‘Death squads’ in Belarus: facts from history

On May 7 was the 20th anniversary of the disappearance of the former Interior Minister, one of the opposition leaders, Yury Zakharanka. His abduction, as well as the abduction of other famous people in Belarus, is said to have been conducted by to the so-called death squads.

Opposition leaders Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski disappeared without a trace in 1999-2000.

Late on May 7, 1999, in the area of ​​Zhukousky Avenue in Minsk, Yury Zakharanka was kidnapped and taken away in a car. On the night of September 17, 1999, in the area of ​​Fabrychnaya Street, politician Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski were abducted. On July 7, 2000, on the way from his home in Minsk to the airport, journalist Dzmitry Zavadski was seized by a group of armed men, 5-6 people, among whom were a member of the special unit for combating terrorism “Almaz” of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus Maksim Malik and a former officer of the same unit, Valery Ihnatovich. The bodies of Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski have not yet been found.

The term “death squads” appeared in the second half of the 20th century in Latin America and was used to refer to armed groups that engaged in extrajudicial killings and torture for political purposes.

Politicians, journalists and human rights activists believe that Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski were kidnapped by “death squads”, which in the 90s killed representatives of the criminal world of Belarus.

According to the preliminary report of human rights defenders, the main suspects in the case of the abductions and murders of Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski are Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Viktar Sheyman (the then head of the Security Council), Yury Sivakou and Uladzimir Naumau (at different times – Ministers of the Interior), Dzmitry Paulichenka (the then commander of the military unit 3214) and Mikalai Vasilchanka (then the head of the presidential security service). The findings of the Belarusian human rights defenders were confirmed in 2004 in a special report by the deputy of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe Christos Pourgourides, who conducted his own investigation.

Among the main evidence on which human rights activists base their version is the report of General Mikalai Lapatsik, Chief of the Criminal Police of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, and the testimony of Aleh Alkayeu, director of SIZO-1 remand prison.

The report of Lapatsik on the name of Interior Minister Naumau dated November 21, 2000 states that Sheyman instructed Paulichenka to physically destroy Yury Zakharanka. Information support for the operation was provided by the Presidential Security Service. The abduction and murder were carried out by Special Forces soldiers led by Paulichenka. According to a similar scheme, Hanchar and Krasouski were killed. They were buried allegedly in a special place at the Northern Cemetery of Minsk. In turn, Aleh Alkayeu stated that, at the request of Interior Minister Yury Sivakou, he issued a “execution” pistol on the eve of the disappearance of Zakharanka, Hanchar and Krasouski.

Dzmitry Paulichenka

First, the operational services of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the KGB, when the Prosecutor General’s Office coordinated their activities, in the course of the investigation discovered the same defendants — Sheyman, Paulichenka, Sivakou and others.

Paulichenka was detained, taken to the KGB jail and interrogated. However, Lukashenka intervened in the course of the investigation and, as human rights activists say, ordered the release of Paulichenka in violation of all legal procedures. Prosecutor General Aleh Bazhelka and KGB Chairman Uladzimir Matskevich were dismissed by Lukashenka. Lapatsik, Alkayeu and other people involved in the investigation lost their positions.

At the same time, the main suspects were given new positions: Sheiman was appointed Prosecutor General, Sivakou — Deputy Head of the Lukashenka’s Administration.

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has repeatedly publicly acknowledged that extrajudicial killings of criminal authorities occurred in Belarus at his order.

He last spoke about this on April 24, 2018 during an address to the Belarusian people and the National Assembly.

“Have you gone crazy there?” Or should I take tough measures, like those in the first years of my presidential life, when people were killed on the Moscow-Berlin highway: when I sent a handful of reliable people with machine guns, who shot half of them there and put things in order within a month,” the head of Belarus said.

However, Alyaksandr Lukashenka have always denied his involvement in the abduction of Zakharanka, Hanchar, Krasouski and Zavadski. He emphasized that they were not his opponents, and in general in Belarus every year many people disappear, so there is no need to pay so much attention to these matters.

The terms of the investigation of the missing persons were repeatedly extended; they still remain unsolved.

In January 2019, the Investigation Committee suspended the investigation into the case of the disappearance of Zakharanka “due to the failure to identify the person to be charged as an accused.” Sheyman, Sivakou, Naumau and Paulichenka are still under EU sanctions on suspicion of involvement in the activities of “death squads”.