The IBA’s response to the war in Ukraine
Belarus: IBAHRI condemns extended application of death penalty
The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) condemns amendments to the Criminal Code of Belarus that expands the application of the death penalty in Belarus. The legislative amendments follow a series of non-lethal acts of alleged sabotage on the Belarusian railway to obstruct supplies to Russian forces in Ukraine.
The main amendment relates to the Criminal Code’s Article 67, ‘Sentencing for an incomplete crime’. Previously, Article 67(2) prohibited the application of the death penalty without exception for the preparation of, or an attempt to, commit a crime. Following the amendment, Article 67(2) allows the imposition of the death penalty for an attempt to commit any of four terrorism-related crimes, namely:
- The murder of a representative of a foreign state or an international organisation for the purpose of provoking international complications or war or destabilising public order in a foreign state (Article 124(2) of the Criminal Code);
- An act of international terrorism committed by an organised group, or with the use of nuclear facilities or radioactive substances or nuclear materials, potent, toxic chemical or biological substances, or involving the murder of a statesperson or a public figure of a foreign state for the purpose of provoking international complications or war or destabilising public order in a foreign state (Article 126(3) of the Criminal Code);
- An act of terrorism, committed by an organised group, or with the use of nuclear facilities or radioactive substances or nuclear materials, potent, toxic chemical or biological substances, or involving the murder of a person (Article 289(3) of the Criminal Code); and
- An act of terrorism in the form of a murder of a statesperson or public figure committed in connection with their state or public activities in order to influence authorities’ decision-making process (Article 359(2) of the Criminal Code).
IBAHRI Co-Chair, and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, stated: ‘We strongly condemn the amendments to the Criminal Code of Belarus, which extend the imposition of capital punishment to attempted acts of terrorism. International human rights law does not permit the use of the death penalty for non-lethal or vaguely defined crimes. The Belarusian Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB/ Committee for State Security) includes lawyers and political prisoners on its terrorist list and the criminal justice system is marred by unfair trials, forced confessions and secret executions. We are therefore deeply concerned that the amendments may be used as a pretext to further intimidate, repress, and punish political opponents and those that represent them, activists against the war in Ukraine, and Belarus’ civil society.’
Since 2020, the Belarusian government has labelled scores of individuals as terrorists on political grounds, including opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. On 23 May 2022, Maksim Znak, a legal adviser for the 2020 presidential candidate Viktor Babaryko, was added to the Belarusian KGB list of terrorists.
Belarus is a state party to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Under Article 6(2), the death penalty can only be imposed for ‘the most serious crimes’. 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 attempted murder, can never serve as the basis for the imposition of the death penalty within the framework of Article 6. 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: ‘While the world moves towards the abolition of the death penalty, Belarus expands its use. This retrogressive step is in stark contrast to reports in early 2021 that the Belarusian parliament was due to consider legislative amendments to remove capital punishment from the country’s Criminal Code. The IBAHRI opposes the death penalty in all circumstances. It is a punishment that is completely unacceptable in today’s world. State parties to the ICCPR have an obligation to review their criminal laws to ensure that the death penalty is not imposed for crimes that do not qualify as the most serious. We urge the government of Belarus to revisit its legislation and fully abolish the death penalty.’
Belarus’ Law N 165-Z of 13 May 2022 entered into force on 29 May 2022.
Notes to the Editor
- 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.
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For further information, please contact: the IBA Human Rights Institute at IBAHRI@int-bar.org
Website page link for this news release:
Short link: https://tinyurl.com/2p8njwce
Full link: www.ibanet.org/Belarus-IBAHRI-condemns-extended-application-of-death-penalty