EMBASSY OF THE REPUBLIC OF BELARUS
  IN THE UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN
   AND NORTHERN IRELAND

Capital Punishment in Belarus and Changes of Belarus Criminal Legislation related thereto

 

As per Article 24 of the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus, death penalty, unless abolished, can be enforced as capital punishment for capital felonies and following the court sentence only.

 

Abolishing or preserving death penalty is to be considered in the context of existing realities, with the appreciation of society interests and understanding of safeguarding of its citizens’ human rights. Today the Belarusian public supports capital punishment as a measure of social protection.

 

In 1996 the republican referendum in Belarus ran a question to vote under the following wording: “Do you support the abolishment of death penalty in the Republic of Belarus?” An overwhelming majority of the voters showed opposition to the abolishment of death penalty – 80.44 %.

 

From a perspective of humanism, the state has no right to kill a man. This premise becomes even more critical when miscarriages of justice emerge in view. Actual jeopardy arising from death penalty has urged many countries to understand that this method of punishment comes into conflict with respect for human rights.

 

A study carried out by the Ministry of Justice shows that a majority of those sentenced to death penalty have criminal records that are neither lifted nor discharged and were largely convicted of homicides, infliction of graver and less grave bodily injuries, rapes. Many perpetrated another crime before having served a sentence for the previous one.

 

Court practice and statistics, however, reveal that in recent years numbers of those sentenced to capital punishment in Belarus have a clear-cut tendency to decline.

 

In 1998 death sentences were passed on 47 people, in 1999 – 13, in 2003 – 4, in 2004 – 2. From 30 June 2004 till 30 June 2005 Belarusian courts imposed a death penalty on one person for intentional homicide of four people under aggravating circumstances.

 

An alternative to death penalty – life imprisonment – has been increasingly used since it was introduced in 1997. Extensive optionality of punishment gives a court plenty of discretion in selecting a penalty. In 1998 three people were sentenced to life whereas in 2003 and 2004 – 12 per year.

 

In 1999 the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus under a new edition was adopted. Compared to the former Criminal Code of 1960, the new Criminal Code has reduced by more than half corpus delicti punishable by death penalty (14 corpus delicti in the new Criminal Code as opposed to 29 in the previous one). A list of people who cannot be subjected to death penalty has been extended. Along with under-18-year-old delinquents and women, the list included men who would reach 65 years by the date of sentence.

 

From 30 June 2003 till 30 June 2005 the President of the Republic of Belarus issued a pardon for two people sentenced to death. One suit was declined.

 

Each branch of power of the Republic of Belarus pays invariable attention to the enforcement of capital punishment and a possibility of its abolishment. In 2002 the two Houses of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus were convened at a joint plenary session and attended a hearing of political and legal issues related to abolishing death penalty in Belarus. That resulted in the recommendations about death penalty enforcement in our country and its alternative being passed for the government.

 

In March 2004 the Constitutional Court of the Republic of Belarus has accomplished the consideration of a case “On compliance of provisions of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus envisaging death penalty as a measure of punishment with the Constitution of the Republic of Belarus and international agreements of the Republic of Belarus”.

 

A proposal by the House of Representatives of the National Assembly initiated the consideration of a case by the Constitutional Court. The case was being discussed in open court, attended by representatives of every branch of power: House of Representatives and Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, Ministry of Justice, Supreme Court, Office of Public Prosecutor of the Republic of Belarus.

 

The court decided that clause 11 of the first section of article 48 and article 59 of the actual Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus were not consistent with the Constitution of Belarus as they bore no reference to the temporary nature of death penalty.

 

The decision of the Constitutional Court laid a legal basis to further discussion of the matter, including the context of prospective moratorium on death penalty as the first move to the abolishment of this punitive measure.

 

Based on the Constitutional Court’s decision, on 24 June 2005 the President of the Republic of Belarus submitted to the parliamentary consideration a bill devised to refine criminal and administrative legislation of the Republic of Belarus. Specifically, the applicable articles of the Criminal Code will include reference to the temporary nature of death penalty as capital punishment enforced, unless abolished, for capital felonies related to intentional homicide under aggravating circumstances.

 

The above bill, if approved by the Parliament, will render the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus consistent with the Constitution, as far as death penalty is concerned. Thus, a legislative initiative of the President of the Republic of Belarus to complement the Criminal Code has added to logical advancement of the death penalty issue in our country.

 

The introduction of “moratorium on death penalties” for a certain period of time is a possibility, said Chairman of the House of Representatives of the National Assembly of the Republic of Belarus, Mr Vladimir Konoplev, during a press conference.

 

The Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration, Ms Natalia Petkevich, also said that “under certain social preconditions” death penalty could be abolished. According to her, the first step to the abolishment may be amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus designating the temporary nature of its enforcement. Natalia Petkevich noted, though, that the government of the country can not abolish this kind of penalty as yet since this issue was submitted to a referendum and its retention was voted by a majority of citizens. The Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration holds the opinion that a referendum decision can be cancelled solely by another referendum.

 

The suggested supplements to the Criminal Code show the consistency of domestic policies of Belarus in safeguarding the rights of its own citizens and bringing national legislation in line with the decisions of the Constitutional Court of Belarus. Such developments of the death penalty issue clearly demonstrate how authoritative the Constitutional Court is in sustaining the constitutional law and order in the country, reaffirm the political will of the state to progressively step up necessary measures to meet the highest human rights standards world over.

 

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