Capital punishment in Belarus

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The provision for Capital punishment in Belarus has been a part of the country since gaining independence from the Soviet Union. The current national constitution prescribes this punishment for "grave crimes." Later laws have clarified the specific crimes for which capital punishment can be used. Capital punishment can be issued for crimes that occur against the state or against individuals. A few non-violent crimes can be issued with the sentence of capital punishment. Belarus is the only UN member state in Europe that continues to carry out the death penalty.[1] For this reason, and also because it has had Alexander Lukashenko since July 1994, it is often referred to as "the last dictatorship in Europe".

Following a referendum on the issue, the Belarusian government has taken steps to change the way capital punishment is sentenced and carried out.[2] International organisations, such as the United Nations, have criticised the methods Belarus uses when carrying out capital punishment. The use of capital punishment is one factor keeping the country out of the Council of Europe.[3]

Legislation[edit]

Article 24 of the Constitution of Belarus states that:

As per the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, capital punishment can be imposed for the following acts:

Most of the death penalty convictions were for murder committed under aggravating circumstances.[6] Court proceedings involving capital cases must involve a "collegial consideration," consisting of one judge and two People's assessors. The People's assessors are chosen from the general population, similar to the jury system.[7]

Over the years, the number of offenses inviting death penalty and the type of convicts eligible for the same have reduced. In 1993, four economic crimes which would have resulted in death penalty during the Soviet era were removed from the list of capital offenses by a vote of parliament and were replaced by prison terms without parole.[8] Although the total number of categories of crime qualifying for capital punishment declined during this time, Presidential Decree No. 21, issued on 21 October 1997, added "terrorism" to the list of capital offenses.[9] When the Criminal Code was updated in 1999, the number of capital offenses was further reduced. This reduction was assisted by the introduction of life imprisonment in December 1997.[2]

Since March 1, 1994, women are ineligible for capital punishment and those under the age of 18 at the time of the crime or over 65 at the time of sentencing were exempt from capital punishment since January 2001.[10] Those who are mentally ill may have their death sentence commuted.[5] Under Article 84 of the Constitution, the president "may grant pardons to convicted citizens".[4] From June 30, 2003 to June 30, 2005, President Alexander Lukashenko granted two pardons to death row inmates and denied one such request.[2]

In 2000, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemned:

"in the strongest possible terms the executions in Belarus and deplores the fact that Belarus is currently the only country in Europe where the death penalty is enforced and, moreover, is regularly and widely enforced".[11]

Since 1997 Belarus is the only European country to have performed executions. The European Council members suggested in 2001 that Belarus abolish capital punishment before it can apply for membership in the Council.[3] Belarus (as the Byelorussian SSR) signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1973.[12] This convention, however, does not abolish the death penalty, but it imposes certain conditions on its implementation and use.

Method[edit]

Before execution, all prisoners on death row are transferred to Minsk Detention Center No. 1 (СИЗО, or SIZO No. 1), located in the capital city of Minsk.[13] The method used to carry out the sentence is execution by shooting.[6] The executioner is a member of the "Committee for the execution of sentences," which also chooses the area where the execution will take place.[13] According to the book The Death Squad by Oleg Alkayev (Олег Алкаев), on the day of execution the convict is transported to a secret location where he is told by officials that all appeals have been rejected. Without being allowed to see a priest, the convict is then blindfolded and taken to a nearby room, where two staffers force him to kneel in front of a bullet backstop. The executioner then shoots the convict in the back of his head with a PB-9 pistol equipped with a suppressor. According to Alkayev, "The whole procedure, starting with the announcement about denied appeals and ending with the gunshot, lasts no longer than two minutes".[14]

After the sentence is carried out, a prison doctor and other prison officials certify that the execution has been carried out, and a death certificate is prepared. The remains of the condemned are buried secretly, and the family is notified that the execution took place.[6] Col. Oleg Alkayev, who was a director of SIZO No. 1, claimed that about 130 executions took place at the prison between December 1996 and May 2001, when he left Belarus to live in exile in Berlin, Germany.[15]

The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued the following opinion of the execution process in Belarus after the mother of subsequently executed prisoner Anton Bondarenko petitioned the Committee to spare her son's life:

Number of executions[edit]

The following is a rough estimate of number of executions carried out since 1990, as per Belarusian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD):

  • 1990 – 20
  • 1991 – 14
  • 1993 – 20
  • 1994 – 24
  • 1995 – 46
  • 1997 – 46
  • 1998 – 47
  • 1999 – 13
  • 2000 – 4
  • 2001 – 7 [6]
  • 2007 – at least one
  • 2008 – at least 4
  • 2009 – 0
  • 2010 – 2
  • 2011 – 2 [17]
  • 2012 – 0
  • 2013 - 3 [18]

The exact number of people executed in Belarus is not known, since the last documents released by the Belarusian Government were in 2006.[19] Moreover other sources, notably BelaPAN, have published somewhat different data. BelaPAN, the abbreviation for "Беларускае прыватнае агентства навiн" (Belarusian Private News Agency), records 278 executions from 1992 to 2010 with two additional men under death sentence in September 2010.[20] Due to some of the practices of the MVD, such as the non-disclosure of the graves of the executed, this is a violation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe protocol to make information about capital punishment open to the public.[21]

Executions in Belarus between 1985 and 2010 (BelaPAN 2010):

  • 1985 – 21 – Byelorussian SSR
  • 1986 – 10
  • 1987 – 12
  • 1988 – 12
  • 1989 – 5
  • 1990 – 20
  • 1991 – 21
  • 1992 – 24 – Independent
  • 1993 – 20
  • 1994 – 25
  • 1995 – 27
  • 1996 – 29
  • 1997 – 46
  • 1998 – 47
  • 1999 – 13
  • 2000 – 4
  • 2001 – 7
  • 2002 – 4
  • 2003 – 4
  • 2004 – 5
  • 2005 – 5
  • 2006 – 9
  • 2007 – 3
  • 2008 – 2
  • 2009 – 2
  • 2010 – 2

