Minsk aspires that western capitals soften criticism of human rights situation
Minsk has demonstrated its willingness to the international community to improve the human rights situation in order to preserve the pace of normalisation with western capitals. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities are attempting to seize the initiative from the third sector in order to neutralize criticism of the human rights situation. Nevertheless, the Belarusian government seeks to remove the most sensitive issues, including abolishing the death penalty and expanding political freedoms, from the agenda.
As designated by the president, the National Human Rights Action Plan has been developed and approved in Belarus.
Previously, Minsk ignored the criticism from international organizations regarding the human rights situation in the country and insisted on the absence of significant problems in this sphere. Apparently, the Belarusian authorities have decided to step up cooperation with international organisations to mitigate the criticism of the most sensitive issues, such as - the abolition of the death penalty, political persecution, freedom of speech, assembly, and association, reform of the electoral law, and disappeared politicians in 1999- 2000s.
The Belarusian authorities consider that adopting such a plan is already a sufficient concession to the international community. Minsk is attempting to divert the international criticism of the human rights situation to more acceptable issues, including human trafficking, gender equality, the right to education, the rights of children and the disabled. In addition, the Belarusian leadership has left ample room for manoeuvre and has not assumed specific commitments to implement these measures in the Plan.
That said, the Belarusian authorities are committed not to have political prisoners recognized by the international human rights community. For instance, the sentence to blogger Eduard Palchis without imprisonment evidences such an effort.
In addition, Minsk regards the abolition or a moratorium on the death penalty as a major asset in the political bargaining with the West. The Belarusian authorities would like to ‘sell’ the moratorium on the death penalty for more concessions from Western capitals.
Under the pressure from the outside, the Belarusian authorities are becoming more inclusive with regard to independent human rights defenders and non-governmental organizations and formally include them in the internal dialogue on human rights. Apparently, the Belarusian government aims to depoliticise the work of independent human rights defenders and to focus their attention on less sensitive topics.
The Belarusian leadership has left a wide room for manoeuvre in implementing the recommendations of international critics in the field of human rights, which will depend on how relations with western capitals develop.
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.