Committee against Torture
30 April 2018
The Committee against Torture this afternoon completed its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Belarus on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Introducing the report, Yuri Ambrazevich, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Belarussian Constitution guaranteed the unacceptability of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. A clear understanding of torture that corresponded to the definition of torture in the Convention was introduced in 2015, and all criminal cases in courts had to be suspended if allegations were made that torture was used to extract a confession, until such allegations were checked. The 2014 amendment to the law on foreign citizens or stateless persons prohibited extradition if their life or freedom was under threat, while the amendment to the criminal and procedural codes in 2017 had prohibited extradition of persons with the status of refugee, asylum seeker or temporary protection for criminal investigations or for serving a sentence. A law on the prevention of violence in the family would be developed in 2018. Judges and magistrates carried out their activities independently and were only subordinate to the law, stressed Mr. Ambrazevich, noting that the 2017 version of the Code on the Judiciary and the Status of Judges increased the role of the judicial community to strengthen the judicial system and to ensure its independence.
Committee Experts commended the positive developments including the areas of human trafficking, protection of migrant domestic workers, and domestic violence, and noted that several important concerns in relation to the implementation of the Convention remained. One was the continued use of the death penalty, as Belarus was the only European country that still execute people. The Experts asked about the criminalization of torture in line with the Convention, whether there had been public and unambiguous condemnation of torture including by officials at the highest levels, and how it was ensured that exceptional circumstances could not be invoked as a justification for torture. Belarus should create a national human rights institution and so significantly increase the level of protection of citizens against any infringements or violations by State structures, they stressed. A long-standing concern was related to the lack of an effective system of investigations for allegations of torture and a lack of a genuinely independent torture complaint mechanism in prisons. Experts also raised the question of an independent monitoring system for places of detention, noting that the current system did not seem to act as an effective check on torture and ill treatment in detention facilities, including in police stations. Experts welcomed the adoption of the law on the judiciary because independent and professional judiciary was key to effectively addressing complaints of torture and ill treatment, but the judiciary remained under the full and effective control of the President who retained the right to appoint, promote or demote any judge or prosecutor.
In his concluding remarks, Mr. Ambrazevich stressed that Belarus condemned the use or threat of use of torture and that its legislation covered all the provisions of the Convention.
Claude Heller Rouassant, Committee Vice-Chairperson, concluded by reiterating the commitment of the Committee to continue to cooperate with Belarus in the implementation of the Convention.
The delegation of Belarus consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Internal Affairs, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the National Centre of Legislation and Legal Research, and the Permanent Mission of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Belarus at the end of its sixty-third session on 18 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.
The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings is available via the following link: http://webtv.un.org/meetings-events/.
The Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on 1 May to start the consideration of the third periodic report of Qatar (CAT/C/QAT/3).
The fifth periodic report of Belarus CAT/C/BLR/5 can be read here.
Presentation of the Report
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that since Belarus had gained independence in 1991, it had been striving to create a just society in which all universally accepted human rights could be enjoyed. The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment had entered into force in 1987 and the unacceptability of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment was guaranteed by the Constitution. No legislation allowed or would allow the use of such treatment under any circumstances. Belarus was interested in peace and security and its priority was to create a stable State. In 2015, the Criminal Code of Belarus saw the introduction of a clear understanding of torture that corresponded to the definition of torture in the Convention. As for the use of evidence or confessions obtained through torture or force, the Criminal Penal Code of Belarus said that any examination of a criminal case in court must be suspended if allegations were made that torture was used to extract a confession, until such allegations were checked.
Belarus was using information and awareness-raising campaigns in order to prevent and stop domestic violence. Belarus was planning to develop a law on the prevention of violence in the family in 2018. In 2014 the law on foreign citizens or stateless persons was amended, adding an article to establish that a foreign or stateless person could not be extradited if their life or freedom would be under threat. In 2017, Belarus had also amended the Criminal and Procedural Codes to establish that persons who had been granted the status of refugee, asylum seeker or had temporary protection could not be extradited upon the request of a foreign State for criminal investigations or for serving a sentence. A new version of the Code on the Judiciary and the status of judges had entered into force in 2017 with provisions to increase the role of the judicial community to strengthen the judicial system and to ensure its independence. Judges and magistrates carried out their activities independently and were only subordinate to the law.
