case was opened against him under Art. 411 of the Criminal Code (wilful disobedience to the correctional institution administration). The criminal charges stemmed from earlier disciplinary penalties imposed on the prisoner by the penal colony administration. It should be noted that human rights organizations are mobilized for the repeal of this article of the Criminal Code, which has no analogue in other former Soviet Union countries, and point to the possibility of its arbitrary use against prisoners who are disloyal to the authorities, with the aim of extending prison sentences. This is the second case of the use of this article against political prisoners. In 2012, Zmitser Dashkevich was sentenced to a year in prison on similar charges. His trial was held behind closed doors in the premises of the colony.

The fresh criminal case against Mikalai Dziadok that came on the eve of his scheduled release clearly demonstrated the political motivation of his prosecution. A decision to extend the period of the political prisoner’s detention was apparently taken by the authorities in view of the presidential election of 2015.

Much public attention was focused on the case of journalist and columnist of the Belorusy i Rynok weekly Aliaksandr Alesin, who was detained by the KGB in a cafe in Minsk on November 25 while allegedly transferring classified materials to a representative of one of the EU embassies in Belarus. Aliaksandr Alesin was detained on suspicion of committing a crime under Art. 356 of the Criminal Code (high treason) and placed in the KGB detention Centre in Minsk. However, the KGB did not comment on the arrest during Alesin’s detention in the pre-trial prison. Nor did the agency provide any information on the place of detention or the procedural status of the journalist. Aliaksandr Alesin specializes in the subject of Belarus’ military cooperation, including with the Russian Federation. All of his publications are based solely on open sources and posted for public access on the pages of the newspaper Belorusy I Rynok, as well as on the website of the independent news agency BelaPAN. As a result of a wide public and media attention and efforts by human rights organizations, both in Belarus and abroad, Aliaksandr Alesin was released from custody on December 10 and the charge against him was changed to Art. 356.1 (establishment of cooperation with foreign intelligence agencies without signs of treason). This crime is punished with a maximum penalty of two years of imprisonment and therefore, according to the provisions of the Criminal Procedure Code, does not provide for a measure of restraint in the form of detention. Aliaksandr Alesin was released on recognizance. The investigation of the case had not been completed by the end of the year, and is unlikely to reach court, according to human rights activists.

On December 22, a new political prisoner, activist Yury Rubtsou began serving an 18-month imprisonment in a special settlement in the village of Kuplin, Pruzhany district. On October 6, he was sentenced by the Court of Minsk’s Tsentralny district to one and a half years of detention in an open penal institution under Art. 391 of the Criminal Code (insult of a judge). The charges stemmed from a statement by Judge Kiryl Palulekh of the Savetski District Court, who claimed that during the consideration of an administrative case on 28 April the activist allegedly insulted the judge by using offensive words. According to Yury Rubtsou, he was forced to stand trial without a shirt on, which insulted his dignity. Nevertheless, the judge did not take any measures to protect his rights and did not respond to his request to give him eyeglasses to read the case file. The judge’s actions clearly contradicted the Code “On the Judicial System and the Status of Judges”, as well as the Judicial Code of Honour. Faced with a flagrant violation of his rights, Yury Rubtsou expressed his protest calling the trial a “show”, and the judges, who made unlawful judicial decisions, “scum”. These words were interpreted as statements aimed personally against Judge Kiryl Palulekh, while Yury Rubtsou’s comments on the minutes of the hearing were rejected by the same judge as groundless. The verdict was only based on testimony provided by police officers (including those who had witnessed at the trial on April 28), a clerk of the court and Judge Palulekh. Yury Rubtsou’s counsel, who had participated in the trial of April 28, was not questioned either during the preliminary investigation or during the trial. There were no procedural obstacles to interviewing the lawyer as a witness according to the current criminal procedural legislation.

