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UN Human Rights Committee decision in Vladislav Kovalev’s case

The United Nations Human Rights Committee issued a decision on Mr Kovalev’s case. In March this year, Vladislav Kovalev was executed for his alleged complicity in carrying out a bomb attack on the Minsk metro in April 2011. The Human Rights Committee found violations of the human rights treaty obligations of Belarus laid down in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

“This is a landmark decision of the Committee, important not only for human rights defenders in Belarus but also for the entire international community”, says Ms Przywara, HFHR President.

The Committee held that Belarusian authorities violated Mr Kovalev’s right to a fair trial, the principle of the presumption of innocence and prohibition of torture.

During the investigation, Mr Kovalev admitted that he had committed the alleged crime and self-incriminated himself. Yet, his testimony was given under pressure. He withdrew his testimony in court and pleaded not guilty to the charges. Nevertheless, his statements remained the only basis for his indictment. “The UN Human Rights Committee stressed that a suspicion that Mr Kovalev had been coerced into confessing to the offence was never thoroughly investigated. In the Committee’s opinion this amounted to a breach of the right to a fair trial”, says Olga Salomatova, HFHR’s expert.

The Committee also pointed to the fact that Mr Kovalev had been detained for five months without the court’s approval. In addition, he was denied the right to effective defence. During the pre-trial investigation he was permitted only one meeting with his counsel. The Committee found it insufficient to prepare an effective line of defence. During the trial, the defendant was allowed only a two-hour consultation with his lawyer, not to mention short conversations they had in the courtroom. All such conversations were monitored by Belarusian authorities. The UN Human Rights Committee found such practice to have constituted a breach Mr Kovalev’s right to a fair trial.

Belarusian media covering the trial showed photos of Mr Kovalev sitting in a metal cage. On top of that, the state media called him a terrorist and blamed him for carrying out the attack on the metro even before a final judgment was issued. In the Committee’s opinion that not only violated the principle of the presumption of innocence but also affected the court’s approach to Mr Kovalev. “The UN Human Rights Committee finds that the Belarussian court who tried the case was biased”, Olga Salomatova, HFHR’s expert.

The Committee also referred to the situation of Mr Kovalev’s mother and sister. UNHRC stated in its decision that Belarusian authorities violated the prohibition of inhuman treatment with respect to the Kovalev’s family because officials failed to inform them about the date of execution and the place of burial.

“Given all these circumstances, the Committee held that this case also violated the right to life”, says Raman Kislak, the advocate who conducted the case before the Human Rights Committee “It is the first capital punishment case against Belarus in which the Committee has found the breach of this right”, adds Mr Kislak.

The Committee also compelled Belarus to amend the provisions of the country’s Criminal Enforcement Code prohibiting the release of bodies of executed convicts to their families. The Committee ordered the authorities to inform the Kovalev’s family where he had been buried.

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