Between 2012 and 2017, the Judicial Board of Belarus had examined 43 cases of persons complaining about their convictions by the courts but they were found to be unjustified. As for complaints against pre-trial detention, in 2015, there were 839 applications received and 31 were upheld; in 2016 there were 797 applications received and 23 were upheld; and in 2017, there were 710 applications received and 21 were upheld.
The Prosecutor’s office regularly reviewed prisons and places of detention. A law was adopted in 2016 to ensure that audio, visual or other means were used to record interrogations. In fact, the Interior Minister had been quoted as saying this year that the video recordings of interrogations were a vital necessity. These video recordings had also been established to ensure early alert to the possible deterioration of detention conditions and to provide monitoring of proceedings. Civil society could also monitor prisons or places of detention.
Mr. Ambrazevich said Belarus was attached to complying with its international commitments under all human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and was interested in developing national tools and instruments to guarantee the respect of human rights. Belarus looked forward to its cooperation with United Nations human rights bodies as it was crucial for the country to have a carefully thought through approach to ensure the vitality of the society as the country moved to consolidate its position in the present turbulent geopolitical situation. Belarus was prepared to listen to the Committee’s comments and recommendations and hoped they would have a constructive review.
Questions by the Committee’s Co-Rapporteurs
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Belarus, thanked the delegation for the information in the report and the statement by the head of the delegation. Positive developments in Belarus included the ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2016; the signing of the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings in 2017; the amendment of the trafficking in persons act to expand the definition of trafficked persons; the amendment of the migration act to introduce new protections for migrant domestic workers; the amendment of the act concerning domestic violence; and the adoption of the inter-agency plan to implement recommendations from the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review.
The core stone of the Convention against Torture was its definition of torture. Belarus said it had amended article 128 of the Criminal Code in 2015 to define the notion of torture in accordance with the understanding of the Convention. Currently, there were two articles in the Criminal Code that mentioned torture. The report said article 128 qualified acts of torture as crimes falling under universal jurisdiction. However, there was still no separate article for committing torture and the two articles did not cover the whole range of acts of torture and the purposes of their usage, so they did not establish a responsibility for all acts of torture as the Convention required. Belarus was asked to update the Committee about the status of criminalizing torture, and indicate whether a definition of torture that covered all the elements contained in article 1 would be adopted, and whether torture related crimes were punishable by appropriate penalties.
Public condemnation of torture was important. The Committee had asked Belarus to provide information about measures to condemn publicly and unambiguously torture and to make sure its perpetrators and their accomplices were punished. However, no such condemnations had been made, said Ms. Racu. The Committee understood that sometimes officials at the highest level had expressed informal approval of torture.
The Committee would like to receive information concerning the implementation of article 1 of the Convention concerning measures to ensure that exceptional circumstances could not be invoked as a justification for torture.
A national human rights institution had still not been created by Belarus. This would be extremely important as it would significantly increase the level of protection of citizens against any infringements or violations by State structures.
On the implementation of fundamental legal safeguards, the legislation of Belarus contained provisions to guarantee a detained person the right to a lawyer and to notify someone of their detention. However, apparently detainees had difficulty getting access to a lawyer and lawyers were harassed. Had any police officer been disciplined for not providing a person with access to a lawyer? Was any register in place that confirmed in written form that a detained person had access to counsel. How were legal safeguards implemented in practice? The Committee was concerned that other important fundamental legal safeguards such as notification of a relative and notification on rights were not fully implemented in the country. Had any police officers been held criminally accountable for any unacknowledged detention?
Ms. Racu asked if audio-video recording of interrogation rooms was mandatory now? Clarification was requested about whether prisoners had the right to be examined by an independent doctor. Improvements regarding medical care in police and prison establishments would be appreciated. Clarification was also requested about efforts to comply with legislation for police to wear identification badges.
