On 26 January 2012, PRI hosted a national conference on “The development of the criminal justice system in Belarus”.
The conference brought together 55 participants, including representatives of Parliament, the General Prosecutor’s Office, the Academy of the Ministry of Interior, prison and police officials, judges, lawyers, representatives of the Institute of Training and Retraining of Judges, Prosecutors, Courts and Justice Agencies, legal academics, NGOs (“Platform”, “Solidarity”, “Belarusian Helsinki Committee”, “Legal Initiative”, “Center for Legal Transformation”, and “The Scientific and Practical Center of the rule of law and order to the General Prosecutor of Belarus”), journalists (the Belarusian Association of Journalists), and technical experts from Ukraine and Russia.
The conference was used to discuss three key issues:
• Criminal policy, legislation and practice in Belarus: strengthening the rule of law, and humanizing the criminal justice system and the enforcement of criminal penalty.
• Prospects for abolition of the death penalty in Belarus, including steps towards a moratorium.
• Life imprisonment as an alternative to the death penalty: legislative framework of life imprisonment, characteristics of persons sentenced to life, and the human rights of life prisoners.
Participants looked at comparable case studies involving Ukraine and Russia regarding best practices and lessons learned in the process towards abolition, the problems encountered, and prospects for criminal justice reforms.
One of the key outcomes of the conference was a greater understanding that Belarus continues on its path towards moratorium, although none of the participants could predict when this would happen.
The conference also provided a unique platform for local civil society to meet with parliamentarians and government officials and build-up communications with them.
The outcomes of the conference will be used in PRI’s and other local NGO’s advocacy work to safeguard human rights in the criminal justice system.
Following the national conference, on 27 January 2012, PRI hosted a one day film festival on abolition of the death penalty.
Five films were shown. Two focused on Belarus, including a new film, “Major Action”, produced by PRI on the independence of the courts and the protection of human rights for those charged with a capital offence.
Other documentaries looked at the application of the death penalty and its alternative sanction of life imprisonment in Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia.
A constructive and lively debate followed the film screenings, with many participants openly engaging on discussions focused around the use of the death penalty in Belarus. The representative from parliament requested broad distribution of the PRI film to his counterparts.
PRI’s current programme of work on the abolition of the death penalty and alternative sanctions that respect international human rights focuses on supporting governments and other stakeholders in progressing towards abolition and implementation of human rights standards in criminal justice systems, particularly concerning the treatment of death row, life and long-term prisoners. The programme of work is being carried out in five regions: the Middle East and North Africa, Eastern Europe, South Caucasus, Central Asia and East Africa.
The programme is supported by the European Union’s Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR).