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Belarus: UN expert deplores child jail sentences

GENEVA (20 November 2019) – A UN human rights expert on Belarus has expressed grave concerns about children serving sentences of up to 11 years in jail for drug-related offences. Since the age for criminal liability for these offences was lowered to 14 years old, dozens of children have been sentenced to disproportionately long prison terms.

“I am concerned that the heavy-handed approach taken by Belarus towards drug offenders is applied to children without due consideration of their specific status and needs,” said Anaïs Marin, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN expert called on the Government to amend the Criminal Code in line with its obligations under the treaty.

The UN expert deplored the fact that the issue of drug use and dependence was being treated as a criminal matter as opposed to a health issue which should be addressed with rights-based measures. She stressed that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child had to be the last resort and for the shortest appropriate time.

Marin said the conditions of detention for these children had been reported as poor, with limited access to healthcare and education, severe sanctioning for minor wrongdoings, forced labour, and restriction on contacts with relatives.

“Violations of due process guarantees have also been reported in some cases,” she said. “Treatment of children in detention should be consistent with the promotion of their sense of dignity and should encourage their reintegration and constructive role in society.”

The UN expert welcomed the announcement made under the amnesty programme launched this year to reduce prison terms by two years for individuals sentenced for drug-related offences who were children at the time of the offence. She however regretted that this sentence reduction was applicable only to those serving shorter prison terms.

“I further encourage the Government to review the drug legislation and the juvenile justice system, notably with a view to developing alternatives to detention,” she said.

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