26 Feb 2022 21:00

Russian Human Rights Council members speak against reinstatement of death penalty

MOSCOW. Feb 26 (Interfax) - A number of members of the Russian Presidential Council for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights have categorically opposed to the idea of reinstating the death penalty in Russia.

"In the wake of the suspension of Russia's membership of the Council of Europe, our country is nevertheless obliged to abide by all conventions it has ratified, including the Convention on Human Rights, and observe the moratorium on the death penalty. I am a convinced opponent of the death penalty. This Pandora's box can't be opened," Human Rights Council member Alexander Brod told Interfax.

The Russian justice system has serious problems, which the Human Rights Council has repeatedly reported to the president, and if the death penalty is reinstated, innocent people could die because of possible investigative and judicial errors, Brod said.

Human Rights Council member Kirill Kabanov said the moratorium on the death penalty currently observed in Russia is not related to its association with European bodies and organizations but is rather its own choice.

"The death penalty matter is more of a choice in the country, which we've discussed repeatedly in the form of a moratorium. This is not a European mechanism, but it's rather our own decision. And we can certainly lift these restrictions, but as long as there is a chance of judicial error, perhaps this is the most humane measure to make sure that judicial error doesn't lead to the death of an innocent person," Kabanov said.

Another Human Rights Council member, Nikolai Svanidze, has also opposed the reinstatement of the death penalty in Russia.

"This was in fact a proposal. I view this extremely negatively. What has changed, why were we opposed to this before and why do we favor this now? The reinstatement of the death penalty is very dangerous because, firstly, as the practice shows, this doesn't solve any problems. Secondly, with our judicial system and its quality, innocent people will suffer and die. You may put someone in jail and then free them if a judicial mistake is uncovered, but you can't bring an executed person back to life," Svanidze told Interfax.

If the death penalty is reinstated in Russia, this would pose risks of its misuse, he said.

"It's been said that this would be for dangerous crimes, but those are mere words. They would start with executing, say, pedophiles, then they would switch to political crimes, and that's it, welcome back to 1937," he said.

The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe decided on February 25 to suspend Russia's membership because of the special military operation in Ukraine.

Russian Security Council Deputy Chairman and United Russia party Chairman Dmitry Medvedev said on Saturday on social media that the suspension of Russia's Council of Europe membership is "a good opportunity to reinstate a number of important institutions, like the death penalty for dangerous criminals," pointing out that the death penalty is applied in the United States and China.

Yury Sinelshchikov, first deputy head of the State Duma Committee on Legislation and State Building, told Interfax later that the effect of the moratorium on the death penalty in Russia ended more than ten years ago with the establishment of jury trials in all federal entities, and its reinstatement requires only a political decision, the establishment of special cells, and the appointment of executors.

Former Russian President Boris Yeltsin's decree of May 16, 1996 stipulated a gradual reduction of the application of the death penalty due to Russia's accession to the Council of Europe. The last death penalty in Russia was carried out in 1996. Russia has signed but has not ratified Protocol 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, which abolishes the death penalty and under which no one can be convicted to it and executed.

The Russian constitution stipulates that the death penalty, "up to its abolishment," may be instituted by a federal law as an exceptional measure of punishment for especially grave crimes against life, provided that the defendant is entitled to have their case heard by a jury.