The case of Yury Rubtsou clearly highlighted the problem of arbitrary detention. During 2014, the authorities made extensive use of this type of repression against civil society and political activists. Especially revealing was the campaign of arbitrary detentions on the eve of the Ice Hockey World Championship held in May in Minsk. According to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, a total of 38 activists were subjected to arbitrary detentions and arrests. Moreover, most of them were detained by police at the place of their residence and charged with two administrative offences (Articles 17.1 (disorderly conduct) and 23.4 (disobedience to the lawful demands of a police officer). This resulted in their isolation for a considerable period of time – up to 25 days.

On the eve of the World Championship, arbitrary detention and arrest were used against social outcasts (persons with alcohol dependence, homeless, prostitutes). Ahead of the tournament, Minsk authorities openly told in the media about their intention to clean up the city streets. A total number of persons isolated during this period in LTPs (activity therapy centres), detention centres and other places of detention is still unknown; however, according to the testimony of persons who served administrative arrests during this period, the Minsk-based centre for isolation of offenders was crowded with arrested persons and some of them had to be transferred to the temporary detention facility in Zhodzina.

Arbitrary detentions became systematic in nature and were used as a means of repression and pressure on citizens who expressed their civil and political activity. A good example is the situation with Pavel Vinahradau. Convicted of involvement in the riots of December 19, 2010 and was released early in August 2011. However, the activist is still under preventive supervision ordered by the court. Throughout the year, Pavel Vinahradau was regularly brought to administrative responsibility on the eve of key public events. He repeatedly faced charges of allegedly “using obscene language” in public places or resisting police officers. The court rulings were based solely on the testimonies provided by police officers, who were the only witnesses at the trials. In total, Pavel Vinahradau was held in detention for about two months. In December, he was forced to leave for the town of Berazino, where his father lives. Otherwise, the police threatened to send him to an activity therapy centre.

In 2014, the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” documented a total of 253 facts of administrative detention (172 in 2013). 162 cases were considered by the courts (111 lawsuits in 2013). In 104 cases, administrative arrests were ordered by the courts (a total of 88 people were subjected to arrests, some of them two or more times; in 2013 – 59 people), 57 persons were fined (52 people in 2013). 53 persons were convicted of violation of the order of organizing and participating in mass events (Art. 23.34 of the Administrative Code).

An increase in the total number of administrative detentions and arrests in 2014 as compared to 2013 can be attributed to two factors that affected the overall level of repression: the elections to the local councils and the Ice Hockey World Championship in Minsk.

We should also mention cases of citizens who were convicted of the realization of their right to peaceful assembly and right to expression. The current law “On Mass Events” makes it virtually impossible to implement in practice the freedom of peaceful assembly. Even the traditional processions of Chernobyl Way and Dziady, which took place with the approval of the Minsk authorities, ended in the detention and administrative prosecution of both the participants and the organizers. In particular, Yury Belenki, deputy chairman of the Conservative Christian Party BPF, was fined three times on charges of violating the order of organizing several processions to the sites of mass graves of victims of Stalin’s repressions. Meanwhile, the events were held in full compliance with the resolution of the Minsk City Executive Committee and were not accompanied with disturbances of public order. Yury Belenki was accused of a failure to agree with the police on measures to ensure public order during the mass events. However, ensuring public order during peaceful assemblies and protecting the demonstrators is the exclusive responsibility of police authorities. Even more absurd were the cases of administrative punishment of participants in a photo session in Vitsebsk, when seven persons were detained after posting photos on the Internet, accused of holding an unsanctioned rally and punished with fines and arrests.

III. Human rights activities: Trends and Challenges

An important event for the Belarusian human rights community in 2014 was the early release of Ales Bialiatski, chairman of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and FIDH Vice-President. His release was the result of pressure on the authorities of Belarus from the EU, US, and international organizations, as well as an unprecedented wave of solidarity raised by the human rights community around the world. Such famous figures as Aung San Suu Kyi and Václav Havel spoke in support of Ales Bialiatski. The imprisoned human rights defender was several times nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and was shortlisted for the award in 2012. Over the three years in prison time, Ales received several prestigious international awards. All these circumstances certainly influenced the decision of the Belarusian authorities to release Ales Bialiatski one and a half years earlier before the expiration of his prison term.