Public opinion[edit]

In a 1996 referendum, one of the seven questions asked was about the opinion of Belarusian people about abolishing the death penalty. According to the results of this referendum, 80.44% of Belarusians were against abolishing the death penalty.[22] However, at the time of the referendum, the longest available prison sentence was 15 years. Since then, the sentence of lifelong imprisonment was introduced, in December 1997. There have not been more recent surveys to determine whether the change in maximum prison sentence affected public sentiment about the death penalty.[8]

More recently a parliamentary special working group announced plans to conduct a public opinion poll, but the Information and Analytical Center with the Administration of the President took over this undertaking. The Center has released its report, “Public Opinion about the Activity of the Organs of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus,” which included the questions about death penalty and the attitudes of Belarusian citizens about abolition of capital punishment. That poll showed only 4.5% of the respondents were against capital punishment in all cases. 79.5% considered capital punishment appropriate punishment for at least some grave crimes. About 10% had a difficulty answering these questions or offered no opinion.[23]

There have been several steps toward reducing the use of the death penalty in Belarus. The Law of the Republic of Belarus of 31 December 1997 added Article 22 which allows for “imprisonment for the term of one’s life (life imprisonment) as an alternative to capital punishment.” Three categories of persons no longer may be executed: people under 18 years of age, women, and men over 65 years.[24]

Court cases[edit]

On March 11, 2004, the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus came to the conclusion that two articles of the Criminal Code were incompatible with the Constitution of Belarus. The Court stated that either the President or the National Assembly could make the decision to suspend or completely abolish the death penalty.[25] Subsequently, in October 2005, the Parliament adopted an amendment to the Criminal Code declaring that the continued use of the death penalty was on a temporary basis only.[26] There were three executions on February, 2008.,[27] but only two recorded by BelaPAN, with two more in 2009 according to BelaPAN and two in March 2010.[20]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Amnesty International- Document- Commonwealth of Independent states: Belarus- the last executioner
  2. ^ a b c Embassy of Belarus in the United Kingdom Capital Punishment in Belarus and Changes of Belarus Criminal Legislation related thereto. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
  3. ^ a b Belpan (2001-04-05). "Seminar on death penalty abolition held in Brest". BrestOnline. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  4. ^ a b Constitution of the Republic of Belarus. Accessed on 5 September 2005.
  5. ^ a b Embassy of the Republic of Belarus in the United States. On the Use of Death Penalty in the Republic of Belarus. Published 2004. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
  6. ^ a b c d газете «Труд-7» (2002-11-06). "Смертная казнь" (in Russian). BrestOnline. Retrieved 2007-11-03. [dead link]
  7. ^ "DECISION OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS OF 17.04.2001 No. D-114/2001". Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus. 2001-04-17. Archived from the original on 2007-10-06. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  8. ^ a b "Belarus and Uzbekistan: the last executioners." Amnesty International. Accessed on 5 September 2005.
  9. ^ Amnesty International (1997-11-10). "Belarus: Findings of Human Rights Committee confirm worsening human rights situation". Retrieved 2007-11-03. [dead link]
  10. ^ "Уголовный кодекс Республики Беларусь" (in Russian). 2006-04-02. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  11. ^ Legisltationline.org Death Penalty - Belarus. Published November 2004. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
  12. ^ United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Signatory nations of the ICCPR. Retrieved May 29, 2007.
  13. ^ a b Human Rights Committee (2003-04-24). "Communication No 887/1999 : Belarus. 24/04/2003". United Nations Organization. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  14. ^ Gypsy Laborer Faces Execution In Belarus CBS News, October 13, 2009
  15. ^ "Belarus Executioner Accuses President of Murder". Reuters. 2001-08-29. Retrieved 2007-11-03. 
  16. ^ Human Rights Committee (2003). "Communication No 886/1999 : Belarus. 28/04/2003". United Nations. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  17. ^ Execution of Belarus death row prisoner confirmed Amnesty International on July 26, 2011, accessed on August 31, 2011.
  18. ^ Spring 96 (2014). "Death verdics in Belarus since 1990". Retrieved 2014-05-12. 
  19. ^ International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (2006). "IHF Intervention to the 2006 OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  20. ^ a b Kania, Richard R. E., and Lyuba Pervushina, “The Death Penalty in Belarus,” paper for the Southern Criminal Justice Association 2010 Annual Meeting, Clearwater Beach, Florida
  21. ^ "OSCE Comments on the Death Penalty" (PDF). Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. 1994. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  22. ^ "Центральной комиссии Республики Беларусь по выборам и проведению республиканских референдумов" (in Russian). 1996. Retrieved 2007-11-17. 
  23. ^ Prudnikova, Olga (2010) “The Question Connected with Death Punishment Will Be Solved After the Elections?” Svobodnye Novosti Plus, 11.08.2010-18.08.2010, p. 12: (www.naviny.by)
  24. ^ Kadushkin, S. (2002) “Death Penalty and Its Alternative in the Legislation of the Republic of Belarus,” Yustitsiya of Belarus, 3
  25. ^ Judgment of the Constitutional Court of March 11, 2004 On the conformity between the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, the international treaties to which the Republic of Belarus is a party and the provisions of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus stipulating application of the death penalty as a punishment, accessed on May 28, 2006.
  26. ^ Belarus amends criminal code Interfax on October 26, 2005, accessed on May 28, 2006.
  27. ^ Three get executed & E.C. is upset

External links[edit]