On monitoring of places of detention, including psychiatric hospitals, the report said a list of persons had the right to visit penal institutions without special authorization, but voluntary associations were no included in this list. Ms. Racu requested more information on the composition of this list and whether these persons had the right to interview detainees or prisoners in confidentiality and make a report with recommendations.
On procedures of detention, the law said police must request permission from a prosecutor to detain a person, but reports said that police routinely ignored this and detained persons without a warrant. Criminal suspects could be held for up to 10 days without charges being filed, and for up to 18 months after charges were filed, and detention could be extended without consulting a judge. Detainees had the right to petition the court system about the legality of their detention but these appeals were reportedly routinely ignored by the authorities.
Ms. Racu asked for information about the percentage of detained people who were in pre-trial detention; measures to resolve overcrowding in detention places; and the minimum living space for each person in detention. The report said that 20 temporary detention facilities had been reconstructed, and more details were requested about the reconstruction work and the capacity of these facilities.
Numerous sources indicated that the conditions in the vast majority of detention facilities remained poor and in many cases posed a threat to the life and health of prisoners. There was a shortage of food, medicine, warm clothing and bedding, and inadequate access to basic and emergency health care, clean water and appropriate sanitation. A particular concern was the poor medical care in pre-trial facilities and prisons, widespread incidence of tuberculosis, pneumonia, HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases, and the fact that Belarus failed to provide reliable statistics on prisoners’ mortality and morbidity.
Ms. Racu was concerned that people with mental illnesses were kept in general conditions in custody both before the trial and while serving the sentence, while judicial decisions concerning people with mental illness were taken without an expert assessment of the possible consequences of being detained in general conditions.
A number of reports indicated high levels of sexual violence, with homosexual prisoners and sex offenders being segregated from other inmates and forced to perform the most humiliating jobs. Homosexuals suffered hate speech by the prison officers, who tended to overlook their ill treatment. The delegation was asked to provide data on the number of violent incidents, including suicides and self-harming, and the measures taken to prevent them; comment on the reported wide and excessive use of solitary confinement, and the legal basis for its use; and explain the system in place to aid prisoners’ social integration.
The cornerstone of a humane prison system was properly recruited and trained prison staff able to adopt an appropriate attitude in their relation with prisoners, stressed the Co-Rapporteur, noting with regret that due to the absence of relevant information by the State party, the Committee was not able to adequately assess the quality of staffing. Was there a shortage of staff, including medical personnel, in places of detention and if so, to which extent? What was being done to improve the professional competences of staff and management of prisons?
Of particular concern was the situation of persons kept in the Labour Treatment Profilactoria, a strange hybrid of rehabilitation and prison facility and a remnant of the Soviet era, which was still a part of the country’s penal system. There were eight functioning Labour Treatment Profilactoria sites in Belarus, to which citizens were sent by order of the regional courts for a period of six months to two years without a right to appeal.
Turning to the issue of women in prisons, Ms. Racu remarked that women represented quite a large proportion of the prison population, some 7.5 per cent. Several reports indicated that women suffered sexual harassment and abuse in prisons and that their complaints often went unanswered. What was being done to improve the conditions for convicted women and girls? How many women and how many children were in pre-trial detention and in prisons?
There was no comprehensive juvenile justice in Belarus: there were no specialized courts or specially appointed judges, juveniles in conflict with the law were under the authority of the Ministry of Interior, data on the number of minors in detention was lacking, and the separation of juveniles from the adult population called for by the law was not implemented in practice.
The Committee was very concerned about violence against children, said the Co-Rapporteur, who remarked that the State party’s report did not contain adequate replies to questions raised on the measures taken to prevent and combat violence against children in all settings. What was being done to prohibit corporal punishment in all settings and establish a child protection system with clear procedures for the identification and protection of child victims?
Ms. Racu noted that 170 people had died in prison during the 2012 to 2015 period, including 42 due to violent causes. Criminal proceedings against officials who had intentionally committed acts of violence, including negligent doctors, all of which had resulted in death, had been initiated in only five cases. One such case was Mr. Ihar Barbaschynski who had died in custody in September 2017 aged only 37. Could the delegation comment on actions taken to prevent and adequately address all deaths in custody including through prosecution and sanctioning of perpetrators?
