Viasna launches campaign to monitor penal system
The obvious coercive focus of the state policy growing in connection with one or another socially significant event is more than ever before emphasizing the urgency of the issue of the country’s penitentiary legislation, law enforcement and the status of convicted persons, as well as those limited in their rights owing to restriction of freedom in different kinds of penal institutions.
The poor human rights situation in Belarus is peculiar to both prisons in
the traditional sense (colonies, detention centers and prisons) and
institutions which declare other functions (special psychiatric facilities,
medical-labor dispensaries, special educational institutions).
Respect for people’s rights, including of those deprived of liberty, is
dealt by the influential international bodies. It was the understanding by the
United Nations member-states of the vulnerable situation of prisoners that
eventually led to the adoption of treaties that specifically define their
rights. Adopted in 1955, the document “Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment
of Prisoners” set the standards, which include the principles of medical care
in detention. In 1977 the rules were extended to persons detained without
charges, i.e. held in places other than prison.
Over the years, the minimum standards which guarantee the protection of
persons in custody have been supplemented by other legal acts. In 1984, the UN
adopted the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading
Treatment or Punishment. In 1985, the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for
the Administration of Juvenile Justice were adopted for the protection of
juvenile offenders. In 1988 and 1990, the UN adopted, respectively, the Body of
Principles for the Protection of All Persons under Any Form of Detention or
Imprisonment, and the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners.
The special rules relating to prisoners do not by any means supersede the
state obligations to implement and respect the rights of citizens as stipulated
by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as efforts
to prevent torture and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
In addition to civil and political rights, prisoners can also enjoy
economic and social rights, as set out in the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Everyone’s right to the highest
attainable standard of health, as proclaimed by this document, is also directly
related to the hygienic conditions of detention and health care in prisons.
The national penitentiary legislation, including the Penal Code, internal
regulations of various types of institutions, other relevant laws and
regulations, in general implemented the principles enshrined in international
treaties ratified by the Republic of Belarus; however, it does not account for
trends in the European understanding of basic human rights. Moreover, the
practice of keeping prisoners in detention or restraint of liberty is far from
understanding and respect for human rights and freedoms.
Although declaring an intention to adhere to its obligations under human
rights treaties, the state is in no hurry to reform the penal system
performance; the control of public associations, even in the legally
emasculated form, is rather fake than effective.
The functions of punishment by imprisonment, arrest, restraint,
administrative detention, and detention of persons awaiting a court decision
are implemented by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and its Department of
Corrections, the State Security Committee (in relation to its own pre-trial
jail), the Ministry of Defense (guardhouse), and the State Border Committee
(pre-trial prisons). Statistics on persons serving a sentence and held in
custody are not disclosed by the offices. Such data are sometimes voiced by the
officials of different bodies. However, it is impossible to prove the
reliability of the information, let alone analyze it, since the statistical
structure of these figures is generally not disclosed.
The technical condition of prisons, with few exceptions, does not meet even
national rules that define, in particular, the permissible number of persons
per unit of area and volume of the room, as well as the sanitary and
epidemiological standards. The premises of detention centers and places of
administrative detention, and often colonies, lack light and fresh air, which
contributes to the emergence and development of specific diseases.
Medical care of prisoners raises a lot of criticism due to lack of
equipment, medicines and staff. Numerous reports say of an indifferent attitude
of medical personnel to the complaints of prisoners and their failure to detect
and diagnose diseases.
Most of the prisoners note the poor quality of food and clothing. Apart
from that, their opportunities to purchase food and personal hygiene products
and use their own clothes are often deliberately and groundlessly limited.
Prison labor, which ideally should serve as a means of re-socialization and
allow to cover the material needs of the prisoner and his family, and also to
compensate the victim’s damages, is currently on the verge of slavery, namely
executed under duress and without payment, and sometimes crosses the border.
Among the main causes of the most serious human rights violations in
prisons has been encouraging by officials of the administrations of
correctional institutions to use illegal methods to make one part of the
prisoners influence another part in order to create a favorable environment for
investigative activities and put pressure on those who demand respect for and
observance of their rights.
Insufficient measures have been taken to maintain the convict’s social ties
and his social rehabilitation. In particular, the convict’s telephone and
personal contacts with his family and friends are controlled or limited for no
good reason or as a form of punishment. Educational opportunities are also
Prosecutors’ supervision over the execution of punishments is formal and
limited, as a rule, to a statement of the violations, which, owing to their
ubiquitous and apparent expansion, such as the overcrowding of colonies and
pre-trial prisons, are impossible to hide. Through the efforts of prison
administrations and the indifference of prosecuting and judicial authorities a
full understanding of the futility of complaints has been created. The powers
of the prosecutor to institute criminal proceedings against police officers
have been legally passed to the newly founded Investigative Committee.
Thus, research and analysis of the country’s penal legislation for
compliance with generally accepted standards that define rights and freedoms,
as well as monitoring of the penitentiary system will determine the prospects
for the humanization of punishment and form a correct attitude to the issue in
society. Ideally, systematic work in this area is able to induce the government
to reform both the legislation and its practical application.
We urge anyone who has information on the status of convicted persons and those
limited in their rights due to detention in various institutions, or those who
want to talk about their personal problems of this kind, to write an e-mail at
email@example.com or at P.O.B. 203, 220114, Minsk.