Abolition of the death penalty in Europe
25 June 1996
Rapporteur: Mrs WOHLWEND, Liechtenstein, Group of the European People's Party
Since the Assembly last debated the abolition of the death penalty in 1994, there have been several new developments: four member states of the Council of Europe have abolished capital punishment completely, and a number of new member states have committed themselves to do so within a specific timeframe, introducing a moratorium on executions in the meantime.
Unfortunately the Assembly has reason to believe that some countries are not keeping their commitments, and have executed _ or are about to execute _ prisoners. The Assembly demands that Russia, Ukraine and Latvia honour their commitments regarding the introduction of a moratorium on executions and the abolition of the death penalty immediately. It warns these countries that further violation of their commitments, especially the carrying-out of executions, will have consequences under Order No. 508 (1995).
The Assembly further offers its assistance to countries willing to abolish capital punishment, and recommends that the Committee of Ministers do likewise.
I. Draft resolution [link to adopted text]
1. The Parliamentary Assembly recalls its Resolution 1044 (1994) on the abolition of capital punishment. It welcomes the complete abolition of capital punishment in Italy, Spain, Moldova and Belgium during the last two years, which provide an excellent example for other countries to follow.
2. The Assembly deplores the executions which, reportedly, have been carried out recently in Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine. In particular, it condemns Ukraine for apparently violating its commitments to introduce a moratorium on executions of the death penalty upon its accession to the Council of Europe. It also regrets that Latvia has not kept its commitment to ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights within one year of its accession to the Council of Europe.
3. Having heard that the moratorium on executions Russia committed itself to during its accession procedure is in danger of being broken, the Assembly demands that Russia honour its commitment and carry out no executions. It makes particular reference to the forty-six prisoners on death row whose requests for pardon have reportedly been rejected by the President of the Russian Federation this year.
4. The Assembly calls upon Russia, Ukraine and Latvia to honour their commitments regarding the introduction of a moratorium on executions and the abolition of capital punishment immediately. It warns these countries that further violation of their commitments, especially the carrying-out of executions, will have consequences under Order No. 508 (1995).
5. In view of the irrefutable arguments against the imposition of capital punishment, the Assembly furthermore urges Lithuania to institute a moratorium on executions without delay. It calls upon those Council of Europe member states who retain the death penalty on their statute books without taking recourse to it (Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Poland, Turkey, United Kingdom) to abolish it de jure as soon as possible. It also invites all member states of the Council of Europe who have not yet done so, to sign and ratify Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
6. With reference to Resolution 1044 (1994), the Assembly reminds applicant states to the Council of Europe that the willingness to sign and ratify Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights and to introduce a moratorium upon accession has become a prerequisite for membership of the Council of Europe on the part of the Assembly. It thus recommends to applicant states to review their policy on capital punishment in time.
7. The Assembly declares its willingness to assist those countries wanting to abolish the death penalty in their task, and will continue to follow developments very closely.
8. In the interest of building a world based on respect for life, human rights and the rule of law, the Assembly calls upon all the parliaments in the world which have not yet done so to abolish the death penalty for all crimes before the end of this millennium, following the example of most of the Council of Europe states.
9. Finally, the Assembly pleads with all heads of state and all parliaments in whose countries death penalties are handed down to grant clemency to the convicted.
II. Draft recommendation [link to adopted text]
1. The Assembly recalls Recommendation 1246 (1994) on the abolition of capital punishment. It welcomes the decision of the Committee of Ministers of 16 January 1996 to encourage member states which have not abolished the death penalty to operate de facto or de jure a moratorium on the execution of death sentences.
2. However, it regrets that the Committee of Ministers has not yet taken any action on the most important proposals, contained in paragraph 6 of this recommendation.
3. The Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers follow up the proposals of Recommendation 1246 (1994) without further delay. In particular, the Assembly recommends the Committee of Ministers to draw up an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty both in peace- and wartime, and obliging the signatories not to re-introduce it under any circumstances, and to set up a control-mechanism under the Secretary General.
