Belarusian president is unsupportive of moratorium on death penalty
President Lukashenka appears to be ready to discuss a moratorium on the death penalty, however without any obligations. Minsk is counting on further normalization of relations with Brussels without making significant concessions. A moratorium on the death penalty is unlikely to be introduced due to the president’s stance.
EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis stated that a moratorium on the death penalty would be a very good incentive for Belarus-EU relations and Belarus’ reputation in the world.
The issue of the death penalty repeatedly came up in Minsk-CoE negotiations in the past. However, despite the importance of this subject for European capitals, Belarusian leadership had never seriously regarded the moratorium as an option.
In addition, abolition of the death penalty is a very unpopular idea in the Belarusian society, according to the IISEPS polls. Moreover, people voted against the abolition on the national referendum in 1996. Such vox populi is a likely reflection of the state’s stance in this regard and the efforts of the state-run media.
That said, Lukashenka regards the death penalty issue as the president’s major privilege. For instance, the president has publicly advocated for the death penalty many times: "With regard to the death penalty, we had a referendum. Whether I want or not, regardless of my position, there was a referendum decision. For me, that is the law. And when they start nudging me: "The death penalty, the dictatorship", - I tell them, the Europeans: "Make a little u-turn across the Atlantic, there is a very good friend of yours. As soon as they abolish, we shall follow”. Why am I talking about this? Not because we’ll follow the States... I am just showing them that there should be no double standards in this matter”.
For Minsk, the mere discussion about a moratorium on the death penalty enables to outline further moves in settling Belarusian-European relations.
Regardless of the reasoning by European diplomats, the Belarusian leadership is confident of its measures to curb crime, including the death penalty. As the president said in the mid-1990s, he was able to end lawlessness and "road racketeers" by using non-traditional methods of eliminating criminals.
In addition, the president referred to double standards applied by the EU, "... the death penalty... and maybe, even more stringent laws exist in the People’s Republic of China and other neighbouring states and in the Arab countries. Where are they pumping oil from? Why aren’t you demanding from them? But that is where oil comes from!”
Minsk is unlikely to seek participation of Belarusian representatives in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. That would only create additional obligations without bringing substantial benefits, which the Belarusian leadership has already obtained avoiding unnecessary costs.
The Parliamentary Assembly could empower the Belarusian Parliament, which is not in the president’s interests. In case of a political crisis, the Parliament could become an alternative body of governance.
Overall, the death penalty is unlikely to be abolished with reference to will of the people, but is likely to be supported by parliamentarians.
The Belarusian authorities have launched a discussion on the moratorium or abolition of the death penalty under the pressure of Belarusian human rights activists and international community. Apparently, the authorities are interested in monitoring public sentiments and response to the possible abolition of the capital punishment. The introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty would depend on the dynamics in Belarusian-European relations, efforts of the civil society organisations and Western capitals.
In Grodno last week, the possibility of abolishing the death penalty in Belarus or introducing a moratorium was discussed.
The Belarusian authorities are likely to continue to support the death penalty in Belarus. During his rule, President Lukashenka pardoned only one person, and courts sentenced to death more than 400 people since the early 1990s. Over the past year, Belarusian courts sentenced to death several persons and one person was executed.
There are no recent independent polls about people’s attitude about the death penalty in Belarus. Apparently, this issue is not a priority for the population. In many ways, public opinion about the abolition of the death penalty would depend on the tone of the state-owned media reports.
That said, the Belarusian Orthodox Church and the Roman-Catholic Church stand for the abolition of the capital punishment, however their efforts in this regard only limit to public statements about their stance. Simultaneously, the authorities could have influenced public opinion about the death penalty through a focused media campaign in the state media. As they did, for example, with the nuclear power plant construction in Astravets. Initially unpopular project of the NPP construction was broadly promoted in the state media, and eventually, according to independent pollsters, was accepted by most population.