Belarus still enforced the death penalty and executed between two and nine people every year. Presidential pardon had been granted only once in 20 years, in 2003. Executions were considered a State secret, relatives were not informed of the whereabouts of the person, when or how they would be executed, and did not receive the body for burial. Death row inmates were placed in a high-security area in the Minsk prison, where they awaited the verdict of the appeal for a period ranging between six to 18 months. The cells were small, without a window, and inmates were not allowed to watch television and were placed in permanent solitary confinement. They had the right to a lawyer, to send and receive letters, and to a monthly visit by relatives.
It was particularly worrying that Belarus had not taken any steps to change the legislation governing the use of the death penalty, execution procedures remained intact, and death sentences handed down by the Supreme Court could not be appealed. Furthermore, Belarus had not yet made a statement concerning the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a possibility of instituting a moratorium on the death penalty, or its complete abolition.
Ms. Racu recognized the positive steps taken to improve the situation of foreigners seeking protection in Belarus, in particular by providing additional guarantees of non-refoulement. However, Belarus continued to practice forced expulsion and deportation to States where there were threats of torture, ill-treatment and even the death penalty. Could the delegation inform on the number of forced expulsions, the States that the individuals had been returned to, and on diplomatic assurances with returning States? Individuals who violated migration legislation were placed in pre-trial prisons or temporary detention facilities where some of them were kept for long periods of up to a year.
FELICE GAER, Committee Vice-Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, noted that there were many continuing concerns about the implementation of the obligations under the Convention and said that the Committee would seek to understand the steps taken to improve laws, policies and practices in line with the Committee’s previous concluding observations.
The Committee had repeatedly expressed its concern about the lack of an effective and prompt system of investigations for allegations of torture. The investigative committees which were in place had received 614 reports of acts of torture and ill-treatment by public officials during the 2012-2015 period, but criminal charges had been brought in only 10 cases. Of those 10 cases, only two had been referred to the court and preliminary investigation.
The delegation was asked to update the Committee on the outcomes of those two preliminary investigations, inform whether any public official had been convicted of acts of torture, and provide the updated number of complaints of torture and ill-treatment received by the investigative committees since 2015. What had been done to ensure the independence of the staff of investigation committees and protect them from interference by the executive branch, in particular the President who still had the power to appoint and dismiss the members? What measures had been undertaken to demonstrate the willingness of Belarus to promptly and efficiently deal with complaints and accusations of torture and ill-treatment, for example to adopt legislation allowing for the suspension of officials accused of torture, which, in the view of the Committee, was an essential safeguard? Had anything been done to put in place an effective and genuinely independent torture complaint mechanism in prisons?
The Committee continued to be troubled by the cases of enforced disappearances that had taken place in 1999 and 2000, in which international investigations seemed to reveal the complicity of political figures at the highest levels. Belarus had made no progress in the investigation of cases of enforced disappearances. The Human Rights Committee had reached the decision in 2017 on the second of the four cases concerning the disappearance of Yuri Zaharenko, and had found that Belarus had failed to comply with its obligation to properly investigate and take appropriate remedial action. The Vice-Chair stressed that the international community saw those cases as a bellwether test for the genuine commitment of Belarus to reform and to the rule of law. What was being done to bring to justice the perpetrators and instigators of the enforced disappearance of the four men?
The Committee, in its concluding observations following the review of Belarus in 2011, had urged the country to investigate the allegations of torture and ill-treatment in the context of police response to the demonstrations by the political opposition, in the run up to the elections in December 2010. The State party’s report had stated that no investigations had been undertaken into those allegations because “no complaints had been filed with supervisory bodies”. This raised serious questions of the interpretation of the State’s positive obligations in relation to allegations of torture.
Turning to the demonstrations that had taken place in February and March 2017, Ms. Gaer said that the Committee had received information alleging that individuals who had participated in those demonstrations had been subjected to ill-treatment and even torture during their detention in the facilities in Minsk. Had those allegations been investigated, particularly the complaints of torture that Tatyana Revyaka filed with the Office of the Prosecutor in Minsk?
