Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 150

Russian Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov asserted yesterday that, in April 1999, the full abolition of capital punishment will replace the presidentially-decreed moratorium on executions that has been in place for the past year. (Russian agencies, August 4) Krasheninnikov was speaking during a visit to Saratov where, on behalf of his ministry, he formally took over responsibility for the region’s prisons from the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Russia undertook to abolish capital punishment within three years and to transfer control of its prisons to the Justice Ministry when it joined the Council of Europe in February 1996. Progress on human rights issues has been painfully slow since then, but there have, nonetheless, been some positive changes. In May of this year, after a two-year delay, the State Duma finally ratified the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture. Ratification of the human rights convention gave Russian citizens the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg if they were unable to obtain satisfaction through the Russian courts. A “significant number” of Russian citizens is reported already to have lodged appeals in Strasbourg. (Nezavisimaya gazeta, May 5; Novye izvestia, May 12) The anti-torture convention will come into force on September 1. As of that date, the Council of Europe will gain the right to send its inspectors, without notice, to Russian prisons.

Transfer of the prisons to the Justice Ministry is now under way, and Yeltsin signed a decree declaring a moratorium on the death penalty after his reelection as president in July 1997. However, the State Duma has refused to consider a draft law on a moratorium on executions. Krasheninnikov himself said in May this year that it was “too early” for Russia definitively to abolish the death penalty (Russian agencies, May 29), and it is not clear what has happened in the interim to change his mind. Nor, despite his promise of an April 1999 date, will abolition be easy to achieve. The death penalty is enshrined in Russia’s 1993 constitution and, while the number of crimes for which it may be exacted was considerably reduced with the adoption of Russia’s new Criminal Code, capital punishment cannot be definitively outlawed without the approval of parliament.

The British government last week announced $40,500 funding for a one-year research project to find out what Russians know about the Council of Europe and what significance membership has had for them. (Russian agencies, July 30) The research will be carried out by the Russian National Press Institute, which will interview individuals, NGOs, government officials and journalists in the cities of St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod, and in Sverdlovsk, Novosibirsk and possibly Samara Oblasts, where the National Press Institute has branches.