Death Penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)lawful Grounds

During a meeting of Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament, views on the current human rights situation in Belarus were exchanged. Among the interventions there was a touching speech of a mom whose son was executed, the representatives of the human rights center Viasna and Miklos Hraszti, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus.

The speakers presented a joint report prepared by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the Belarusian human rights organisation Viasna, “Death Penalty in Belarus: Murder on (Un)lawful Grounds” (2016), in which it is stated that the application of the death penalty in Belarus is accompanied with a number of violations: Besides the infringement of the right to life, prisoners on death row are kept in total isolation, in complete uncertainty about their fate and face a number of violations of their rights, such as the right to due process and fair trial. Also, torture and ill-treatment are being widely used to force suspects to self-incriminate in the absence of a lawyer, so the right to legal defense is being systematically violated. Moreover, prison personnel considers them as not being among the living.

Photo by Kconnors morguefile.com

“Relatives of death row prisoners suffer terrible psychological anguish due to uncertainty and helplessness when faced with a blind and indifferent but not independent Belarusian justice system. They are in complete isolation from their relative knowing that his days are numbered. Their communication is hindered and in many cases even impossible. Finally, the date of the execution is not communicated and corpses are not returned to families. As a result, families do not even know the date of death and are deprived of the right to bury him in accordance with family traditions.”[1]

FIDH and Viasna believe that one of the steps that need to be taken to the abolition of death penalty, is the recognition of freedom of expression and media by the Belarusian authorities so that human rights activist are not hampered in their work.

It’s also needed to change the basic view that citizens have on prisoners. Prisoners should not be treated as rejects but as human persons. Only then their dignity can be respected.

In Vinter v. UK, a case before the European Court of Human Rights, Judge Power-Forde mentions in his concurring opinion that Article 3 encompasses what might be described as “the right to hope.”:“[t]he judgment recognizes, implicitly, that hope is an important and constitutive aspect of the human person. Those who commit the most abhorrent and egregious of acts and who inflict untold suffering upon others, nevertheless retain their fundamental humanity and carry within themselves the capacity to change. Long and deserved though their prison sentences may be but they retain the right to hope that, someday, they may have atoned for the wrongs which they have committed. They ought not to be deprived entirely of such hope. To deny them the experience of hope would be to deny a fundamental aspect of their humanity and, to do that, would be degrading.”[2]

Human dignity should be put at the center of criminal law issues, because it is a fundamental gift belonging to the human person and therefore needs to be protected, without exception. I agree with Pope Francis, that “when a detainee is treated in the full respect of national and international laws, namely with humanity and justice, he will experience legality and the respect of the human person and this experience will serve as an example in his life once he is out of prison.”[3]

So death penalty goes clearly against human dignity, the right to hope and the fundamental right to life. Also, other rights of prisoners such as the right to a fair trial, the right to legal defense etc. should be respected. Humanity and justice are key ingredients for the potential integration of prisoners into the society. Besides the dignity of the prisoner, the dignity of the family members should be respected. Therefore, they should have the chance to visit their relatives, and in the case of Belarus have at least the right to bury them in accordance with family traditions.

Besides the dignity of the prisoner, the dignity of the family members should be respected. Therefore, they should have the chance to visit their relatives, and in the case of Belarus have at least the right to bury them in accordance with family traditions.

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Written by Marie-Christine Alting von de Geusau WYA Europe intern.

 

[1] Death penalty in Belarus: murder on (un)lawful grounds, October 2016 / N° 683a https://spring96.org/files/book/en/2016-death_penalty_in_belarus_murder_on_un_lawful_grounds.pdf, ; p. 79

[2]Vinter v. United Kingdom, Application nos. 66069/09, 130/10 and 3896/10, E.Ct.H.R., p. 54 CONCURRING OPINION OF JUDGE POWER-FORDE, available at http://hudoc.echr.coe.int/eng?i=001-122664.

[3] http://agensir.it/italia/2016/11/07/the-respect-of-the-human-dignity-of-prisoners-is-the-gauge-of-our-civilization/ SIR: The respect of the human dignity of prisoners is the gauge of our civilization