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Belarus: UN human rights experts denounce execution

GENEVA (July 1, 2019) —Belarus must halt the executions of individuals who have submitted complaints to the Human Rights Committee, UN human rights experts said today upon being informed about the execution of Aleksandr Zhilnikov whose case is being examined by the Committee. 

The Human Rights Committee, together with the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus and the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, strongly condemn Belarus for its continued use of the death penalty, following local news reports that the country had defied the Human Rights Committee’s requests for a stay of execution for Aleksandr Zhilnikov. To date, Belarus has disregarded every Committee request for interim measures not to execute individuals while their cases were under the Committee’s consideration. The Committee’s procedure known as interim measures aims to stop the State from taking any action that would have irreparable consequences. Non-compliance with that procedure constitutes a serious violation by Belarus of its international obligations under article 1 of the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Belarus acceded in 1992. 

“By not complying with the requests of the Committee to stay execution until the allegations of due process violations are examined, Belarus not only shows disrespect to the Committee, it also shows lack of respect toward the right to life itself”, said Yuval Shany, Vice-Chair of the Human Rights Committee and one of the Special Rapporteurs on new communications and interim measures.

“Capital punishment may only be carried out after a legal process that gives all possible safeguards, including those provided for in international human rights law, to ensure a fair trial and pursuant to a final judgement”, said Agnes Callamard, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions. “We remind Belarus that the only thing that distinguishes capital punishment from arbitrary execution is full respect for stringent due process guarantees.” 

Mr. Zhilnikov became the 14th person whose execution was carried out despite his pending case before the Human Rights Committee, in disregard of the Committee’s request to halt the execution while the independent experts examined his allegations of human rights violations. He was initially sentenced to life in prison, however upon re-trial was sentenced to death in 2018. His pending complaint before the UN Human Rights Committee alleges that he was tortured in detention, denied access to legal assistance, and was subjected to an unfair trial. 

“It is time for Belarus to show political will and leadership on the question of the death penalty and review its retentionist stand. The official line that the death penalty should be maintained until a majority of the population supports its abolition should be reconsidered. It is up to the Government to lead the debate and actively work to change mentalities in favour of abolition,” said Anaïs Marin, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. 

Belarus remains the last country in Europe and Central Asia that applies the death penalty. In its last report on the Republic of Belarus published in November 2018 (available in English and in Russian), the Human Rights Committee emphasized that Belarus “should consider establishing a moratorium on executions as an initial step towards legal abolition of the death penalty and ratification of the Second Optional Protocol to the Covenant, commute all pending death sentences to imprisonment and increase efforts to change public perception about the necessity of maintaining the death penalty”.

Despite Mr. Zhilnikov’s death, the Human Rights Committee will, per its usual practice, fully examine his case. 

Background 

The Human Rights Committee monitors States parties’ adherence to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which to date has been ratified by 172 States parties. The Committee is made up of 18 members who are independent human rights experts drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. 

Its Optional Protocol, ratified to date by 116 States parties, establishes the right of individuals to complain to the Committee against States which violated their human rights. The Optional Protocol imposes an international legal obligation on State parties to comply in good faith with the Committee’s Views. Further information on the individual complaints procedures before the Committees.

Learn more with our videos on the Treaty Body system and on the Human Rights Committee.

For media requests, please contact Julia Grønnevet in Geneva at +41 22 917 9310/jgronnevet@ohchr.org.

Ms. Anaïs Marin (France) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2018.She is a researcher with the University of Warsaw, Poland. A political scientist specialized in international relations and Russian studies, she holds a PhD from Sciences Po, where she studied international public law and comparative politics with a focus on post-communist transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. As a Belarus expert, she cooperated with several European think tanks and contributed analytical reports and policy recommendations for various governments as well as structures, such as the European Parliament and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. She took part in OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions, including in Belarus. She has published extensively on Belarusian domestic policies.

For more information and media requests please contact:  Ms. Layla Clément (+41 22 917 9054 / lclement@ohchr.org) or write to sr-belarus@ohchr.org

Ms. Agnes Callamard (France), Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has a distinguished career in human rights and humanitarian work globally. Ms. Callamard is the Director of Columbia Global Freedom of Expression at Columbia University and has previously worked with Article 19 and Amnesty International. She has advised multilateral organizations and governments around the world, has led human rights investigations in more than 30 countries, and has published extensively on human rights and related fields.

For more information and media requests, please contact: Mr. Alessandro Marra (+41 22 928 9321/
amarra@ohchr.org) or write eje@ohchr.org.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. 

UN Human Rights country page – Belarus 

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