Former Belarusian Special Forces member stands trial in Switzerland for forced disappearance

The trial of Yury Garavsky, a former member of Belarus’ special forces, in a Swiss court has brought attention to the political repression and human rights abuses in the country. Garavsky is on trial for the forced disappearance of three opposition figures who vanished 24 years ago. He confessed to being part of a secret hit squad that abducted and presumed killed the opponents of Belarus’ authoritarian leader, Alexander Lukashenko. This trial serves as a stark reminder of the dark roots of political repression in Belarus and the need for justice for the families of the disappeared individuals.

The trial, taking place in St Gallen, Switzerland, is significant as it is the first time that universal jurisdiction has been applied for a Belarusian citizen. Switzerland, being a party to the United Nations convention against forced disappearance, has the legal framework to prosecute such cases. This sends a strong message that there is no safe haven for perpetrators of human rights abuses.

For the families of the disappeared individuals, this trial is a crucial moment after years of uncertainty and anguish. The daughters of the two of the disappeared men, who had left Belarus soon after their fathers’ abductions, will be present in court. They hope that the trial will bring them some relief and shed light on their fathers’ fate.

Elena Zakharenka, the daughter of former interior minister Yury Zakharenko, had initially hoped that her father was imprisoned and would return one day. The acceptance of his death brought the haunting fear that he had been tortured. Similarly, Valeria Krasovskaya, the daughter of pro-opposition businessman Anatoly Krasovsky, described the pain of not knowing how her father died and not having a body to bury. The trial offers a chance for these families to finally get answers and closure.

The testimony of Yury Garavsky is expected to reveal further details about the operation and potentially implicate high-ranking officials. In media interviews, Garavsky has already confessed to kidnapping the three individuals and handling the murder weapon. He accuses his commander Dmitry Pavlichenko, the head of the notorious SOBR special forces unit, of carrying out the actual killings. It is worth noting that a 2003 Council of Europe investigation had linked Col Pavlichenko to the forced disappearances and concluded that the crime had been covered-up at the highest levels of the state.

The trial also highlights the ongoing political repression in Belarus. The country gained international attention in 2020 when mass opposition protests were violently suppressed. The deep-rooted nature of these human rights abuses is evident from the forced disappearances that occurred decades ago. The prosecution of Yury Garavsky serves as a reminder that justice must be served and those responsible for human rights violations held accountable.

While the trial in Switzerland represents a significant legal moment, it is important to note that the Belarusian authorities have yet to respond to media inquiries regarding the case. This raises concerns about the commitment of the Belarusian government to transparency and accountability.

In conclusion, the trial of Yury Garavsky in Switzerland for the forced disappearance of three opposition figures in Belarus shines a spotlight on the political repression and human rights abuses in the country. It provides an opportunity for the families of the disappeared to seek justice and closure. The trial also serves as a reminder of the deep and dark roots of political repression in Belarus. However, the response from Belarusian authorities and their commitment to transparency remains uncertain.