The Council of Europe still expects Belarus to stop applying the death penalty despite recent "serious setbacks" in bilateral dialogue, Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, who chairs the Council’s Committee of Ministers, said in Strasburg on April 26.
When speaking at the opening of the spring session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on Monday, Ms. Calmy-Rey"strongly" condemned the two executions that were carried out in Belarus in March.
She urged the Belarusian authorities to "order an immediate end to the application of the death penalty."
Earlier this year, Ms. Calmy-Rey met with Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynaw and Belarusian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka.
She said that at the February meeting with Mr. Lukashenka, she explained to him that the Council of Europe was continuing to make "determined efforts" to encourage Belarus to establish closer ties with the organization, and it expected the authorities to send "positive signals" with regard to the main condition laid down by the Council of Europe, namely the abolition of the death penalty.
"Unfortunately, the dialogue suffered serious setbacks the following month, as all the signs are that the Belarusian authorities had two condemned prisoners executed around 18 March," Ms. Calmy-Rey said. "So there is currently a major obstacle to closer relations."
In June 2009, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly decided that the Belarusian parliament’s Special Guest status in the Assembly might be restored only after Minsk declared a moratorium on the death penalty. Such a moratorium is one of the conditions set by the European Union for a travel ban against a number of Belarusian government officials to be lifted in October 2010.
Belarus is the only country in Europe and the post-Soviet region where the death sentence remains a sentencing option and prisoners are executed.
"Until the end of my chairmanship, I will continue to expect the country’s authorities to provide concrete signs of their political will to respect our values," Ms. Calmy-Rey said. "Once again, I would make it clear that the announcement of the introduction of a moratorium on the death penalty, to be followed by its abolition, is the step which we still expect from Belarus."
"Other efforts will have to be made by Belarus, for instance in terms of media freedom and freedom of association," she said.