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(Moscow) – Belarusian authorities should take immediate steps to abolish the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today. Belarus should also investigate allegations of serious violations, including torture, in the trials of Dzmitry Kanavalau and Uladzislau Kavalyou, who were executed in recent days.

The Belarus government should explain why it proceeded with the executions despite the fact that a case involving the treatment of Kanavalau and Kavalyou was pending before the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Watch said. Belarus violates its international obligations by imposing death sentences on people whose right to a fair trial may have been violated. Belarusian authorities need to investigate the allegations of torture by interrogators to extract confessions, Human Rights Watch said.

“The Belarusian authorities need to find out in a thorough and impartial investigation just what happened to Uladzislau Kavalyou and Dzmitry Kanavalau,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The rapid executions leave many questions unanswered about whether these men were railroaded to their deaths.”

Kanavalau and Kavalyou were convicted of carrying out a terrorist attack in the Minsk metro in April 2011, and sentenced to death on November 30. President Aleksandr Lukashenka refused to pardon them on March 14, 2012. On March 17, Kavalyou’s mother received a notification letter from the Supreme Court that her son had been executed. State television reported both men’s execution later the same evening.

Independent experts and human rights groups repeatedly expressed their concerns about due process and other fair trial violations, including torture and other forms of ill-treatment, during the investigation and trial. Kanavalau and Kavalyou were executed despite the fact that Kavalyou’s mother on behalf of her son had submitted a petition to the UN Human Rights Committee,which, following standard practice, asked the Belarus Government not to carry out the sentence until it had reviewed and issued a decision in the case.

Belarus remains the only country in Europe that uses the death penalty. According to human rights groups, about 400 people have been executed in Belarus since 1991. In 2010 and 2011, Belarusian authorities carried out a total of four executions, despite the UN Human Rights Committee’s request to stay the executions pending the committee’s review of the cases. In yet again ignoring the Committee’s request not to proceed with the execution, Belarus violated its obligations as a party to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Human Rights Watch said.

In his 2010 report, the UN special rapporteur on torture at that time described capital punishment as a form of cruel and inhuman punishment. Those condemned to death in Belarus are refused the opportunity to bid farewell to their relatives, families are not informed of the date of execution in advance, and the burial place is not disclosed. The special rapporteur said that those conditions constitute inhuman treatment of the relatives of those executed.

Human Rights Watch deplores the continuing use of the death penalty in Belarus. The Belarusian authorities should take immediate steps to introduce a moratorium or abolish the death penalty by ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Human Rights Watch opposes capital punishment in all countries and in all circumstances because the inherent dignity of the person is inconsistent with the death penalty. This form of punishment is unique in its cruelty and finality, and it is inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

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