Making Europe a death penalty-free zone

Simulation of execution method used in Belarus

Victims are informed they will be executed just moments before it happens. They are killed with a bullet to the back of the head. Their bodies are not handed over to their families. The burial site is kept secret.

This is not a description of paramilitary disappearances in 1970s Northern Ireland. It is Europe today and it’s the state meting out the bullets in the head.

While US capital punishment tends to get most of the headlines, state execution is ‘alive and killing’ within Europe’s borders. In Belarus to be specific. The last European country to retain and use the death penalty.

As many as four hundred people may have been executed in Belarus since it gained independence in 1991. Amnesty report that the use of the death penalty in the country is “compounded by a flawed criminal justice system” which includes the reported torture of prisoners in order to extract ‘confessions’ and the denial of access to effective appeals.

On this, the World Day against the Death Penalty, campaigners in Belarus, across Europe and further afield are calling on President Lukashenka (he’s been in charge since 1994) to immediately suspend executions and commute the sentences of all those on death row.

Asia isn’t, Africa isn’t and the Americas aren’t. But abolition in Belarus would make Europe a death penalty-free zone, a landmark step. Is it time?

You can take action here and, of course, debate and disagree below.

I am the Northern Ireland Programme Director of Amnesty International UK and an occasional human rights blogger at Amnesty Blogs: Belfast & Beyond.

I’m on Twitter at @PatrickCorrigan