Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 178

Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) may be on the verge of reintroducing the death penalty, a punishment abolished last year under pressure from the Council of Europe and human rights activists. At the conclusion of a September 19 meeting, Rada faction leaders decided to reintroduce the matter on the parliamentary agenda.

Conservatives in the Rada have apparently found a legal loophole. First Deputy Speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who chaired the recent meeting, said that he had evidence of vote falsification. Votes are now said to have been cast for members who were not present at the February 22, 2000 session. The deputies in question–Volodymyr Alekseyev of the populist Motherland faction and Ihor Yukhnovsky of the right-wing Rukh–reportedly complained at the time. Nothing came of this.

Even if a revision of last year’s vote outcome fails, however, the death penalty may yet be reintroduced.

Serhy Teryokhin of the right-wing Reforms and Order has submitted to the Rada a draft amendment to the new Ukrainian Criminal Code–which came into effect from September 1 and does not provide for death penalty–according to which death penalty can (and “should”) be applied to serial killers and terrorists. “This is not a return to the past,” Teryokhin said, explaining his motion, “This is not simple blood thirstiness. Society should come up with an antidote to such evils as terrorism and serial murders.”

In the wake of the September 11 tragedy in the United States, Ukraine’s governing elite may be ready for such a decision. Society is likely to embrace it, because the abolition of the death penalty has proved unpopular in a country with a high crime rate but without a democratic tradition. As the Rada elections of March 2002 loom ever closer, few deputies are likely to speak out against death penalty for fear of losing popularity among the electorate, should this issue eventually come to vote.

It will not be easy for the Rada to backtrack on the issue, however. The Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled the punishment unconstitutional in December 1999. Reintroducing it would also complicate Ukraine’s relations with the Council of Europe, given that since joining it in 1995 Ukraine had been repeatedly threatened with suspension and even expulsion for failure to abolish the death penalty. Europe has applauded the moves against the punishment: President Leonid Kuchma’s 1997 de facto moratorium on executions, the Rada’s 2000 vote formally abolishing them and this year’s Constitutional Code change replacing them with life imprisonment (Kievskie Vedomosti, July 20, 2000; UT-1, September 19; Stolichka, September 27; see the Monitor, March 10, 2000, June 26, 2001).