LONDON — Europe had its first year without executions in 2009, human rights group Amnesty International said today. But the London-based organization said the spell was recently broken by the execution of two men in Belarus, an indication of the challenges the group faces as it fights to abolish capital punishment.
Amnesty International has been tracking executions internationally since 1980, although their figures don’t include extrajudicial killings or the casualties of war. Western European countries such as France, Britain, and Germany abolished the death penalties in the years following World War II, and abolition spread rapidly through Eastern Europe with the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Many former Soviet satellites banned capital punishment in the 1980s and ’90s. Russia and Ukraine have not executed anyone in more than a decade. Amnesty said Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Tajikistan have executed about 130 people between them over the past 10 years, but since 2006, Belarus has been the only European state to carry out death sentences.
The death penalty is “on its way out,’’ Amnesty’s interim secretary general, Claudio Cordone, said before acknowledging that countries such as Belarus were a “hard core’’ where the practice would probably continue for some time.
Amnesty said Belarus executed two convicts just under two weeks ago. Death row prisoners in the authoritarian country are given only a few moments’ notice before they’re killed. They are then shot in the back of the head, and their bodies are buried secretly, the group said.