The lack of independence of the monitoring system for places of detention continued to be a very serious concern, including the national Public Monitoring Commission of the Ministry of Justice. The Committee had previously recommended that Belarus establish fully independent bodies with the capacity to perform effective and unannounced visits composed of legal and medical experts and representatives of civil society, but very little progress in this area had been achieved. The current system did not seem to act as an effective check on torture and ill treatment in detention facilities.
Was Belarus ready to receive the visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, or the Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Belarus? What were the reasons for which Belarus had rejected the recommendation received during its last Universal Periodic Review to extend an open invitation to Special Procedures?
The delegation was asked to inform about redress provided to victims of torture and for deaths in custody, and to explain the capacity of the system in place to provide rehabilitation to victims of torture and ill treatment.
The key to effectively addressing complaints of torture and ill treatment was an independent and professional judiciary, said Ms. Gaer and welcomed the adoption of the law on the judiciary, which had, inter alia, transferred some of the competences from the Ministry of Justice to the Supreme Court. However, the changes had not been sufficient to safeguard the independence of the judiciary from the executive branch in practice. The judiciary remained under the full and effective control of the President who retained the right to appoint, promote or demote any judge or prosecutor.
What was being done in practice to effectively cooperate with civil society organizations, asked Ms. Gaer next, including to decriminalize participation in unauthorised demonstrations, to allow activities of unregistered non-governmental organizations, and to start receiving applications for the registration of non-governmental organizations. Was the Government addressing and investigating the allegations by 58 human rights defenders who had been arbitrarily arrested, prosecuted, and subjected to other forms of reprisals for their activities?
Noting that no cases of human trafficking had been prosecuted between 2014 and 2017, the Co-Rapporteur asked the delegation how the law on trafficking in persons was being implemented in practice. The hate crime legislation had been applied in only one case, in Minsk in 2015 – did Belarus collect data on sexual orientation and gender identity hate crimes, and if so, how many such cases there had been?
Questions by Committee Experts
On the implementation of norms and standards in relation to judicial authority, an Expert noted that the fact that the executive played an essential role in the filling of judicial vacancies put in question the equity and coherence of provisions governing the criminal justice system. Often, security officers did not carry their identification documents and there had been instances in which individuals subjected to ill treatment and torture could not identify the perpetrators. Were security officers obliged to show their identity cards when requested?
Another Expert took up the use of force in psychiatric care and asked about the provisions in place to ensure that psychiatric treatment was not used for anything else but for therapeutic purposes and not for punishing individuals, including for the rejection of the generally accepted moral, political, cultural and religious views of the society.
The Expert welcomed the decision of Belarus to include some civil society organizations in the commissions that monitored places of detention, but remarked that most of the organizations involved were social and cultural ones. Would Belarus include organizations with human rights expertise such as the Legal Initiative, Belarusian Documentation Centre, the Helsinki Committee and others?
Replies by the Delegation
In response to questions raised about deaths in the army, the delegation said that the preliminary investigation into the death of a soldier had been conducted in close relationship with the Belarusian society. There was a regular drop in the number of deaths of serving officers including by suicide. In 2017, there had been seven deaths, none of which related to the service; each death was carefully investigated. As for the suicide of a soldier in October 2017, the investigative committee had brought charges against three sergeants under the Criminal Code for the abuse of authority. Preventive measures were being taken to ensure that military units functioned in a proper manner.
In terms of the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture in the penitentiary system, the delegation underlined that the system was based on fundamental principles of humanity, equality before the law, proportionate use of force, and others. The imprisonment rate was 290 persons per 100,000 population; currently, the prisons were at 95 per cent of the capacity and re-education camps at 43 per cent. The four amnesty laws implemented since 2010 had seen a release of a significant number of prisoners, thus reducing the overall number of inmates in the system. A broad use of alternative forms to imprisonment had contributed to halving the number of juveniles in detention and the closure of the juvenile education camp N°1.
