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UN calls on Belarus for immediate death sentence moratorium

UN expert calls on Belarus for an immediate death sentence moratorium

GENEVA (25 April 2014) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus, Miklós Haraszti, has urged the Belarusian authorities to impose an immediate moratorium on death sentences and to refrain from carrying out further executions.

Mr. Haraszti’s appeal follows the reported execution of Pavel Sialiun and a Supreme Court ruling last week upholding the death sentence against Eduard Lykau, both convicted for murder. Belarus is the only European country that still retains the death penalty.

“No reports of executions for a considerable time, despite the imposition of several new death sentences, had filled the international community with the hope that Belarus had started a practical moratorium, which would then lead to a legal moratorium, and finally to the abolition of capital punishment,” the human rights expert said.

“The establishment in December 2012 of a parliamentary working group on the death penalty was a promising development,” Mr. Haraszti said, calling on the legislators to begin effective work towards reform.

In a statement* on 9 October 2013, the Special Rapporteur had urged the Government to start an immediate moratorium on executions before the relevant legislation and court system could be reformed and capital punishment removed from the country’s Criminal Code. He also had expressed disappointment that Belarusian courts continued to hand down death sentences to the country’s citizens.

“Another way for Belarus to start reform would be by abiding by the commitments it made to work with UN human rights overview mechanisms. Instead, just as in earlier cases, Mr Sialiun was executed when his appeal is still pending before the UN Human Rights Committee,” he noted.

The human rights expert also expressed concern about the circumstances of Mr. Sialiun’s execution. The date of his execution is not known; his mother was not notified of the decision by the commission for pardon or the date of execution, and only learned from his lawyer that the sentence had been carried out.

The way death sentences are carried in out in Belarus is indeed a source of concern. “Information on death sentences remains limited for relatives and the general public and there is a lack of transparency about persons held on death row, and an inadequate procedure for appeals”, Mr Haraszti added. “Annual statistics on the use of the death penalty are not available, nor are the names of most of those who have been already executed”.

“Those facing the death penalty, and their relatives, are not informed of the scheduled date of execution; following the execution, the relatives are not informed of where the body is buried,” he noted.

Last year, courts in Belarus reportedly sentenced four people to death for murder: Ryhor Yuzepchuk, Pavel Sialiun, Eduard Lykau and Aliaksandr Hrunou. In October 2013, the Supreme Court of Belarus annulled the sentence of Aliaksandr Hrunou, and ruled the case should be reinvestigated. However, after reconsidering the case, the Homel Regional Court reissued the death penalty on 24 December 2013. With regard to Eduard Lykau, the Supreme Court ruling of 17 April 2014 upheld the death sentence pronounced by the Minsk Regional Court in November 2013.

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