Updated at 16:11,02-12-2016

EU, Council of Europe urge Belarus to impose moratorium on death penalty

In a joint declaration made Wednesday on the occasion of the European and World Day against the Death Penalty, Thorbjorn Jagland, secretary general of the Council of Europe, and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs and security policy, urged Belarus to impose a moratorium on the death penalty "with a view to complete abolition."

"Capital punishment is inhumane and unnecessary," the declaration says. "Experience has also shown that it does not serve as a deterrent to crime. No legal system is flawless; any miscarriage of justice could lead to the tragic loss of an innocent life."

"Abolition of the death penalty throughout Europe, and beyond, is an objective common to all our member states. No execution has taken place in our member states in the last fifteen years," the declaration says. "The European Union and the Council of Europe encourage all European States which have not yet abolished the death penalty de jure under all circumstances, to do so by ratifying the relevant protocols to the European Convention on Human Rights."

"We welcome the abolitionist trend worldwide, and note the ever decreasing number of countries applying capital punishment," the declaration says. "On the other hand, we are concerned about the sharp increase in executions during the past twelve months in some of those countries which still apply and implement the death penalty."

Belarus is the only country in Europe and the post-Soviet region where the death sentence remains a sentencing option and prisoners are executed, BelaPAN said.

People on death row are told that they will be executed only moments before the sentence is carried out. They are shot in the back of the head.

The body is not handed over to the family, who are often informed only afterwards, and the place of burial is kept secret.

According to Belarusian human rights defenders, more than 400 people have been executed in the country in the last 20 years.