26 March 2023, Sunday, 2:35
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Moratorium on death penalty: what stands behind promises of Belarusian authorities

Representatives of official Minsk have more than once spoken about a possibility of imposing moratorium on the death penalty, but it ended in talk.

At the moment Belarus is the only country in Europe where death penalty is still used as the capital punishment. Meanwhile, announcing moratorium on it is one of the 12 conditions of the European Union, on fulfillment of which normalization of relations between Minsk and Brussels. And to be given back the Special Guest status at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), the moratorium on the death penalty is the most important prerequisite. Representatives of the Belarusian regime have many times stated that announcement of the moratorium is near at hand.

Objective preconditions

Recently the head of the “parliamentary” group for discussion of death penalty issues Mikalai Samasejka stated that objective precondition have risen in Belarus for discussing the issue of death penalty upholding or ban. However Samasejka could not name concrete terms when the draft law would be prepared.

International human rights organizations have been pushing for death penalty ban for long.

Executions in Belarus are held under Article 14 of the Criminal Code. Meanwhile, for about 30 years such a verdict is passed only for intentional homicide under aggravating circumstances. And while in 1998 47 persons were sentenced to capital punishment, in recent years 2 persons a year were sentenced to it. As law-enforcing agencies note, it is an objective process – less grave crimes are committed. Besides, an alternative punishment appeared, a life sentence.

What do Belarusians think about death penalty?

The legal mechanism of imposing a moratorium on death penalty is called a secondary and technical issue by Mikalai Samasejka. And the most important thing is society’s readiness for such a step.

We remind that at referendum in November 1996 more than 80% of people who took part in the vote supported death penalty in Belarus. According to a nation-wide poll held by NOVAK agency, 39.2% of Belarusians are for death penalty ban. 48.2% are against death penalty ban. About 13% of respondents didn’t give an answer to this question.

Sociology doctor Andrei Vardamatski, the head of NOVAK, notes a little difference between the number of those who are in favour of death penalty ban and who are against such a step. Besides, Vardamatski says the number of undecided is low. “This is a position where public opinion has been formed,” the scientist stated.

He forecasts that with a certain media approach the difference in opinions could decrease and even be alternated. However Vardamatski warns that such changes are not to take place in the near future. “Public opinion on death penalty is a reflection of the entire humanitarian climate of culture and values in eh society, and it cannot be changed so quickly,” the head of NOVAK laboratory underlined.

Who adopts the decision?

Meanwhile, in Belarus the issue of death penalty has moved from the legal and moral sphere to the political sphere. The parliament needs the special guest status at the PACE, and the PACE is ready to return it, but under the condition of imposing a moratorium on death penalty. Besides, moratorium is one of the 12 conditions for full normalization of the relations between Belarus and the EU, which is among 12 recommendations of the EU.

The wording of the article of the Belarusian constitution currently in force, death penalty administered as the capital punishment before its ban, according to experts allows pass a decision on moratorium on executions without holding a new referendum.

A lawyer Aleh Vouchak has been engaged in this matter for a long time. He believes that Lukashenka can solve it by one stroke of the pen, but he “holds the bargaining chip for political intrigues with Europe”. According to Vouchak, announcing moratorium on death penalty is much more innocent concession to the EU for the Belarusian leadership, then amendments to the electoral code or freedom of public associations’ registration.

Moratorium on death penalty is the main condition for Belarus’ return to PACE

Vouchak believes that by the presidential election in 2011 the regime is sure to return to this issue. The lawyer does not exclude that by that time moratorium on death penalty might be imposed.

Europeans, do not waste money!

A former deputy Foreign Minister of Belarus, and currently one of the leaders of the civil campaign “European Belarus” Andrei Sannikov notes that such bargaining wit the EU makes it possible for Lukashenka not only defraud loans form the West, but demand money for a veneer campaign on death penalty ban.

Sannikov’s prediction is: there will be no moratorium on death penalty in Belarus under Lukashenka. “So, Europeans, do not waste money!” Andrei Sannikov recommends. But you never know, as moratorium is a temporarily measure, it can be imposed, and then lifted.