An alleged former member of a Belarusian elite police unit will stand trial in Switzerland next month, accused of participating in the disappearances of three political opposition members, a Swiss NGO said Wednesday.
Yury Garavsky, a “former member of President Alexander Lukashenko’s SOBR unit, will stand before a criminal court in St. Gallen, Switzerland on 19-20 September,” said the TRIAL International organization, which fights against impunity for war crimes.
Regional authorities in the northeastern Swiss canton of St. Gallen confirmed to AFP that Garavsky’s trial would begin on September 19, but have not commented on his whereabouts or other details about the case.
According to TRIAL, he stands accused of having participated in the enforced disappearances of three major political opponents of Lukashenko in 1999: former interior minister Yury Zakharenko, along with former deputy prime minister Viktor Gonchar and his close friend, the businessman Anatoly Krasovsky.
Zakharenko vanished in May 1999. Then in September that year, former lawmaker Gonchar and his friend, businessman Krasovsky were abducted.
In 2019, Garavsky gave sensational testimony to the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, maintaining he had been part of the Belarusian interior ministry’s SOBR special forces team, which he said had executed the three men.
In 2021, after confirming that Garavsky had settled St. Gallen, TRIAL, along with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and Belarusian rights group Viasna filed a criminal complaint with the regional prosecutor.
Families of the victims filed a separate complaint on the same day.
In a statement, TRIAL described the case as “groundbreaking.”
It marks the first time a Belarusian national will stand trial for enforced disappearance on the basis of so-called universal jurisdiction, which allows the prosecution of certain grave crimes, regardless of where they took place.
It will also mark the first time the alleged offence is tried in Switzerland, the statement said.
“With this first-ever prosecution of an alleged member of Lukashenko’s hit squad, we are sending a strong signal,” Viasna lawyer Pavel Sapelko said in the statement.
Viasna is a leading NGO targeted by the Lukashenko regime and the group’s founder, Nobel peace prize winner Ales Bialiatski, is jailed in Belarus.
“This case marks a decisive step forward in the fight against impunity for the crimes committed in Belarus,” Severin Walz, a lawyer representing the victims’ relatives, said in the statement.
“My clients’ greatest hope is to obtain certainty about the fate of their fathers through a judgement delivered by a due judicial proceeding.”