4. Referring to Resolution ... (1996), the Assembly furthermore recommends that the Committee of Ministers assist its efforts to have the death penalty abolished in all Council of Europe member states by:
i. granting financial and logistical assistance to those countries who ask for it for the conducting of national information campaigns on the abolition of the death penalty;
ii. organising a large-scale international conference on developments in the field of the abolition of the death penalty, to take place in 1997 in a country that has not yet de facto abolished the death penalty;
iii. considering the attitude of applicant states towards the death penalty when deciding on their admission as full members to the Council of Europe, and taking the attitude of retentionist countries into account during the monitoring of obligations and commitments by member states.
III. Draft order [link to adopted text]
1. The Assembly, referring to Resolution ... (1996) and Recommendation ... (1996), instructs its committees dealing with the honouring of obligations and commitments by member states to pay particular attention to the honouring of the commitment entered into by some states to introduce a moratorium on executions and/or to sign, ratify and apply Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, abolishing the death penalty in peace-time.
2. The Assembly further instructs its Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights to organise one or two seminars on the abolition of the death penalty in Europe, and to report back on developments in due course.
IV. Explanatory memorandum by Mrs WOHLWEND
On 4 October 1994, the Assembly adopted Resolution 1044 (1994) and Recommendation 1246 (1994) on the abolition of capital punishment (Appendix I), on the basis of a report (Doc. 7154) submitted by my predecessor, Mr Hans G�ran Franck. The rapporteur had rightly discerned a strong abolitionist current in member states of the Council of Europe at the time. The Assembly followed his lead in recommending to the Committee of Ministers to draw up an additional protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), abolishing the death penalty both in peace- and wartime, and obliging the signatories not to re-introduce it under any circumstances. The Assembly also recommended to set up a control-mechanism under the Secretary General and to organise a conference to take place in 1995 on the abolition of the death penalty.
Possibly even more importantly, the Assembly decided that the willingness to ratify the Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR, abolishing the death penalty in peace-time, was to be a prerequisite for membership of the Council of Europe. Accordingly, since October 1994 all applicant states had to enter into commitments vis-�-vis the Assembly during the accession procedure to sign and ratify that protocol within a given amount of time. States which were still executing prisoners condemned to death were furthermore obliged to introduce moratoriums on executions with effect from the day of accession to the Council of Europe.
These policies should have ensured that the larger Europe no longer executed prisoners, as a first step towards building a region renouncing capital punishment in general, which befits modern democratic states built on respect for human rights and on the rule of law. While some great successes could be registered in the aftermath of the Assembly's 1994 debate _ four countries having abolished the death penalty completely as a result _ unfortunately other countries have not heeded the Assembly's call or respected their commitments in this matter.
The perhaps gravest fact is that several member countries of the Council of Europe are not respecting the moratorium on executions: the lives of several prisoners, mostly young men, have been taken by the state, and further executions are reportedly scheduled. The development is not only disastrous for full-scale abolitionists such as myself: even those in favour of _ justly applied _ capital punishment must shrink back in horror at the latest developments, since the judicial system of the countries carrying out executions can hardly be regarded as stable enough to guarantee completely fair trials without judicial mistakes. The chances that innocent people are being executed is consequently unacceptably high.
Having received reports that some of the prisoners on death row in certain countries may still be saved from certain death by timely Council of Europe intervention, and keeping the above facts in mind, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights asked that a debate be held under urgent procedure to follow up on Mr Franck's 1994 report. Taking in account the urgency of the situation, I will restrict myself here to reporting the developments of the last two years and explaining my recommendations. For detailed arguments in favour of the abolition of the death penalty I refer the interested reader to Mr Franck's excellent report.