In October, the United Nations Human Rights Committee adopted a decision in the case of Ales Bialiatski. The Committee recognized violations of Article 9 (the right to liberty and security of the person), Article 14 (the right to justice and a fair trial), and Article 22 (freedom of association) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). After Viasna had been deprived of its state registration in 2003, its founders applied for registration at the Ministry of Justice three times between 2007 and 2009. However, the state refused registration every time. As a result, Viasna was unable to open a bank account in its name and receive funding for its activities. According to the Committee, Belarus violated the organization's right to freedom of association when it denied Viasna registration, basing its decision solely on the argument that the documents submitted by Viasna needed minor adjustments to meet the requirements of the Ministry of Justice which could have been corrected in case the Ministry had given it an opportunity to do so. The registration denials rendered Viasna activities illegal within Belarus and prevented its members from accessing their rights. Sentencing Ales Bialiatski to a lengthy prison term for actions associated with the receipt and expenditure of funds aimed at carrying out the legitimate activities of his organization was a direct consequence of the violation of freedom of association. The Belarusian courts rejected evidence that these funds were intended and used for these purposes and did not consider the case in a way that would aim to safeguard the freedom of association. Consequently, imposing criminal liability on Ales Bialiatski violated this freedom.

The decision was important not only for the members of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” and its leader Ales Bialiatski, but also for other countries, where the authorities continue the practice of prosecuting human rights defenders, including in connection with obtaining funds for the activities of their organizations.

With regard to the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, the Belarusian authorities descended during the year from the tactics of direct or indirect repression characteristic of 2010-12 to a complete disregard for the organization. All activities that were organized in Belarus by international organizations (UN, Council of Europe and others.) with the participation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and non-governmental organizations took place without the participation of representatives of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”. No exception were the consultations undertaken in preparation for the Universal Periodic Review, to which were invited representatives of a number of registered organizations (BAJ, BHC, Centre for Legal Transformation, etc.). Meanwhile, the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” made a considerable contribution to the preparation of the alternative report to the United Nations Human Rights Council as part of the UPR and was actively working with other UN mechanisms.

There were individual facts of repression against human rights defenders. In particular, on October 30, Elena Tonkacheva, leader of the Centre for Legal Transformation “Lawtrend”, received a notice of revocation of her residence permit and on November 5 the Department for Citizenship and Migration of the Pershamaiski District Police Department of Minsk ordered her deportation from the Republic of Belarus. The deportation procedure was launched over four cases of speeding committed by the human rights defender while driving her car. Elena Tonkacheva is a Russian national who has lived in Belarus since 1985. Her daughter is a citizen of Belarus. The Belarusian human rights community regarded these actions of the authorities as politically motivated harassment and linked them to Ms. Tonkacheva human rights activities.

In general, opportunities for human rights organizations in the country did not change and remained extremely limited. As before, obtaining state registration by human rights organizations was virtually impossible, and the activities of unregistered NGOs were criminalized. Human rights organizations still faced problems concerning the receipt of domestic and foreign funding for their activities, after a violation of the procedure for receiving foreign donations was criminalized in 2011.

IV. Freedom of speech

The most significant event in the field of freedom of speech were the amendments to the Law “On Mass Media”, hastily adopted by the House of Representatives on December 17 without public discussion and involvement of mass media experts. According to the Information Minister Liliya Ananich, “at H hour, everything must work for the state, not against it”.

According to the adopted amendments, the law now applies to all online outlets, except for a requirement of a mandatory state registration. The Ministry of Information can block websites on an out-of-court basis. According to representatives of the independent journalistic community and human rights activists, the new provisions create the possibility of total censorship of the Internet space.

Ahead of the announced date of entry into force (January 1, 2015), starting from 19 December, a number of independent Internet outlets were blocked for user access in Belarus. Among these were the websites belapan.com, belapan.by, naviny.by, belaruspartisan.org, charter97.org, udf.by, gazeta.by, and zautra.by. However, the authorities denied any involvement in the blockage.

