40. The Committee considered the third periodic report of Belarus (CAT/C/34/Add.12) at its 442nd, 445th and 449th meetings, held on 15, 16 and 20 November 2000 (CAT/C/SR.442, 445 and 449), and adopted the following conclusions and recommendations.
41. The Committee welcomes the third periodic report of Belarus, although it notes that the report, due in June 1996, was submitted with three years’ delay. It also notes that the report was not submitted in conformity with the guidelines for the preparation of State party periodic reports. The Committee regrets that the report lacked detailed information on the implementation of the Convention in practice, but wishes to express its appreciation for the extensive and informative oral update given by the representative of the State party during the consideration of the report.
42. The Committee welcomes the information presented by the representatives of the State party that the Government of Belarus has decided to withdraw its reservation to article 20 of the Convention regarding the inquiry procedure.
43. The Committee notes the cooperation of the Government of Belarus with United Nations treaty bodies and other human rights mechanisms, particularly in permitting the visits of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression and, recently, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of the judiciary.
44. The Committee welcomes the information given by the representatives of the State party that the Government of Belarus has decided to accede to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
45. The Committee expresses concern about the following:
(a) The deterioration of the human rights situation in Belarus since the consideration of its second periodic report in 1992, including persistent abrogations of the right to freedom of expression, such as limitations of the independence of the press, and of the right to peaceful assembly, which create obstacles for the full implementation of the Convention;
(b) The absence of a definition of torture, as provided in article 1 of the Convention, in the Criminal Code of the State party and the lack of a specific offence of torture, with the result that the offence of torture is not punishable by appropriate penalties, as required in article 4, paragraph 2, of the Convention;
(c) The numerous continuing allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment or treatment, committed by officials of the State party or with their acquiescence, particularly affecting political opponents of the Government and peaceful demonstrators, and including disappearances, beatings and other actions in breach of the Convention;
(d) The lack of an independent procuracy, in particular as the Procurator has the competence to exercise oversight on the appropriateness of the duration of pre-trial detention, which can be for a period of up to 18 months;
(e) The pattern of failure of officials to conduct prompt, impartial and full investigations into the many allegations of torture reported to the authorities, as well as a failure to prosecute alleged perpetrators, which are not in conformity with articles 12 and 13 of the Convention;
(f) The lack of an independent judiciary, with the President of the State party maintaining the sole power to appoint and dismiss from office most judges, who must also pass a probationary initial term and whose tenure lacks certain necessary safeguards;
(g) Presidential Decree No. 12, which restricts the independence of lawyers, subordinating them to the control of the Ministry of Justice and introducing obligatory membership in a State-controlled Collegium of Advocates, in direct contravention of the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers;
(h) The overcrowding, poor diet and lack of access to facilities for basic hygiene and adequate medical care, as well as the prevalence of tuberculosis, in prisons and pre-trial detention centres;
(i) The continuing use of the death penalty, and the inadequate procedures for appeals, lack of transparency about those being held on death row and the reported refusal to return the bodies of those executed to their relatives, inhibiting any investigation into charges of torture or ill-treatment in prison.
46. The Committee recommends that:
(a) The State party amend its domestic penal law to include the crime of torture, consistent with the definition contained in article 1 of the Convention and supported by an adequate penalty;
(b) Urgent and effective steps be taken to establish a fully independent complaints mechanism, to ensure prompt, impartial and full investigations into the many allegations of torture reported to the authorities and the prosecution and punishment, as appropriate, of the alleged perpetrators;
(c) The State party consider establishing an independent and impartial governmental and non-governmental national human rights commission with effective powers to, inter alia, promote human rights and investigate all complaints of human rights violations, in particular those pertaining to the implementation of the Convention;
(d) Measures be taken, including the review of the Constitution, laws and decrees, to establish and ensure the independence of the judiciary and lawyers in the performance of their duties, in conformity with international standards;
(e) Efforts be made to improve conditions in prisons and pre-trial detention centres, and that the State party establish a system allowing for inspections of prisons and detention centres by credible impartial monitors, whose findings should be made public;
(f) Provide independent judicial oversight of the period and conditions of pre-trial detention;
(g) The State party consider making the appropriate declarations under articles 21 and 22 of the Convention;
(h) The Committee’s conclusions and recommendations, and the summary records of the review of the State party’s third periodic report, be widely distributed in the country, including by publication in both the Government-controlled and independent media.