B. Positive and negative developments since October 1994
The following paragraphs are based on information provided by the authorities of Belgium, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, who replied in time to a short questionnaire I sent to selected countries at the beginning of June. I am very grateful to these countries' authorities for their prompt replies and good co-operation. For the other countries, I base myself on information from non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the press and other sources. I have not mentioned the countries in which no change has occurred since 1994; the other countries are listed in alphabetical order.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, in its Interim Reply of 16 January 1996 on Recommendation 1246 (1994), "encouraged member states which have not abolished the death penalty to operate de facto or de jure a moratorium on the execution of death sentences".
Albania committed itself on 29 June 1995 to "sign, ratify and apply Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace within three years of accession, and to put into place a moratorium on executions until the total abolition of capital punishment" (Opinion No. 189 (1995), paragraph 17.ii). The rapporteurs on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Albania have been ensured by the President of the Republic that Albania has since observed a non-declared moratorium on executions. However, according to some information, three persons have recently been condemned to death under Albania's anti-genocide laws.
A bill abolishing capital punishment in Belgium pure and simple has just been adopted by the Chamber of Representatives. Belgian legislation _ up till now _ foresaw the death penalty for a multitude of offences, although no executions had taken place recently. Belgium is a signatory to the Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR.
Bulgaria introduced a moratorium on executions on 20 July 1990. A bill which would end the moratorium, drafted by the Minister of the Interior, is currently pending before the Bulgarian Parliament. It is understood that there are several prisoners on death row who would be in danger of immediate execution should the bill be approved.
A moratorium on executions, declared by President Meri when he took office, is in place in Estonia. The last execution took place in September 1991. Eight prisoners are currently on death row. (Two other prisoners originally sentenced to death since independence have already been granted clemency by the President of the Republic.) Of the eight prisoners currently on death row, seven have appealed, either to a higher court or to the President of the Republic. A great problem is posed by the eighth prisoner, a murderer who has refused to appeal for clemency.
Estonia signed the Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR on 14 May 1993. In February 1996, the Board for Crime Prevention, the Chairman of which is the Minister of Justice, met to discuss the possible ratification of the protocol. The board came to the conclusion that the death penalty needed to be abolished in Estonia, but that the Criminal Code of Estonia had to be amended first, to allow for the imposition of life sentences (the maximum penalty is, for the time being, set at fifteen years). This conclusion was accepted by the government. The Minister of Justice informed the rapporteurs on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Estonia in February 1996 that he hoped the Criminal Code could be amended in this way in early summer 1996, which would make it possible to abolish the death penalty by February 1997. Estonia did not enter into a formal commitment to abolish the death penalty upon its accession to the Council of Europe.
"The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"
"The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" committed itself on 27 September 1995 to "sign and ratify within a year of accession Protocol No. 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the abolition of the death penalty, in accordance with Article 10 of the Constitution of 17 November 1991" (Opinion No. 191 (1995), paragraph 10.ii). Since the death penalty has already been abolished by the country, no problems are expected. The country signed the Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR on 14 June 1996.
Italy abolished the death penalty completely in 1994, having retained it until then for certain military crimes in times of war.
Hungarian dailies reported on 10 June 1996 that Prime Minister Gyula Horn, pandering to popular sentiment, had suggested to hold a referendum to reintroduce the death penalty in the country. Minister of Justice Pal Vastagh clarified that a popular vote on the issue would not be possible without a ruling by Hungary's Constitutional Court, since the re-introduction of capital punishment would violate several international agreements. Lawyers later commented that Hungarian law does not provide for referenda on issues regulated by international agreements. Hungary is a party to Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR.
Despite having committed itself during its accession procedure on 31 January 1995 "to ratify ... Protocol No. 6 within a period which, by the terms of Assembly Resolution 1031 (1994), should not normally exceed one year from the time of accession" (Opinion No. 183 (1995), paragraph 10.b), Latvia has not yet signed the protocol, yet alone ratified it. On the contrary, Latvia has carried out two executions by shooting since its accession to the Council of Europe (on 26 January 1996). Eight death sentences have been handed down in the years 1994-96, all of them for murder under aggravating circumstances, and two prisoners are currently awaiting execution on death row.
