Despite a referendum on the issue, the Belarusian government has taken steps to change the way capital punishment is sentenced and carried out. International organizations, such as the United Nations, have criticized the methods Belarus uses when carrying out capital punishment. The use of capital punishment is one factor keeping the country out of the Council of Europe.
Until its abolition, the death sentence may be applied in accordance with the law as an exceptional penalty for especially grave crimes and only in accordance with the verdict of a court of law."
As per the Criminal Code of the Republic of Belarus, capital punishment can be awarded for the following acts:
Most of the death penalty convictions were for murder committed under aggravating circumstances. Court proceedings involving capital cases must involve a "collegial consideration," consisting of one judge and two People's assessors. The People's assessors are chosen from the general population, similar to the jury system.
Over the years, the number of offenses inviting death penalty and the type of convicts eligible for the same have reduced. In 1993, four economic crimes which would have resulted in death penalty during the Soviet era were removed from the list of capital offenses by a vote of parliament and were replaced by prison terms without parole. Although the total number of categories of crime qualifying for capital punishment declined during this time, Presidential Decree No. 21, issued on 21 October 1997, added "terrorism" to the list of capital offenses. When the Criminal Code was updated in 1999, the number of capital offenses was further reduced. This reduction was assisted by the introduction of life imprisonment in December 1997.
Since March 1 1994, women are ineligible for capital punishment and those under the age of 18 at the time of the crime or over 65 at the time of sentencing were exempt from capital punishment since January of 2001. Those who are mentally ill may have their death sentence commuted. Under Article 84 of the Constitution, the president "may grant pardons to convicted citizens". From June 30, 2003 to June 30, 2005, President Alexander Lukashenko granted two pardons to death row inmates and denied one such request.
"in the strongest possible terms the executions in Belarus and deplores the fact that Belarus is currently the only country in Europe where the death penalty is enforced and, moreover, is regularly and widely enforced".
Belarus is not the only European nation that allows the death penalty during times of war; it is also allowed in Latvia in such circumstances. Belarus, however, is the only European nation that issues the sentence during times of peace as well as war. Regardless of the fact that Council member Latvia does have limited provision for capital punishment, Council members suggested in 2001 that Belarus abolish capital punishment before it can apply for membership in the Council. Belarus (as the Byelorussia SSR) signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1973. This convention, however, does not abolish the death penalty, but it imposes certain conditions on its implementation and use.
The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued the following opinion of the execution process in Belarus after the mother of subsequently-executed prisoner Anton Bondarenko petitioned the Committee to spare her son's life:
[the process has] the effect of intimidating or punishing families by intentionally leaving them in a state of uncertainty and mental distress…[and that the] authorities’ initial failure to notify the author of the scheduled date for the execution of her son, and their subsequent persistent failure to notify her of the location of her son’s grave amounts to inhuman treatment of the author, in violation of article 7 of the Covenant [prohibiting torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment].
The exact number of people executed in Belarus is not known, since the last documents released by the Belarusian Government were in 2006. Due to some of the practices of the MVD, such as the non-disclosure of the graves of the executed, this is a violation of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe protocol to make information about capital punishment open to the public.