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Capital Punishment for Terrorism in Russia. Will it Work?

10.07.2003
 

According to Amnesty International, 99 people sentenced to capital punishment in the USA within 1973-1999 were later declared innocent
Russia Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznev spoke at a PACE session in Rotterdam and said that terrorists must be subject to capital punishment. He says, it is the court that must decide whether this or that terrorist must be subject to capital punishment. Will democratic Europe understand the Russian Duma speaker? The problem is that capital punishment was banned in Europe starting with July 1. Before the abolishment, capital punishment was allowed by the EU Convention on Human Rights "in case of war or inevitable danger of war". From now on life of criminals will be preserved under any conditions.
 
This amendment has been ratified by 15 EU members; 41 countries signed the Council of Europe's 6th Protocol. Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan and Armenia abstained from the signing (it is expected that Armenia will join the European convention by the end of the year). At that, the Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer said that if Russia fails to ratify the 6th Protocol of the EU Convention on Human Rights it might be expelled from the Council of Europe. He explained that ratification of the 6th Protocol was one of the liabilities Moscow assumed while joining the Council of Europe.

So, the statement made by Gennady Seleznev sounds rather unfavorable for Russia against this background. At the same time, Seleznev's idea may be welcomed by the USA. Recently, George W. Bush said that six people suspected of connection with al-Qaida might appear at court martial; he added that they might be subject to capital punishment. No more details are reported; it is known that hundreds of people detained in Afghanistan and other countries on suspicion of being connected to al-Qaida and Taliban are now kept jailed in the USA. Many of them are kept on the Guantanamo base (Cuba); they are said to be members of illegal armed groups and have no right for fair consideration of their cases at court. Human rights organizations are seriously anxious about the problem.

The apprehension that an innocent man may fell victim to capital punishment is still one of the arguments voiced by opponents to death sentence. If a mistake is made during investigation, capital punishment makes this mistake irreparable. According to Amnesty International, 99 people sentenced to capital punishment in the USA within 1973-1999 were later declared innocent. That is why some of the US states introduced a moratorium on capital punishment, and it was abolished in 12 states. 49 death sentences were executed in the USA in 2001, 85 – in 2000. Majority of them were executed in Texas where George W. Bush was the governor before election to the presidential post. After 9/11, the parliament of New York decreed that capital punishment must be applied to people for organization of terrorist acts.

Amnesty International reports that at least 3,048 people were executed in the world in 2002 (the sentences were executed in 31 countries) and 5,265 people were sentenced to death (in 68 countries). The number of executions all over the world increased for the first time since 1997.  China, Iran, Saudi Arabia and the USA were the countries with the highest number of executions in 2001. As for former Soviet republics, capital punishments were passed in Armenia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (the convicted were executed in the last three countries).

At the same time, capital punishment is losing its popularity in the world. Within the past ten years, over 30 countries (including Azerbaijan, Estonia, Georgia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan and Ukraine) gave up capital punishment. It is not applied in 74 countries. In 15 countries of the world death sentence is passed only on criminal for committing grave crimes, war crimes for example. 22 countries have a legal right to pass a death sentence on criminals, but haven't used it within the past ten years.

According to a research held by the public organization "National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty", the number of crimes committed in countries where capital punishment is prohibited is twice as less than in those countries where this sentence is used. As of 2000, 105 countries of the world gave up capital punishment or abstained from executions. 

At the same time, the worse the criminal situation in a country, the poorer and more corrupt its law enforcement structures are. In this situation it is highly likely that court may make a mistake while passing a sentence. A group of researchers from the University of Columbia reached at this conclusion and posted the results of the research on capital punishments in the world. According to the results, 71% of death sentences passed in ten countries of the world within 1973-1995 were later challenged. In 95% of instances extra hearings of the court were held when people sentenced to death were acquitted or subject to lighter penalties.

As for Russia, 20 people out of the total number of 770 convicted to death were pardoned; in 1987 – 47 pardoned out of 307; 1989 – 23 out of 276, 1990 – 18 out of 226. In 1991, 37 people were executed, 59 pardoned; 18 executed and 54 sentenced to life imprisonment in 1992, 123 and 10 correspondingly for 1993; 151 people were pardoned and 10 executed in 1994; 40 executed, 6 pardoned in 1995; 53 people were executed and none pardoned within the first part of 1996. 

On May 7, 1992 Russia appealed for joining the Council of Europe. The procedure of admission was suspended on February 2, 1995 because of the Chechnya conflict; it was recommenced on September 27, 1995 as peaceful talks were started in Chechnya. On January 25, 1996 the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly declared Russia wouldn't be adopted to the organization if it immediately adopted a moratorium on capital punishment and abolished it within the next three years.

In February 28, 1996 Russia assumed the liability and became a Council of Europe member, but it didn't make a single move to abolish capital punishment. On May 16, 1996 President Yeltsin signed a decree "On gradual reduction of capital punishment application". As many others, the decree never came into effect. On June 28, 1996 the Council of Europe demanded that Russia must carry out the commitments. When Yeltsin learnt that his decree wasn't implemented, he immediately changed his administration. The last execution was performed on August 2, 1996. So, the moratorium on capital punishment is in force in Russia.

On January 29, 1997 the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly demanded that Russia must stop executing criminals, otherwise it would be expelled from the organization.

On February 27, the Russian president issued an instruction #53 "On signing of the 6th Protocol of the EU Convention on human rights". The Ministry of Justice and federal authorities were charged with "development of effective measures for settlement of the problem". So, we may say that capital punishment is abolished Russia. Certainly it will take time to carry out the presidential resolution, but it is for sure that no executions will be carried out in Russia legally.

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