Belarus: IBAHRI condemns expansion of the death penalty

Friday 17 March 2023

The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns amendments to the Criminal Code of Belarus that introduces the death penalty for state officials and military personnel convicted of ‘treason to the state’. President Alexander Lukashenko signed the amendments into law on 9 March 2023. The legislative amendments will take effect on 25 March 2023.

Presidential approval of the legislative amendments follows an attack allegedly by Belarusian anti-war partisans on a Russian warplane at a Belarusian airbase on 26 February 2023 amid rising discontent with Belarus’ role in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Western sanctions and falling incomes.

The lower chamber of the Belarusian Parliament adopted the bill on 7 December 2022. Under the amended Criminal Code, ‘treason to the state’ is broadly defined as espionage, defection to the enemy during war or armed conflict, and issuing state secrets of Belarus or of other states, or other assistance, to a foreign state, international or foreign organisation, or their representatives, aimed at harming the national security of Belarus. The Criminal Code of Belarus already allows for the death penalty for murder, terrorism, and attempted terrorism.

IBAHRI Co-Chair, and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc stated: ‘We strongly condemn the extension of capital punishment to convictions of public officials and military personnel for high treason in Belarus. This development is of extremely high concern given President Lukashenko’s supportive role of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. We remind the Belarusian authorities that international human rights law does not permit the use of the death penalty for non-lethal or vaguely defined crimes. Drawing attention to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Belarus is a State Party, under Article 6(2), the death penalty can only be imposed for “the most serious crimes”. The recent amendments to Belarus’ Criminal Code do not meet this requirement.’

In its General Comment No 36 (2018), the United Nations Human Rights Committee stated that crimes not resulting directly and intentionally in death, such as political crimes, can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty within the framework of Article 6 in the ICCPR. Furthermore, the death penalty cannot be imposed based on ‘vaguely defined criminal provisions, whose application to the convicted individual depend on subjective or discretionary considerations, the application of which is not reasonably foreseeable’.

IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE commented: ‘Belarus has expanded its application of the death penalty for the second time in less than a year, while many other nations move towards abolition. Amid Belarus’ deteriorating human rights landscape, including the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and political opponents and lack of judicial independence and fair trial guarantees, the recent amendment to the country’s Criminal Code, though unsurprising, is nonetheless disturbing. We call for Belarus to revisit its legislation in line with its international legal obligations and we urge the introduction of an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty with a view to abolition. The IBAHRI reiterates its opposition to the death penalty in all circumstances.’


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Notes to the Editor

  1. On 15 May 2008, the IBAHRI Council adopted its Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, which considers, inter alia, the clear trend towards viewing the death penalty as a breach of international human rights standards, as well as committing the IBAHRI to actively promoting the abolition of the death penalty. Click here to download a PDF of the Background Paper to the IBAHRI Resolution on the Abolition of the Death Penalty.
  2. Related material:
    Belarus: IBAHRI condemns extended application of death penalty
    Belarus: IBAHRI calls for rejection of proposed law amendments threatening human rights
  3. The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI), established in 1995 under Founding Honorary President Nelson Mandela, is an autonomous and financially independent entity, working to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law, and to preserve the independence of the judiciary and the legal profession worldwide.
  4. Find the IBAHRI (@IBAHRI) on social media here:
  5. The International Bar Association (IBA), the global voice of the legal profession, is the foremost organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Established in 1947, shortly after the creation of the United Nations, it was born out of the conviction that an organisation made up of the world's bar associations could contribute to global stability and peace through the administration of justice.
    The IBA acts as a connector, enabler, and influencer, for the administration of justice, fair practice, and accountability worldwide. The IBA has collaborated on a broad range of ground-breaking, international projects with the United Nations, the European Parliament, the Council of Europe, The Commonwealth, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, among others.
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