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

  • Turgon

    I am sure Amnesty have already looked at this but the mechanism of killing is like that in China. There have been persistent claims that people on death row in China are executed and their organs harvested for private paying transplants. There are also claims that executions in China have been timed to coincide with transplant recipents needs. I wonder if there might be similar issues in Belarus.

  • Cynic2

    Why is this any worse than telling prisoners they will be executed then keeping them alive for years waiting for appeals grinding through the courts knowing the outcome is decided?

    And its time there was a real debate on capital punishment in the UK. The public generally support it for some cases. The politicians refuse to implement the voters will.

  • Belarus is little less than a dictatorship. The issues are even bigger than the death penalty, though this piece brings focus on the State that others in Europe need to be distancing themselves from Not sure much has happened on this front.

  • Local hack


    “The public generally support it for some cases” ???

    Think this is a general assumption that those that speak the loudest are supporters.

    How can it be right to condemn a man or woman to death for killing?
    The point is that you can’t say killing is wrong so you die.
    It is a outdated archaic “eye-for-an-eye” old Testament that must not be allowed to continue or be resurrected

  • damon

    If Belarus have the death penalty that’s up to them in my opinion. Making an issue of it being in a far flung bit of Europe isn’t much of an argument I think. Barack Obama supports the death penalty, so the moral argument against it has a long way to go.

  • lamhdearg

    “The jury in the Jennifer Cardy murder trial has heard how the accused, Robert Black, has a history of sexually assaulting and murdering children.

    They heard, for the first time, how Black, 64, is serving life in prison for the murders of THREE CHILDREN

    Black, who denies killing Jennifer, was also convicted of abducting, or trying to abduct, and sexually assault others” from the bbc web news.

    This man and many more like him, in non death penalty countrys receive as punishment, the removal of their freedom for a period of time. in my view that is a sign of a sick society.

  • Cynic2

    “How can it be right to condemn a man or woman to death for killing?”

    If you want a 10 hour debate on the deterrent effects of punishments I’m yer man. Furthermore, is it more humane to execute someone or lock them up for the rest of their lives with no hope of release because they remain a huge risk to the public?