Belarusian setback on the way to abolition
On March 22, 2010, World Coalition member organisation Amnesty International revealed that two men, Andrey Zhuk and Vasil Yzepchuk, had recently been executed in Minsk, the Belarusian capital.
Because of Belarus’s policy of opacity on executions, the news only came out when Zhuk’s mother failed to contact him and was finally told that her son had been shot.
On March 23, Ales Bialiatski, FIDH Vice President and President of Belarusian Human Rights Center Viasna was arrested and fined with three other human right activists as they protested peacefully against the executions in Minsk.
Both events attracted stark criticism from human right defenders and international organisations.
In a letter to Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (photo) on March 24, the World Coalition called on Belarus to “commute the death sentences of those remaining on death row and adopt a moratorium on executions”, and to “ensure the right to peaceful demonstration is not interfered with arbitrarily”.
“Insurmoutable obstacle” for dialogue with Europe
In a joint statement, the bodies dealing with Belarus for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, the European Parliament and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly wrote: “The Belarusian authorities carried out the executions ignoring all appeals to for clemency and knowing that capital punishment represents an insurmountable obstacle for the development of political dialogue with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the European Parliament.”
The executions also flew in the face of the United Nations Human Rights Committee, which had specifically asked Belarus not to execute the two men while it was investigating whether they had had a fair trial.
In its letter to President Lukashenko, the World Coalition regretted that Belarus lifted the moratorium on executions observed throughout 2009. It also expressed surprise that the executions contradicted recent positive contacts with Belarusian officials. “At the 4th World Congress against the Death Penalty we were happy to welcome representatives of Belarus, and to receive and discuss with them the document “Belarus’ approach to step-by-step abolition of the death penalty”,” the letter read.
The Belarusian Helsinki Committee, which the World Coalition’s member organization in Belarus, helped publicise the letter in the country.
Its chairperson Aleh Hulak described the cruelty of Belarusian execution procedures towards the families of death row inmates: “Firstly, they learn about the execution only post factum, as was the case now. The mother of Andrey Zhuk learned the news when she attempted to pass a parcel for him and it was not accepted. Secondly, the official notification of the shooting is sent to them only a month later, which prompts them to cherish hopes until the last moment that an error has occurred. Thirdly, they are not given the body of the convict or his belongings and they are not able to bury the killed person in accordance with established rituals. Relatives are not even told where the burial place is.”
Download the World Coalition’s letter to President Lukashenko:
– in English
– in Russian