Death penalty in theory and practice. Comments to the National Report
The National Report for the Universal Periodic Review (second cycle), prepared by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, has been published.
In general, the report is dedicated to the implementation of the recommendations approved by the Republic of Belarus in the first cycle of the UPR during 2010-2014. Among other points in the report, special attention needs to be paid to paragraphs 157-164 of the "Right to life, liberty and security of person" section and problems relating to the death penalty in Belarus.
Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against Death Penalty in Belarus”, shared his opinion regarding the compliance of the actual situation with the death penalty in Belarus with the provisions of the report.
"Let's look at the specific points highlighted in the report. For example, paragraph 159 says: "All prisoners sentenced to death shall have the right to petition to the President of the Republic of Belarus for clemency. In the case of pardoning the death penalty may be commuted to life imprisonment."
Indeed, the law provides the possibility of appeal to the President with a petition for clemency. However, it should be noted that according to statistics, for the time of independence of Belarus, the President pardoned a man sentenced to death only once. In this regard, it is safe to say that this measure is ineffective.
I would also like to point that in the case a criminal case resulting in the death sentence is considered by the Supreme Court of the Republic of Belarus as the first instance, the legislation does not provide for cassation appeal of the sentence, and the verdict enters into force immediately on its delivery. For instance, this was the case for U. Kavaliou and D. Kanavalau, who was charged with committing a terrorist act in Minsk metro. Supervisory appeal is not an effective defense mechanism either, since it does not provide for the possibility of the collegial consideration of the case in court proceedings.
It should be noted that in the case of A. Hrunou a death verdict issued by the court of the first instance was reversed for the first time for the times of Belarus' independence and the case was sent for review. However, during a meeting with the Prosecutor General Aliaksandr Lukashenka said: "If you, a scoundrel and a bastard, go and make a repeated crime, killing a man, what right do you have to live on this earth? Those who are guilty of serious and particularly serious crimes must answer to the full extent.” Thereafter A. Hrunou was again sentenced to death. The verdict was upheld by the court of the second instance. This is a striking example of intervention of the head of the state in the court proceedings, calling into question the impartiality and independence of the court at sentencing.
Considering paragraph 160 of National Report raises the question of what exactly is meant by the phrase "the order of execution of the death penalty is in line with international standards"?
If the authors meant here the limitations on the use of the death penalty in Belarus – in particular, age, sex and exceptionalityof punishment, they have already voiced this point in paragraph 157 of the report. If we are talking about the order of enforcement of penalties as the process itself, it does not stand absolutely no criticism. One should pay attention to the fact that the death penalty in Belarus is still kept under a veil of secrecy. The number of executions of death sentences since independence of the Republic of Belarus hasn't been announced. Time and place of the execution of the sentence is not reported, the burial place is not specified, the body of the executed is not issued to his relatives for burial in accordance with the traditions of the family. These facts have already been qualified by the UN Human Rights Committee as cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners and their close relatives (such cases as Bandarenka vs. Belarus, Liashkevich vs. Belarus and others).
The recent trend includes sending to the mothers of the shot convicts their prison robes with the abbreviations meaning “the exceptional penalty” - the clothes which don't belong to the prisoners. It also confirms the aforesaid.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights contains standards for the use of the death penalty in countries where it is not canceled, but contains no standards regarding the enforcement of sentences. It is safe to say that there are no international standards for the procedure to enforce the death penalty.
Another important point is the constant violation by the Republic of Belarus of international standards and agreements concerning appeals to the HRC. Convictsare shot, despite the urgent measures, according to which the sentence should not be executed until the appeal is considered by the HRC. In seven cases Belarus enforced the death sentences before the HRC considered individual appeals of the death convicts on their merits, in violation of the special procedures by Belarus (Zhuk vs. Belarus, Burdyka vs. Belarus, Kavaliou vs. Belarus, Yuzepchuk vs. Belarus, Sialiun vs. Belarus, Hrunou vs. Belarus).
It should be noted that the Republic of Belarus fails to fulfill its obligations even under the considered communications. In particular, it regards the publication of the opinions of the Human Rights Committee and ensuring their wide dissemination in the state (in such cases as Kavaliova and Kaziar vs. Belarus, Zhuk vs. Belarus).
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the UN Council on Human Rights seeking to review the human rights situation in all countries of the world. Belarus passed the first cycle of the UPR in the UN Council on Human Rights in 2010. Belarus accepted 74 out of the 94 received recommendations; in 2012 Belarus submitted to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights an interim report on the implementation of the recommendations of the first cycle of the UPR. This report was analyzed in the framework of the monitoring of the situation of prisoners. In September 2014 the Belarusian human rights activists sent to the Council their own materials for UPR.