The existing Latvian Criminal Code foresees the death penalty for six offences: banditry, activities disorganising the functioning of penitentiaries if the offense is committed under aggravating circumstances, deliberate murder under aggravating circumstances, rape with grave consequences or rape committed by a particularly dangerous recidivist, hijacking with grave consequences and counterfeiting money or securities if practised on a regular basis. It is not yet clear whether the new criminal code currently being drafted will include the death penalty.
Lithuania made no formal commitment to abolish the death penalty or introduce a moratorium on executions upon its accession to the Council of Europe. Three executions were carried out in 1994-96, and one prisoner who was sentenced in 1993 was pardoned by the President, his sentence being converted to life imprisonment. In 1994-96 the courts handed down twelve death sentences by shooting, all for premeditated murder under aggravating circumstances, the only offense which carries the death penalty in Lithuania.
Nine prisoners are currently on death row, three of whom are awaiting a decision of the court of appeal or the court of cassation, and six of whom have pleaded with the President of the Republic for a pardon. In a positive development, the Ministry of Justice has drafted a law on the suspension of the execution of capital punishment upon the instruction of the President of the Republic. The draft law is currently being considered by the President's Office of the Republic of Lithuania.
On 8 December 1995 the parliament of Moldova voted unanimously to drop the death penalty from the country's Criminal Code, and to replace it with prison terms ranging from twenty-five years to life imprisonment. In February 1996, death sentences on nineteen prisoners awaiting execution were commuted to life imprisonment by presidential decree. On 2 May 1996, Moldova signed Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR. The country has thus fulfilled a great part of its commitment of 27 June 1995 to "sign and ratify Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace within three years of accession, and to uphold the moratorium on executions until the total abolition of capital punishment" (Opinion No. 188 (1995), paragraph 11.c).
A temporary moratorium on executions was introduced in Poland by virtue of the Act on Amendments to the Criminal Code of 12 August 1995. According to Article 5 of this Act, "persons sentenced to death shall not be executed within a period of five years following this act coming into force". However, Polish legislation still foresees the death penalty for four offences: murder, high treason, actions detrimental to the state and an attempt on the life of a civil servant. In the last two years only four prisoners were sentenced to death by courts of first instance (all for murder), the verdicts of whom are not yet final. No execution has taken place in Poland since the 1980s.
Russia committed itself on 25 January 1996 "to sign within one year and ratify within three years from the time of accession Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights on the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace, and to put into place a moratorium on executions with effect from the day of accession" (Opinion No. 193 (1996), paragraph 10.ii). In 1994, according to official information, 19 prisoners were executed and 134 pardoned by the President of the Federation. In 1995, according to the same information, 86 executions took place, and only 5 pardons were granted. The Chairman of the Pardon's Commission, Mr Anatoly Pristavkin, a famous writer, sent 31 appeals for pardon to the President in February 1996, following Russia's accession to the Council of Europe. They were all rejected, as were an additional 15 appeals forwarded to the President by the Prosecutor-General. There are conflicting reports on whether these 46 executions have actually already been carried out in violation of the moratorium, and whether speedy Council of Europe action might be able to save these lives.
The NGO Amnesty International estimates the number of prisoners on death row to be 710. Article 20 of the Russian Constitution defines the death penalty as an extraordinary measure of punishment of a temporary nature for especially serious crimes against life, but Russian legislation currently in force foresees capital punishment for a multitude of offences (at least twenty-eight), amongst them crimes against the state (such as espionage), terrorist acts, banditry, aggravated rape, and inciting disorder in correctional institutions.
