Publication: Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 146

After months of delay, Yeltsin yesterday signed a decree transferring responsibility for managing the criminal justice system from the Interior Ministry to the Justice Ministry, as of September 1. (Itar-Tass, July 29) Russia is obligated by its membership of the Council of Europe to transfer the tasks of guarding those awaiting trial and of punishing convicted criminals away from the semi-militarized Interior Ministry and into civilian control. Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov fiercely resisted the loss of authority until his dismissal from office in March, but preparations for the transfer speeded up once former justice minister Sergei Stepashin succeeded Kulikov as interior minister that same month.

Stepashin’s successor as justice minister, Pavel Krasheninnikov, told a press conference yesterday that about one million people are currently in remand centers or serving sentences in prisons or labor colonies in Russia. Krasheninnikov said that Yeltsin’s decree was a first step that would, he hoped, lead to an improvement in Russia’s notoriously poor prison conditions. Russia has been repeatedly criticized by Russian and international human rights organizations for conditions in its prisons and, especially, its remand centers. Instead of the recommended 13 rubles (about $2), 1.08 rubles is currently available to the prison service for spending per prisoner per day. (Itar-Tass, ORT, July 29)

Last week, Krasheninnikov said he had approved a preliminary plan of action for realizing Russia’s obligations under Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws the death penalty. Russia undertook to give up capital punishment when it joined the Council of Europe in 1996 but has not yet officially done so, though a presidential moratorium is in operation. Krasheninnikov said his ministry will draw up amendments to the criminal code and code of criminal procedure to remove the death sentence, broaden the range of punishments other than imprisonment and improve conditions in Russian jails. (Itar-Tass, July 21; Novye izvestia, July 22)

Earlier in the year, Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov provoked an uproar in the international arena by saying that life imprisonment costs so much that Russia would be forced by financial considerations to resume the death penalty. (Obshchaya gazeta, May 28)