Another way to combat the spread of unwanted information was voiced by the Interior Minister Ihar Shunevich during his speech at a meeting on combating illicit drug trafficking. He said that there was an urgent need to adjust the legislation related to Internet activities. In particular, in his opinion, all Belarusian Internet users must be prohibited to enjoy access to the websites put on the list of restricted access. It is known that this list includes several key independent sites, such as charter97.org, belaruspartisan.org, spring96.org, etc. The website of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna” spring96.org was listed as restricted by the General Prosecutor’s Office in August 2011, in connection “with the promotion of the activities prohibited by the legislation”, which, according to the Prosecutor’s Office, were manifested by the distribution of information about the activities of the Human Rights Centre “Viasna”, which did not pass the procedure of a mandatory state registration. Human rights defenders have tried to appeal the decision of the General Prosecutor’s Office in court, but the Court of the Tsentralny district of Minsk dismissed the case, referring to a lack of jurisdiction.

One of the negative trends of the year was the administrative harassment of independent journalists working for foreign media without accreditation. At the same time, the authorities repeatedly denied accreditation to the media whose correspondents received the majority of such penalties, including the Belarusian Radio Racyja and the Poland-based BelSat TV channel. The most widely used means of harassment of journalists were official prosecutorial warnings about the inadmissibility of violations of media legislation and administrative responsibility for “illegal production and distribution of media products”.

An attack on freedom of speech and independent media, including websites, according to journalist and human rights community, is linked to the forthcoming presidential election to be held in 2015.

V. The problem of the death penalty

Three death sentences were carried out during the year (Ryhor Yuzepchuk, Aliaksandr Hrunou and Pavel Sialiun) and one death convict – Eduard Lykau – was on death row in the Interior Ministry’s jail No. 1 awaiting execution.

Of great concern is the fact that the death sentences of Pavel Sialiun and Aliaksandr Hrunou were carried out after the registration of their individual communications at the UN Human Rights Committee and the enforcement of Rule 92, of which the Government of Belarus was informed in writing. In recent years, there were six cases of enforcement of death sentences in spite of the UN HRC procedures (Uladzislau Kavaliou, Andrei Zhuk, Ryhor Yuzepchuk, Andrei Burdyka, Aleh Hryshkavets, Pavel Sialiun, and Aliaksandr Hrunou). This practice demonstrates a total disregard of the Republic of Belarus for its international obligations in the field of human rights. On December 1, the United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed its grave concern over the execution by Belarus of a person whose complaint was under consideration by the Committee (Aliaksandr Hrunou). “The position of the Human Rights Committee remains unchanged regarding the breach of the Committee’s request for interim measures of protection to avoid irreparable harm,” said Sir Nigel Rodley, the Committee’s Chairperson. He stressed that this was not the first time that Belarus had executed complainants whose cases were registered and pending examination, with a request to have their execution put on hold. “This amounts to a grave breach of the international legal obligations taken by Belarus,” said Sir Nigel.

It is worth adding that in two cases of individual communications submitted on behalf of executed persons the UNHRC found a violation by the Republic of Belarus of Article 6 of the ICCPR – the right to life.

Belarusian human rights activists continued to criticize the very procedure of carrying out death verdicts, in particular, a ban on issuing of the body of the executed person and a failure to specify the place of his burial. Such procedures were repeatedly recognized by the UNCHR as cruel and inhuman treatment in respect of the death convict’s relatives.

Families of executed prisoners repeatedly petitioned government officials with a request to amend these provisions of the Criminal Executive Code, but these attempts were unsuccessful. During 2014, there were two cases when relatives of executed persons – Pavel Sialiun and Aliaksandr Hrunou – received from prison No. 1 in Minsk their prison clothes labelled IMN (exceptional punishment). It is this uniform that persons on death row wear in jail while awaiting execution. Such actions cause additional suffering to their relatives and also constitute cruel and inhuman treatment.

 

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