On 16 May 1996, President Yeltsin issued a decree on "stage-by stage reduction of executions of the death penalty in connection with the accession of Russia to the Council of Europe", which orders the government to prepare within a month, for presentation to the State Duma, a draft federal law on accession to Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR. It also recommends to the Russian Parliament to discuss the question of reducing the number of crimes carrying capital punishment in the framework of the debate on the draft criminal code. In a more worrying development, there are unconfirmed reports that the President aims to restructure the Pardon's Commission to replace the prominent public figures currently serving on it with officials from various government bodies.
The President of the Russian Federation has just signed the New Criminal Code, which will come into force on 1 January 1997. The scope of the death penalty has reportedly been reduced to five (from twenty-eight) offences by virtue of this law, which is a step in the right direction.
There have been several unconfirmed reports that the Slovakian Government is toying with the idea of re-introducing the death penalty. However, Slovakia is bound by Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR, so it is doubtful whether the country would want to renegade on an international agreement.
Spain, which had retained the death penalty for the most serious military crimes in times of war, became wholly abolitionist through Congressional vote in 1995.
The use of the death penalty has long been shrouded in secrecy in Ukraine. Despite its commitment of 26 September 1995 to "sign within one year and ratify within three years from the time of accession Protocol No. 6 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms on the abolition of the death penalty, and to put into place, with immediate effect from the day of accession, a moratorium on executions" (Opinion No. 190 (1995), paragraph, 12.ii), there have been consistent reports that executions are taking place. Amnesty International has sent urgent appeals to President Leonid Kuchma concerning the cases of five prisoners under sentence of death who had petitioned for clemency, some of whom might already have been rejected. The Chairpersons of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights and the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries have also appealed to the Ukrainian authorities to uphold their moratorium on executions, recalling President Kuchma's speech before the Assembly on 23 April 1996 in which he again promised that Ukraine would honour all its commitments.
C. The futility of the death penalty
The above-mentioned developments show that, on the one hand, there is a growing conviction in democratic and stable countries in Europe, especially in western Europe, that the death penalty serves no one and hurts many. On the other hand, there is a renewed tendency in central and eastern Europe to see capital punishment as a necessary evil to bring down high crime rates. In particular the population of these countries does not yet support abolition, even though leading public figures come out increasingly in favour of it.
This is why I must come back here to one of the principal arguments for the abolition of capital punishment: the sheer futility of it. Ordinary Russians, Lithuanians and Estonians, for example, are in favour of retaining the death penalty because they believe that this will bring down the crime rate. This "deterrence" argument is simply wrong. The most recent survey of research findings on the relation between the death penalty and homicide rates, conducted for the United Nations in 1988, concluded that
"This research has failed to provide scientific proof that executions have a greater deterrent effect than life imprisonment. Such proof is unlikely to be forthcoming. The evidence as a whole still gives no positive support to the deterrent hypothesis."
The experience of abolitionist states should be convincing proof in and of itself. For example, the homicide rate in Canada has continued to fall since the abolition of the death penalty for murder in 1976, while the neighbouring United States, which resumed the use of capital punishment in 1977, has seen a continuing rise in the rate of violent crimes, including murder. No abolitionist country experienced a sudden and serious change in the curve of crime following the abolition of the death penalty: On the contrary, since executions brutalise society, the effect of abolition has on the whole been positive. The experience of retentionist countries should also speak for itself: In Russia, for example, not one of the contract-killers who have murdered thirty-nine of Moscow's bankers in the last few years has been brought to book, and the mafia reigns supreme. The death penalty did not change that.
However, the strongest possible argument is probably the risk of executing the innocent. According to a 1987 study, 350 people convicted of capital crimes in the United States of America between 1900 and 1985 were innocent of the crimes charged. Some prisoners escaped execution by minutes, but twenty-three were actually executed. If this can happen in the United States, with its democratic and rule-of-law history, how much higher must be the risk of executing the innocent in countries such as Russia and Ukraine, with criminal justice systems that have only just come out of the totalitarian yoke and are still in need of reform?
