top of page

Life imprisonment for the Akrestsina punishers

Responsibility is inevitable

Despite the complexity of the application, in world practice there are many examples of prosecution for torture, genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity through the mechanism of universal jurisdiction.

When a common person or even a professional human rights activist thinks about an example of successful cases of this kind, 2−3 cases immediately come to mind. However, in open sources (1, 2, 3) you can find information about more than 100 such cases.

Video footage of beatings and torture of detainees at the Frunzenski District Police Department of Minsk in 2020
How to stop systemic impunity for lawlessness? When people who hold power with weapons torture and kill other people at a time?

The answer may be the principle of universal jurisdiction: any state that has implemented this mechanism in its national legislation can prosecute a citizen of another country for serious international crimes, even if they were committed outside the territory of this state, and citizens of this state are not associated with these crimes. This principle is enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, to which almost all countries of the world have acceded.

According to international human rights organizations, over the past decade, the number of cases and sentences under universal jurisdiction in different countries of the world has been constantly growing.

The vast majority of these sentences were for crimes committed against the backdrop of horrendous human rights violations that have occurred or are occurring during wars, armed conflicts and under dictatorial regimes: from the crimes of the Franco dictatorship in Spain, Gaddafi in Libya, Pinochet — in Chile, torture and executions in Kabul prisons, massacres in Hama, the genocide in Rwanda, extrajudicial executions in Bolivia, Guatemala and the Congo, to the torture of activists in Belarus under Lukashenka’s dictatorship.

In recent years (2018−2021), under universal jurisdiction, investigations and trials have taken place in 18 countries around the world. Most such cases were considered in France (27), Germany (21), USA (12), Belgium (6), Switzerland (6), Sweden (5), the Netherlands (5), Great Britain (4), Spain (4) and other states.

Do not think that such processes are always delayed for a long time. One striking example is the life sentence of the head of a detention camp in Somalia.

In 2015−2016, the Somali defendant in this case, Matammud Osman, was involved in the smuggling of hundreds of migrants into Italy while acting as part of a large transnational criminal group. Their journey aboard minibuses and ships, often in dangerous conditions, was accompanied by armed men from this organization. The journey began in Somalia, continued through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, and the final destination was the Italian coast. During two years of continuous criminal activity, the accused ran two illegal detention camps in Libya: Bani Walid and Sabratah. In these camps, hundreds of Somali citizens, women, men, as well as minors, were imprisoned and held in inhumane conditions. On a daily basis, the accused and his accomplices regularly went inside the camps and took the Somali men to the "torture room". There they were tortured with electric shocks, beaten with sticks and iron rods, or used other sophisticated forms of torture. The inhuman and degrading treatment committed against women was mainly of a sexual nature.

Detainees at the Oktyabrsky police department in Minsk (2020)
Doesn’t it remind you of anything? Severe torture in prisons on Akrestsina, in Zhodino, district police departments. All this happened and is happening in our native Belarus. Not somewhere far across the ocean, but right in the center of civilized Europe.

But back to the case of Matammoud Osman. On the afternoon of September 26, 2016, a police patrol stationed on Via Sammartini in Milan intervened near a migrant reception center after spotting a group of people arguing animatedly. Several young people asked the police to help.

When law enforcement officers approached the group, they saw migrants holding the accused person. With the help of interpreters from the reception center, the police interrogated the migrants, who brought serious charges against the man they called Ismail. Other migrants then lifted their shirts, showing the scars the detainee allegedly inflicted on them, and several migrant women accused Ismail of sexual assault. The next day, more migrants, who had learned about the events through photos and Facebook posts, came forward with accusations.

In total, testimonies from 17 migrants were collected. Later, police obtained videos and photographs of the alleged crimes. The police confiscated the defendant’s mobile phones, which contained important evidence. Finally, a medical-legal examination was appointed. The criminal trial began on March 23, 2017.

Matammoud was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment on 10 October 2017 by a Milan court.

Just think about it. The testimony of 17 migrants was enough evidence to justly send a criminal to jail for life. How much evidence do we have that testifies the torture of thousands of victims — participants in peaceful protests in Belarus? Hundreds of volumes, thousands of pages.

If someone from those who have soiled their hands in the blood of peaceful Belarusians still believes that they will stay unpunished, then they are very much mistaken. They will be legally responsible for their actions and will assess the law. And our team continues its work, both in the legal and media fields, to make this happen as soon as possible.

We consult with human rights activists in a number of European countries, provide assistance and legal support to the victims, and are looking for all possible ways to resolve cases as soon as possible and bring them to the point where the criminals, whose names are well known to us, are put on the international wanted list. At a certain point, you will no longer be able to feel safe behind the walls of your offices. And there will be nowhere to run. A life sentence for the heads of the police department, prisons in Akrestsina and Zhodino is the reality that awaits criminals.

Today we directly cooperate with the Organized Crime Investigation Department of the Lithuanian Criminal Police Bureau.

The highly professional lawyers of the NAM team conduct an initial consultation and interview with the victims, and then transfer the full package of documents to the investigators. Moreover, the Lithuanian side demonstrates its full involvement in the problem and solidarity with the Belarusians, considering the applications of victims who currently live in any other country in the world and are ready to use the mechanism of universal jurisdiction in Lithuania.

As a reminder, we are looking for victims who want to bring perpetrators to justice using the mechanisms of universal jurisdiction.


bottom of page