A court in Rorschach, Switzerland, has acquitted former Belarusian security operative Yuri Harauski in a case involving the enforced disappearances of three political opponents of President Aleksander Lukashenko in the late 1990s. The court, after a two-day trial, ruled that Harauski’s participation in the crimes could not be established beyond reasonable doubt. The Geneva-based advocacy group TRIAL International, along with the International Federation of Human Rights and Belarusian rights group Viasna, spearheaded the case.
The court’s decision has left the families of the victims in a state of uncertainty regarding the exact circumstances of their loved ones’ disappearances, according to TRIAL International. The three organizations expressed regret over the verdict and stated their intention to support the victims during the appeal process.
The trial marked a pivotal moment in international justice, with activists suggesting that it could potentially lead to prosecutions of other Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko. The case was brought under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing foreign courts to prosecute severe crimes committed in other countries.
Harauski, who currently resides in Switzerland after seeking asylum in 2018, had previously made confessions about his involvement in the kidnapping and murder of Lukashenko’s political opponents in 1999. However, the motives behind these confessions remain unclear.
The cantonal government, in a rare statement about the case, highlighted Harauski’s contradictory testimony during the trial and stated that it was unclear to what extent he was actually involved in the actions brought to trial.
Prosecutors had initially planned to seek a three-year prison sentence, with two years suspended, against Harauski for his alleged role in the enforced disappearances.
The verdict has raised concerns about the lack of accountability for human rights abuses in Belarus and the ongoing crackdown against opposition leaders. Lukashenko’s regime has faced criticism for years, including its support for Russia’s military invasion last year.