Another reason sometimes given for retaining the death penalty is that public opinion demands it. Polls often show considerable support for capital punishment, especially in times of rising crime rates, or following a particularly heinous or violent crime. But history and research show that the population's attitude to the death penalty changes with more knowledge of the facts, and with the abolitionist experience. In Germany, for example, public opinion completely changed after the abolition of the death penalty, probably because there were no negative consequences of abolition, lending abolition staunch public support for a long time now.
The last argument I want to deal with here in favour of retaining capital punishment is possibly a uniquely Russian one: it would be too expensive to keep these criminals alive, one would have to build a prison a year to harbour those currently sentenced to death. Apart from the fact that the latter estimate is grossly exaggerated (125 persons "only" having been executed in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991), I have never heard such callous disrespect for human life before. It is a complete misunderstanding of the concept that human rights belong to everyone, including criminals. Torture might also be a cheaper measure to obtain a confession than the longer judicial process, but nevertheless torture would not be considered an alternative even by the same Russian officials. Besides, the drain on public finances in the Russian prison system is not primarily posed by the 700 odd inmates on death row, but by the thousands of pre-trial detainees.
The question is, of course, what can the Council of Europe do to ensure that the current spate of executions ends immediately, that its new member states respect their commitments to abolish the death penalty, and that no European state re-introduces it? I think a number of measures are needed, in which both the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly have a role to play.
First, both the Committee of Ministers and the Assembly should put pressure on those countries apparently violating their commitments to introduce a moratorium on executions (Russia, Ukraine) or to abolish the death penalty (Latvia) to respect their commitments immediately. In case this urgent call is not heeded, the application of appropriate sanctions should be considered, in the case of the Assembly those foreseen in Order No. 508 (1995).
Second, the two main organs of the Council of Europe should encourage those member states currently carrying out executions to institute a moratorium (Latvia, Lithuania, Russia, Ukraine), and those who retain the death penalty on their statute books without taking recourse to it, to abolish it de jure (Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Estonia, Malta, Poland, Turkey, United Kingdom). A moratorium on executions is only the first step to abolition, since moratoriums can be quickly ended, for example in order to pander to volatile public opinion. Entering into international agreements not to re-introduce the death penalty is the ultimate safeguard of abolition.
Those member states not having signed and ratified Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR should be called on to do so as soon as possible. The Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly should discourage those member states who are apparently considering to end their moratorium on executions (Bulgaria) or to re-introduce the death penalty (Hungary, Slovakia), and should remind them of their international agreements preventing them from doing so.
The Council of Europe should assist those countries which would like to abolish the death penalty to achieve this goal. In particular, the conducting of national information campaigns on the futility of the death penalty should be financially and logistically assisted in those countries who ask for it, for example Estonia. The international conference on the abolition of capital punishment which the Assembly recommended the Committee of Ministers organise in 1995 should take place in 1997. The Parliamentary Assembly should itself organise one or two seminars or colloquies on the subject in countries which show interest to host them (for example, Ukraine and Estonia), inviting international experts as well as leading national and local officials and public figures, as the Committee on Relations with European Non-Member Countries has already suggested.
The speedy elaboration of a new additional protocol to the ECHR, abolishing the death penalty both in peace- and wartime, and the setting up of a control-mechanism under the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, as recommended to the Committee of Ministers in 1994, would complete the measures we should take to ensure that our goal _ a humane Europe based on respect for life, human rights and the rule of law _ comes into being before the end of this millennium.
Summary record of the meeting held in Moscow on 31 May 1996
between Mr R. Bindig,
rapporteur on the honouring of obligations
and commitments by the Russian Federation
and Mr A. Pristavkin,
Chairman of the President's Pardon Commission
1. On 25 April 1996, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights decided to open procedure under Order No. 508 (1995) on the honouring of obligations and commitments by the Russian Federation, and appointed me rapporteur. One of the main reasons for already opening the procedure was to obtain information on how Russia was dealing with its commitment "to sign within one year and ratify within three years from the time of accession Protocol No. 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) on the abolition of the death penalty in time of peace, and to put into place a moratorium on executions with effect from the day of accession" (Opinion No. 193 (1996), paragraph 10.ii).
