A few months after the Belarus Supreme Court sentenced Uladzislau Kavalyou to death in 2012, his mother received a letter informing her the sentence had been carried out - with a bullet to the back of the head.
As Europe and elsewhere marks World Day against the Death Penalty on October 10, Belarus has the shameful distinction of being the last country in Europe that continues to execute people. All 47 members of the Council of Europe have either abolished or introduced moratoriums on executions. Meanwhile, the grim statistics in Belarus keep growing.
According to rights groups’ estimates, as many as 400 people – like Kavalyou – have been executed in the country since 1991. In 2013 alone, the Supreme Court handed down three death sentences, with the most recent ruling dating September 18.
Kavalyou was convicted alongside Dzmitry Kanavalau in 2012 of carrying out a terrorist attack in the Minsk metro. After the Supreme Court handed down their death sentence, there was an outcry from legal experts and rights groups citing due process and other fair trial violations, including allegations of torture by interrogators to extract confessions. The United Nations Human Rights Committee requested that the authorities stay the executions pending the committee’s review of the case, but they refused.
Kavalyou’s mother does not know where her son is buried and did not get a chance to say goodbye. 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, and the burial place is not disclosed. In his 2010 report, the UN special rapporteur on torture said those conditions constitute inhuman treatment of the relatives of those executed.
It is difficult to know how many on death row ended up there after unfair trials. Belarus’ court system is riddled with problems, including lack of transparency and independence.
Belarusian authorities must immediately move towards abolition of the death penalty as a form of punishment that is uniquely cruel to prisoners and their families, universally plagued with arbitrariness, and can result in wrongful executions. Meanwhile, there should be an immediate moratorium, as a UN expert has recommended.