All persons in detention had the right to fundamental legal safeguards from the moment of detention. All detainees had to be registered in a database within 24 hours from the arrival to a detention facility. Persons under custody had the right to a contact with human rights defenders, relatives and family members, and to meet confidentially with a lawyer, without any limit to the number or duration of such meetings. In the case of convicted prisoners, access to a lawyer was provided upon a written request.
Medical assistance was provided in prisons as needed. All prisoners were medically screened upon entry and every six months thereon, including for tuberculosis; upon arrival, all detainees were quarantined for two weeks to assess their state of health. The medical services in the penitentiary system comprised of 791 medical professionals, including 55 psychiatric doctors who served all penitentiary institutions. Psychological interviews were held with each prisoner within a week of the arrival to an institution. Each prison had a psychological laboratory where group psycho-correctional training sessions involving all prisoners took place; some of those were aimed at preventing aggressive behaviour, preventing suicidal behaviours, and working with dependencies. There was no forced treatment of persons living with HIV/AIDS, stressed the delegation.
In terms of prisoners’ complaints, there was a closed box in each facility where prisoners could drop complaints addressed to various organizations outside of the prison; those were delivered to addressees within 24 hours. A prison employee suspected of criminal behaviour against prisoners was temporarily suspended. There was a rigid compliance with the rights of convicts, and public prosecutors could freely access any facility and any prison.
The Penitentiary Faculty within the Academy of the Ministry of Interior trained future prison officials, and provided re-training and continued education as well. Decisive steps had been taken to improve conditions in detention facilities, especially in 2017, when a number of building had been rehabilitated.
The Labour Treatment Profilactoria (LTP) were institutions for rehabilitation of persons with substance abuse problem who, in a course of one year, committed three or more administrative offences as a result of alcohol or drug abuse. Prior to placing a person in the LPT, a thorough medical check was conducted to ensure that there were no risks in putting a person in this facility. All medical treatments of inmates, including psychiatric treatments, were agreed with the patient and by specialist doctors.
In terms of the definition of torture and its criminalization in the national law, a delegate said that everything associated with torture was criminalized; the Criminal Code covered all aspects of torture, in one way or another. Aggravated circumstances included mass torture, and the criminalization was universal in place and time. Forcing people to give testimony in association with the use of torture was criminalized and carried a sentence of ten years imprisonment. The system was different depending whether the perpetrator was an officer of the State or not, whereby committing acts of torture as a public officer carried heavier sentences. Officials suspected of torture were removed from their function if there were solid grounds to the allegations, while all criminal cases before courts in which there were allegations of obtaining evidence or confession under torture, were to be suspended until the allegations were verified. A testimony lawfully acquired, including by the use of torture, was not legally valid and could not be used in court.
The new law on the judiciary had reiterated the full independence of the court and judges, and strengthened the independence of the court from the Ministry of Justice including in financial, administrative and human resources matters. Judges could be temporarily substituted by retired judges, in accordance with detailed and strict procedures put in place to control access to the judicial positions.
A range of norms, including Constitutional measures, banned violence against children and protected children from humiliation and ill-treatment. There was a long list in the Criminal Code which banned specific forms of violence, and the State had an obligation to protect children from all forms of exploitation, violence, and humiliating and cruel treatment.
In terms of the institutional architecture for the promotion and protection of human rights, the delegation said that Belarus indeed did not have a national human rights institution in conformity with the Paris Principles. However, the absence of such an institution did not prevent the realization of fundamental rights and freedom of its citizens. Belarus had a well-developed system of specialized state institutions, which protected and promoted human rights of its citizens, including the National Commission on the Rights of the Child, the National Council on Gender Policy, the Consultative Inter-Confessional Council, the National Council on Labour and Social Issues, the National Council on Persons with Disabilities, the Commission on Elderly, Veterans and Persons Suffering the Consequences of the War, or the National Council to Combat Corruption.
With regards to the standing invitation to the thematic procedures of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Belarus said that half of the United Nations Member States had not extend such an invitation and there was no legal obligation to do so. Belarus would continue to study the issue.