2. On the occasion of the meeting of the Ad Hoc Committee on Chechnya in Moscow (29 May-2 June 1996), I asked to meet the Chairman of the President's Pardon Commission, Mr Pristavkin, concerning the working methods and the legal framework of the Pardon Commission, as well as on the most recent developments regarding the death penalty. The meeting took place on Friday 31 May 1996, in the office of the Pardon Commission.
3. According to the Russian Constitution, the President of the Russian Federation has the right "to grant mercy". To aid him in fulfilling this task, the President created the Pardon Commission. The Commission has fifteen members, who were appointed by the President upon the nomination of the Chairman of the Commission. All members of the Commission are _ like their Chairman _ renowned public figures: writers, artists, philosophers and the like. They receive no monetary compensation for their work in the Commission. The working methods of the Commission are organised on the principle of democracy.
4. The Pardon Commission and its tasks are not yet defined in Russian national law, although a paragraph in the new draft criminal code regulates its status. The Pardon Commission also deals with cases under military jurisdiction. Since its creation in 1991, there have been several attempts to limit the Commission's task or bypass it altogether. For example, proposals have been aired according to which the Commission should not give its opinion on all requests for pardon, but only on those it is specifically seized on by the President of the Russian Federation.
5. The Pardon Commission deals with all requests for pardon in the Russian penitentiary system. Over 7 000 appeals a year are processed by the Commission, which has a staff of twelve. Once a week the Commission meets (most of the time, all members are present) and decides upon recommendations to the President. Most of the cases
concern reduction of penalties or liberation of convicts after they have served half of their sentence. Normally, the President follows the Commission's recommendations in these cases.
6. In the attached table you will find a statistic on the death penalty in Russia. The numbers until 1990 reflect the situation before the creation of the Pardon Commission under the chairmanship of Mr Pristavkin. The statistic shows that the number of prisoners whose requests for pardon have been granted has gone down radically since 1995, and that correspondingly the number of executions has risen. The President granted prisoners sentenced to death clemency for the last time in January-February 1995. Since then, he has rejected all requests for pardon.
7. The Commission recommended that fifty-five pardons be granted to prisoners on death row in 1995. When it became clear that the President was not going to grant any more pardons. the Commission decided to "work on the requests for pardon in more detail".
8. The Prosecutor-General complained to the President because of the "long periods of processing requests for pardon" in the Pardon Commission, and suggested to abolish it. The Minister of the Interior, the Prosecutor-General and the Chairman of the Supreme Court all pressure the President to carry out executions, since there were too many prisoners waiting.
9. Following Russia's accession to the Council of Europe, the Pardon Commission submitted thirty-one cases to the President for pardoning, reminding the President of Russia's commitment to introduce a moratorium on executions and sign and ratify Protocol No. 6 to the ECHR upon accession to the Council of Europe. Nevertheless, the President rejected all thirty-one appeals for pardon.
10. Bypassing the Pardon Commission, the Prosecutor-General submitted another fifteen cases to the President, asking for their execution. Without consulting the Pardon Commission, the President again decided to reject the appeals for pardon. In view of these developments, the Chairman of the Pardon Commission once again reminded the President of Russia's commitment not to execute anyone with effect from the day of accession to the Council of Europe.
11. In practice, executions are carried out in Russia two to three months following the rejection of the prisoner's appeal for pardon. At the time of the meeting, the forty-six prisoners on death row whose appeals had been rejected in 1996, were thus still alive. The Chairman thought that a clear and speedy intervention by the Council of Europe might still be able to save their lives.
