A landmark trial is set to begin in St. Gallen, Switzerland, where former Belarusian police officer Yury Garavsky will face charges related to the enforced disappearance of three political opponents of President Alexander Lukashenko. The disappearances occurred in 1999 and involved former interior minister Yury Zakharenko, former deputy prime minister Viktor Gonchar, and businessman Anatoly Krasovsky. Garavsky, who claimed to have been a member of the Belarusian interior ministry’s special forces unit responsible for executing the missing opponents, will be the first Belarusian national to stand trial for enforced disappearance under universal jurisdiction.
The trial holds significance as it marks the first time enforced disappearance will be tried in Switzerland. In 2021, after confirming Garavsky’s presence in St. Gallen, TRIAL International, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), and Belarusian rights group Viasna filed a criminal complaint against him. The victims’ families also filed a separate complaint. The trial is seen as a historic moment and a precedent-setting case that could serve as an example worldwide for prosecuting such crimes.
Viasna, along with other organizations, views the trial as a step towards justice and reparation for the victims. They believe it sends a strong message that perpetrators of gross human rights violations will not find safe haven, regardless of state borders or the passage of time. The trial could potentially shed light on those who ordered the disappearances, including President Lukashenko himself.
The United Nations experts have also expressed support for the trial, considering it a fundamental step towards justice and reparation for the victims. They view universal jurisdiction as a powerful tool against impunity and a deterrent for gross human rights violations.
Belarus has faced widespread criticism for its repressive regime under President Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994. The country’s isolation increased after Lukashenko allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory for its Ukraine offensive. Currently, Belarus has over 1,500 political prisoners, according to Viasna.