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November 6 2009

Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel: Will Russia Bring Back

Capital Punishment?

Introduced by Vladimir Frolov

Russia's Supreme Court has filed a petition with the country's Constitutional Court asking for a ruling on whether Russia should continue with its self-imposed moratorium on capital punishment. Russia has maintained a moratorium on capital punishment since 1999 , when the Constitutional Court ruled that the death penalty should be suspended until trials by an independent jury become available in every region of Russia. Does Russia really need to reintroduce capital punishment? Why are the Russian public and political parties so strongly in favor of this cruel measure?

In January of 2010 Chechnya will introduce jury trials, making it the last federation subject to introduce this regime. This effectively eliminates the legal preconditions for a countrywide moratorium on capital punishment. Abandoning capital punishment by 1 999 was a condition Russia had to fulfill in order to join the Council of Europe and its institutions. Russia also signed (but failed to ratify) the Sixth Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, which explicitly bans capital punishment. Reintroduction of capital punishment will put Russia on the brink of expulsion from the Council of Europe, the oldest European institution.

Today, Russian public opinion is split on whether the country needs to reintroduce capital punishment. Opinion polls show that a strong majority of Russians (63 to 70 percent) favor capital punishment and even want to expand it to a wider range of crimes. However, Russians are increasingly skeptical about the court system, with barely 38 percent saying that the courts are unbiased in their decisions, while over 45 percent do not trust the police. The Kremlin is equally uncertain about how to proceed. While he was still president, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin always spoke out against capital punishment, while President Dmitry Medvedev has not made his feelings on the matter quite clear yet.

Russia's political parties, from United Russia to the Communist Party, strongly favor the reintroduction of capital punishment, with only a handful of liberal politicians speaking in support of the current moratorium. It is most likely that the Kremlin will seek to postpone making any decisions on this issue, sensing serious political repercussions both at home and abroad. Evidence on whether capital punishment is a strong deterrent for criminals considering serious crimes is hazy, while evidence of mistakes being made in court decisions is much stronger.

Capital punishment is banned in Europe, while the United States maintains it for some federal crimes like terrorism, and certain states administer capital punishment for less serious crimes. It is widely practiced in China, where it is even used to fight corruption by government officials.

Does Russia really need to reintroduce capital punishment? Why are the Russian public and political parties so strongly in favor of this cruel measure? Is it an issue where Russia could still "join Europe," or should it follow the American and Chinese models? Will capital punishment become a serious political issue for the Russian election cycle in-2012? Why is Vladimir Putin, the KGB hardliner and a man of the past, according to the Obama administration, against capital punishment?

El Paso's small step

Sep 24th 2009 | EL PASO
From The Economistprint edition

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