Belarus breaches the rights to liberty and security, fair trial and protection of the inherent dignity of the person

28.04.2015

Kozulina v. Belarus (1773/2008)

Summary

In October 2014, the Human Rights Committee was asked to consider whether Belarus had violated its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its detention and prosecution of an individual who had participated in peaceful political meetings.

The communication was submitted by a Belarusian national on behalf of her father under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Background

Kozulina v. Belarus (1773/2008)

Summary

In October 2014, the Human Rights Committee was asked to consider whether Belarus had violated its obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in its detention and prosecution of an individual who had participated in peaceful political meetings.

The communication was submitted by a Belarusian national on behalf of her father under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant.

Background

The author’s father, Mr Kozulin, is a former Rector of the Belarusian State University and a former Deputy Minister of Education. From 2005, he was the chair of the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Gramada) and was a presidential candidate in 2006.

On 2 March 2006, Mr Kozulin attempted to participate in the All Belarusian People’s Assembly as a representative of his party. While at the venue, Mr Kozulin was beaten by several unidentified people and later thrown into a police van, where he was placed between the seats with his legs against his head for an hour, choking on his own blood. During his subsequent detention at the police station, Mr Kozulin smashed a framed portrait of the Belarusian President.

On 25 March 2006, after participating in a meeting on Freedom Day, Mr Kozulin was beaten by officers in masks and brought to a police office. During the trip to the pre‑trial detention centre, he was handcuffed and forced to remain on his knees; his eyes were covered and he was repeatedly hit over the head to prevent him from standing up. Mr Kozulin’s family and counsel were contacted after 19 hours of detention, instead of the legally-allowed 12 hours.

On 30 March 2006, a procurator officially charged Mr Kozulin for hooliganism and the organisation of mass events aimed at severely breaching public order. During the trial, Mr Kozulin was held in a cage and denied fresh water. The court also rejected several requests to obtain additional evidence, failed to address several petitions and refused to call important witnesses. On 13 July 2006, the Court of the Moscow District in Minsk found Mr Kozulin guilty and sentenced him to five and a half years’ imprisonment. While serving his sentence, he was not provided with adequate medical care and was not allowed to communicate with his counsel or independent doctor during his hunger strike when his health deteriorated.

On 18 February 2009, the author filed this communication with the Committee under the Optional Protocol to the Covenant. The author claimed that by its ill treatment of her father, Belarus had violated his rights to: (i) freedom from cruel and inhuman treatment, (ii) freedom from arbitrary detention, (iii) respect for the inherent dignity of the person, (iv) fair trial, and (v) peaceful assembly (under articles 7, 9, 10, 14 and 21 of the Covenant respectively).

The Committee’s decision

The Committee first considered Belarus’ objection to the admissibility of the  communication, on the ground that it had not been submitted by the alleged victim. The Committee noted that the conditions of his detention prevented Mr Kozulin from preparing a power of attorney and that Mr Kozulin had submitted duly signed comments regarding Belarus’ observations,  confirming his interest in the continuation of the case. The Committee therefore concluded that it was not prevented from examining the given communication. However, the Committee found certain parts of the communication relating to articles 10 and 14 of the Covenant inadmissible for lack of substantiation, including the author’s claims: that Mr Kozulin was unable to see his parents before his transfer to a penitentiary colony; that the author’s daughter had not been allowed to act as Mr Kozulin’s representative (while he was represented by two attorneys); and that the court had, without explanation, failed to call several witnesses.

On the merits, the Committee emphasised that a State party is responsible for the security of any person that it detains. However, in light of the parties’ submissions and the limited information and documents presented by the author, the Committee found that it was not in a position to conclude that Mr Kozulin’s treatment had been inconsistent with article 7 of the Covenant or that his arrest amounted to a breach of his right of peaceful assembly under article 21 of the Covenant. Notably, Committee member Cornelis Flinterman expressed his disagreement with the Committee on its finding regarding article 7 in a separate opinion.

The Committee observed that, although Belarus had denied some of the author’s allegations of ill treatment, it had admitted that its prison authorities had denied Mr Kozulin contact with his counsel and independent doctor during his 53-day hunger strike. In the circumstances, the Committee concluded that the prison authorities had not provided humane treatment to Mr Kozulin in violation of article 10 of the Covenant.

The Committee further noted that Belarus had failed to explain why it was necessary to keep Mr Kozulin in custody before and during the trial. The Committee recalled that judicial power must be exercised by an authority which is independent, objective and impartial within the meaning of article 9(3). The Committee was not satisfied that the public prosecutor could be characterized as having such institutional objectivity and impartiality and concluded that the facts as submitted demonstrated a breach of articles 9(1 and 3) of the Covenant.

The Committee also referred to the fact that Mr Kozulin had been placed in a cage during the trial and had been unable to communicate properly with his lawyers. Further, public statements by the Minister of Interior Procurator-General’s Office affirming Mr Kozulin’s guilt before the conclusion of the trial had violated Mr Kozulin’s right to the presumption of innocence. Accordingly, the Committee concluded that Belarus had violated Mr Kozulin’s right to a fair trial under article 14(1 and 2) of the Covenant.

In accordance with article 2(3) of the Covenant, Belarus was under the obligation to provide the author with an effective remedy, including adequate compensation. The Committee also held that Belarus should take steps to prevent similar violations in the future.

Belarus must now submit information about the measures taken to give effect to the Committee’s views within six months of the Committee’s decision and ensure that the Committee’s decision is published widely.

Natia Lapiashvili is an international lawyer, based in London. 

Photo by El Bingle

Category:

Region
  • Europe
Topic
  • Treaty body strengthening process
Mechanism
  • Human Rights Committee (CCPR)
Country
  • Belarus