Another scandal is brewing in the relations between Belarus and the European Union. This time, it goes about the death sentences against two young men, who were found guilty of conducting the terrorist act in the subway system of the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
The largest terrorist act in the history of Belarus took place on April 11, 2011. The explosion ripped through the busiest station of the Minsk metro, during the evening rush hour. Fifteen people were killed in the blast, over 200 were inured. Several days later, President Alexander Lukashenko announced that the crime had been solved. Two residents of Vitebsk – Dmitry Konovalov and Vladislav Kovalev – were found guilty of the crime.
The court sentenced the two convicts to death penalty on November 30, 2011. Konovalov did not submit for mercy, whereas Kovalev did. On March 14, 2012, it was said that Lukashenko rejected the plea for mercy. On March 17, the state TV channel of Belarus said that Konovalov and Kovalev had been executed.
Many news agencies quoted Kovalev’s mother, who said that she did not believe that her son was guilty. The woman had previously addressed to the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations with a request to put pressure on the Belarusian administration, although to no avail. It is worthy of note that the relatives of the victims also had doubts about the guilt of at least one convict – Kovalev.
European officials slammed Belarusian President Lukashenko for his decision to execute the convicts. To date, Belarus remains the only country of Europe that uses death penalty. However, Belarus is not a member of the Council of Europe, so Belarus did not violate any international norms with its decision to execute the two convicts.
However, many European officials used the execution to criticize the Belarusian administration. “Belarus is the only country in Europe which still executes people,” Thorbjørn Jaglan, the secretary general of the Council of Europe, said. “With its disrespect of basic human rights and democratic standards, the government of Belarus is increasingly isolating its country and its people from the rest of the world.”
Markus Loening, the German government’s top human rights official, called Lukashenko “a dictator without heart or mercy.”
“Lukashenko thus drifts even further away from our European values,” Ronald Pofalla, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s chief of staff, said. “The already heavily burdened relation between Belarus and Europe will be rendered yet more difficult by this.”
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, said she sympathised with the families of the 15 people who died and the 300 injured in the metro bombings, but stressed there was clear evidence that the two accused were not accorded due process “including the right to defend themselves”.
Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, said he was “appalled” by the reported execution. The official believes that the bodies of the executed men must be returned to their families. “Buring them in the unmarked grave is shameful and unacceptable for Europe in the 21st century,” he said.
Indeed, there are many questions about the case. However, it is the fact of death penalty that raised so much criticism on the part of European politicians. Belarusian officials can defend their position, though. In 1996, Belarus conducted a national referendum about the use of death penalty in the country. Over 80 percent of respondents voted for death penalty, but not against it. In “democratic” countries of Europe, death penalty was abolished without any referendums at all. Numerous opinion polls show that the majority of Europeans in practically every country support the preservation of capital punishment.
Belarus is not the only country in the world that uses death penalty. Thirty-eight of 50 states of the United States of America practice capital punishment too. European officials have repeatedly urged their US counterparts to abolish death penalty, but the Americans do not listen to anything from across the ocean.
Death penalty still exists in Japan and South Korea. However, European politicians do not call Barack Obama and other leaders “dictators without hearts or mercy.” The examples of those countries mean that democracy and death penalty can work together.
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