Concerning the decisions and opinions issued by the Human Rights Committee in relation to communications by citizens of Belarus for violation of rights under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the delegation stressed that Belarus and the Committee had divergent interpretations of some of the provisions of the Optional Protocol concerning the exhaustion of domestic remedies. Belarus would continue to argue its position with the Human Rights Committee.
Belarus held that the standards of international law allowed for the application of the death penalty for the most serious offences. Under the Criminal Code, the death penalty was a sanction for 13 different grave crimes, but it could not be imposed on women, minors and men above the age of 65. A Parliamentary Working Group had been established in 2010 to examine issues related to the abolition of the death penalty. An international conference on the abolition of the death penalty and public opinion had been organized together with the Council of Europe and held in Minsk in 2016. Belarus continued to examine legislative options for the abolition of the death penalty, said a delegate, noting that according to a public opinion survey conducted in 2016, 51 per cent of respondents were against the death penalty.
Questions by the Committee Experts
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for the report of Belarus, noted that the engagement of Belarus in a dialogue with the Committee would contribute to the improvement of the protection of rights in this country. Ms. Racu asked the delegation to provide further clarity on the criminalization of torture in line with the Convention, and to explain how Belarus had publicly and unambiguously condemned all acts of torture. While acknowledging activities to monitor the situation in places of detention, the Co-Rapporteur noted that those were focused on detention facilities while most of complaints and allegations of torture were coming from individuals held in police stations. What was being done to improve the situation of prisoners on the death row and how many persons were there currently?
FELICE GAER, Committee Vice-Chair and Country Co-Rapporteur for Belarus, stressed that the Committee was interested in understanding how the measures taken by Belarus increased the accountability for acts of torture. She asked about convictions for torture, the number of complaints of torture received, and the proportion of those that resulted in criminal prosecution. What procedures were in place to ensure that any official who harassed a human rights defender or a journalist was sanctioned? What was being done to ensure – in practice – the independence of the judiciary and the independence of the bar association? The Co-Rapporteur asked about measures to address human trafficking, domestic violence, and violence against women and whether any of the perpetrators of those crimes had been punished.
Other Experts stressed that Belarus was the only European state that still practiced the death penalty and that there was an international consensus that the ban on torture meant banning all cruel acts and practices, which would then include the death penalty. Psychiatric treatment must not be used for punitive purposes.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to questions asked about independent visits to places of detention, the delegation said that in 2016, detention institutions had organized visits by different non-governmental organizations, each of which had the necessary authorization issued by the authorities. The State worked with a number of civil society organizations at the central and regional levels, and had a close cooperation with several that focused on sports. Not only national but also international organizations could visit places of detention, for example, the women prison colony had received several visits by foreign non-governmental organizations including from Germany, the Netherlands and the Republic of Moldova. Since there were foreign citizens serving sentences in prisons in Belarus, access was granted to diplomatic representatives of the UK, Italy, Poland, Japan, Vietnam and a number of other countries.
The legislation on psychiatric treatment assumed an absence of a psychiatric disorder, which was established by a committee composed of three specialists, pursuant to the international classification of psychiatric illnesses. Involuntary hospitalization was done only upon a court decision.
The suppression of the article concerning activities of non-registered non-governmental organizations was included in the legislation that would soon reach Parliament.
Belarus was recognized as a leader in the fight against human trafficking, both internationally and domestically, and had created an appropriate mechanism to identify and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking. Belarus used a human rights-based approach to human trafficking and freely shared its cutting-edge experience with the world. In 2017, the law enforcement agencies had identified 107 crimes under the Palermo Protocol, the vast majority of which concerned prostitution or recruiting prostitutes. They had also shut down 15 trafficking and exploitation channels to five different countries.
YURI AMBRAZEVICH, Permanent Representative of Belarus to the United Nations Office at Geneva, stressed that Belarus condemned the use or threat of use of torture and said that its legislation covered all the provisions of the Convention.
CLAUDE HELLER ROUASSANT, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the responses which would be very valuable in drafting the concluding observations, and reiterated the Committee’s commitment to cooperatively work with Belarus in the implementation of the Convention.
For use of the information media; not an official record
Follow UNIS Geneva on: Website | Facebook | Twitter | YouTube |Flickr