Belarus: UN expert deplores child jail sentences for drug-related offences

GENEVA (20 November 2019) – A UN human rights expert on Belarus has expressed grave concerns about children serving sentences of up to 11 years in jail for drug-related offences. Since the age for criminal liability for these offences was lowered to 14 years old, dozens of children have been sentenced to disproportionately long prison terms.

“I am concerned that the heavy-handed approach taken by Belarus towards drug offenders is applied to children without due consideration of their specific status and needs,” said Anaïs Marin, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN expert called on the Government to amend the Criminal Code in line with its obligations under the treaty.

The UN expert deplored the fact that the issue of drug use and dependence was being treated as a criminal matter as opposed to a health issue which should be addressed with rights-based measures. She stressed that the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child had to be the last resort and for the shortest appropriate time.

Marin said the conditions of detention for these children had been reported as poor, with limited access to healthcare and education, severe sanctioning for minor wrongdoings, forced labour, and restriction on contacts with relatives.

“Violations of due process guarantees have also been reported in some cases,” she said. “Treatment of children in detention should be consistent with the promotion of their sense of dignity and should encourage their reintegration and constructive role in society.”

The UN expert welcomed the announcement made under the amnesty programme launched this year to reduce prison terms by two years for individuals sentenced for drug-related offences who were children at the time of the offence. She however regretted that this sentence reduction was applicable only to those serving shorter prison terms.

“I further encourage the Government to review the drug legislation and the juvenile justice system, notably with a view to developing alternatives to detention,” she said.


Ms Anaïs Marin (France) was designated as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Belarus by the UN Human Rights Council in 2018. She is a researcher with the University of Warsaw, Poland. A political scientist specialising in international relations and Russian studies, she holds a Ph D from Sciences Po, where she studied international public law and comparative politics with a focus on post-communist transformations in Central and Eastern Europe. As a Belarus expert, she cooperated with several European think tanks and contributed analytical reports and policy recommendations for various governments as well as structures, such as the European Parliament and the Eastern Partnership Civil Society Forum. She has also taken part in OSCE/ODIHR election observation missions, including in Belarus. She has published extensively on Belarusian domestic and foreign policies.

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, country page – Belarus