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Kremlin Backs End To Capital Punishment

Kremlin lawyers argued for the “gradual” elimination of the death penalty Monday as the Constitutional Court opened hearings into whether to lift a 10-year moratorium on capital punishment.

Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, has made a commitment not to enforce the death penalty, but legal experts said the lifting of the moratorium would not terminate Russia’s membership in the continent’s human rights watchdog.

President Dmitry Medvedev supports the “gradual” abolition of the death penalty, his envoy to the Constitutional Court, Mikhail Krotkov, said at Monday’s hearing, Interfax reported.

He did not elaborate.

The Constitutional Court ruled in February 1999 that the death penalty could not be imposed until jury trials were available in all Russian regions, the court said in a statement Monday. Chechnya will be the last region to introduce jury trials on Jan. 1, the statement said.  

On Monday, the court also considered an appeal by the Supreme Court, which said an end to the moratorium would contradict Russia’s commitment to the Council of Europe, the statement said.

In April 1997, Russia signed Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans the death penalty in peacetime, but the accord has yet to be ratified by the State Duma. When Russia joined the Council of Europe in January 1996, it promised to ratify the protocol within three years.

At the same time, Russia is a signatory of the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which forbids it from violating an international treaty that it has promised to ratify until it is rejected by the parliament.

The Constitutional Court will announce its ruling within a month, a St. Petersburg-based spokeswoman for the court, Yulia Andreyeva, said by telephone.

A spokeswoman for the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, Estelle Steiner, refused to comment on what impact the court’s decision might have on Russia’s relations with the European body.

But Steiner stressed in e-mailed comments that the moratorium on capital punishment was “a crucial commitment for all countries that join the Council of Europe.”  

Pavel Krasheninnikov, head of the State Duma’s Legislation Committee, said by telephone that the Duma faced the options of ratifying Protocol 6 and amending the Criminal Code, which authorizes the death penalty; amending the Criminal Code without ratifying the protocol; or delaying the introduction of jury trials in Chechnya in order to keep the country’s laws in line with the Vienna convention.

No matter what decision is made, he said, Russia is unlikely to violate the Vienna convention, so its membership in the Council of Europe will not be at risk.

Boris Strashun, a professor of constitutional law at Moscow State Law Academy, said that even if Russia failed to ratify Protocol 6, it would probably remain in the Council of Europe because the European body needed Russia for economic reasons.

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