President Boris Yeltsin will henceforth review personally every death sentence passed in Russia, regardless of whether the condemned person has appealed for clemency or not. This is the effect of a change to the Code of Criminal Procedure that Yeltsin signed into law on January 11. (Kommersant-daily, January 13) According to the head of the presidential pardon commission, the change enables Russia to meet its commitment as a member of the Council of Europe to abolish capital punishment.
Russia declared a provisional moratorium on executions in August, 1996, the year it joined the Council, and signed the relevant Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights in January, 1997. However, the Duma rejected a bill abolishing the death penalty in March, 1997, and has so far refused to ratify Protocol 6. Some 700 people are on death row in Russia at present.
To find a way round the impasse, Yeltsin persuaded parliament to amend existing law to state that a death sentence may not be carried out unless it has been sanctioned by the president. (Itar-Tass, December 17) This does away with the old requirement that the condemned person must first appeal for clemency. Parliament went along with the president’s compromise, even though it refuses to abolish capital punishment on the grounds that the population favors retention. (Itar-Tass, January 12) In this, the Russian population is no different from the populations of most other countries. Interestingly enough, a telephone poll in Moscow last September found that support for the death penalty among residents of the capital had fallen from 82.5 percent in 1993 to 55.5 percent in 1997. (Obshchaya gazeta, October 16, 1997) However, this was in the capital and involved only those able to afford a telephone (about half the total population). Rural residents are notoriously keen to retain the death penalty.
Russian Military Reform Sputters.