12. On 16 May 1996, the President issued a decree on "stage-by-stage reduction of executions of the death penalty in connection with the accession of Russia to the Council of Europe" (see paragraph 24 in the main text). The original draft decree reportedly included the order to institute a moratorium immediately, which the President changed to "stage-by-stage reduction of executions of the death penalty".
13. Conclusion: in view of the above-mentioned developments, the Assembly should appeal urgently to the Russian President, Minister of the Interior, Prosecutor-General and the Chairman of the Supreme Court to respect Russia's commitment to institute a moratorium on executions upon accession to the Council of Europe. The President of the Pardon Commission should be sent a copy.
List of appeals for pardon by death row prisoners in Russia
46 (not pardoned)
Years 1985-90: 1 047 executed
Years 1991-94: 39 executed
Years 1995-96: 132 not pardoned
Reporting committee: Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
Budgetary implications for the Assembly: none.
Reference to committee: Urgent procedure debate decided by the Assembly on 24 June 1996 (Reference No. 2096).
Draft resolution adopted by the committee on 25 June 1996 with 22 votes in favour, 2 against and 4 abstentions.
Draft recommendation adopted by the committee on 25 June 1996 with 22 votes in favour, 3 against and 2 abstentions.
Draft order adopted by the committee on 25 June 1996 with 23 votes in favour, 1 against and 2 abstentions.
Members of the Committee: Mr Hag�rd (Chairperson), Mr Schwimmer, Mrs Err (Vice-Chairpersons), Mrs Aguiar, MM. Ak�ali, Alexander, Arbnori (Alternate: Ruka), Bartumeu Cassany, Berti, Bindig, Bobelis (Alternate: Germanas), Bucar, Cimoszewicz, Cioni, Clerfayt, Columberg, Deasy, Dees, Deniau, Fenech, Filimonov, Fogas, Frunda, Fuhrmann, Fydorov, Mrs Gelderblom-Lankhout, MM. Grimsson, Guenov, G�rel, Mrs Holand, MM. Holovatiy, Hunault, Jansson (Alternate: Mrs J��teenm�ki), MM. Jaskiernia, Jeambrun (Alternate: Couveinhes), Karas, Kelam, Kirkhill (Alternate: Sir Irvine Patnick), MM. Koschyk, Kovalev, Kyprianou (Alternate: Christodoulides), La Russa, Loutfi, Maginas, Magnusson, Martins, M�sz�ros, Moeller, N�meth, Pantelejevs, Poppe, Rathbone, Rhinow, Robles Fraga (Alternate: Mrs Fernandez de la Vega), MM. Rodeghiero, Rokofyllos, Severin, Sol� Tura, Solonari, Stretovych, Tahiri, Trojan, Weyts, Mrs Wohlwend.
N.B. The names of those members who took part in the meeting are printed in italics.
Secretaries to the committee: Mr Plate, Ms Chatzivassiliou and Ms Kleinsorge.
 By the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights.
 Doc. 7154, pages 5-11.
 Please refer to Doc. 7154, pages 11-19 for information on these countries.
 All opinions mentioned are opinions of the Parliamentary Assembly on the accession of certain countries to the Council of Europe.
 Please see Appendix II for an interview Mr Bindig, rapporteur on the honouring of obligations and commitments by Russia, had with Mr Pristavkin, Chairman of the President's Pardon Commission, on 31 May 1996.
 Quoted in Amnesty International, Facts and Figures on the Death Penalty, 31 March 1996, p. 4.
 This is due to the fact that in Russia, many suspected criminals who would not even be detained in the rest of Europe (such as petty thieves, drunk drivers, etc.) are kept in pre-trial detention in Russia for long periods of time, sometimes for years on end.
 The fifteen rejected requests for pardon in 1991 were still processed under the old system.
 The number of eighty-six rejected requests in 1995 for pardon reflects a number of requests which had already been submitted to the President a year earlier.