The event was attended by representatives of the Belarusian government, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the United Nations and other international organizations, the Belarusian Orthodox Church, international and Belarusian NGOs and media.
For the first time representatives of “Viasna”, human rights defenders Andrei Paluda and Valiantsin Stefanovich, were invited to participate in the conference.
After the speeches of rapporteurs, Andrei Paluda, coordinator of the campaign “Human Rights Defenders against the Death Penalty in Belarus”, took the floor in the first public debate. He noted that there is a lot of talking about the death penalty from the perspectives of history and philosophy, while he would like to raise a question about the actual situation in the country.
“You know, many people said that Belarus had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty between the executions of Aliaksandr Hrunou and Siarhei Ivanou. But I would not say that it was a real moratorium, because shootings were still performed. I am concerned that after just a few weeks after the conference, which was organized on the highest level in March, Siarhei Ivanou was shot. And this conference takes place against the backdrop of the enforcement of four death sentences this year, three of which took place a month ago,”- said Andrei Paluda.
Human rights defender drew attention to the fact that many government representatives advocated cooperation with the Council of Europe, but the practice shows the opposite:
“To date, there is no cooperation with international treaty bodies, which is confirmed by six decisions of the UN Human Rights Committee. None of them was taken into account, as well as the Committee’s request for interim measures in respect of Henadz Yakavitski and Siarhey Khmialeuski. As a result, both have been executed.”
Chairman of the first session, head of the Department of European Cooperation at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Andrei Bushyla reacted to the human rights defenders speech, saying: “Probably, we did not yet start directly with the moratorium, but the humanization of legislation is gradually happening.”
He said that according to a survey conducted by the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies in April of this year, 51% of respondents were in favor and 49% were against the death penalty.
Alexandre Guessel, Director of Political Affairs at the Council of Europe, stressed that talking of a “de facto moratorium” looks like saying that there could be a hunger strike between breakfast and lunch.
Valiantsin Stefanovich also noted that yesterday the human rights defenders sent the joint report “The death penalty in Belarus: (un)lawful murder” to all members of the the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the 6th convocation, which it is very important for them to read. He said it was important to continue holding parliamentary hearings involving a wide range of public and human rights organizations.”I wish that there was a particular message from the government in this regard. So it would be clear, if we have moratorium as such on the agenda, or we will just talk a lot and continue to apply the death penalty. The Belarusian authorities have not demonstrated that the question of the death penalty will be solved,” Valiantsin Stefanovich said.
We remind, that the Council of Europe declared the abolition of the death penalty as one of its priorities and is fighting for it for decades. As a result, no execution has taken place in the Council of Europe’s member States since 1997.
Belarus, which is not a member of the Council of Europe, is the only country in Europe that still applies death penalty. The first ever Council of Europe’s Action plan for Belarus 2016-2017 stresses that “the abolition of the death penalty in Belarus remains the top priority for the CoE, as capital punishment is a major obstacle for Belarus to taking steps towards becoming a CoE member state.”