Judge explains decline of Russia's death penalty

Obligations of Council of Europe membership required a moratorium

Judge Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov talks with Brandeis students and alumni

Russia has curtailed its use of the death penalty as a result of its obligations as a member of the Council of Europe, a process explained to Brandeis students on October 25 by Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, a professor of international law and a counsellor to the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation.

Countries that are members of  the Council of Europe are called upon to respect the various articles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Protocol 6 of the European Convention, which entered into force in 1985, requires parties to restrict the application of the death penalty to times of war or "imminent threat of war." Protocol 13, effective in 2002, goes further, abolishing the death penalty “in all circumstances.”

When Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996, it put into place a moratorium on the use of the death penalty as a condition of membership, a transitional step to an outright ban. Every Council of Europe member state has now signed and ratified Protocol 6 except Russia, which has signed but not yet ratified.

Although various courts in Russia still sentenced people to death following the moratorium, these sentences were commuted by Russian presidents. In recent years, public pressure in Russia for lifting the moratorium has increased in response to terrorist activity.

In 2009, Tuzmukhamedov was involved in the Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation’s decision that Russia must maintain its moratorium on the death penalty because of its Council of Europe commitment.

Judge Tuzmukhamedov’s talk on “International Law in Russian Constitutional Justice: A Case Study of Capital Punishment” also compared the constitutions of several nations and the histories and cultures that informed those constitutions. The talk also explored the subject of capital punishment in international and national law.

Tuzmukhamedov, a trial judge of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, first engaged with Brandeis as a participant in the 2010 Brandeis Institute for International Judges.

The October 25 event was cosponsored by the International Center for Ethics, Justice, and Public Life and the Brandeis-Genesis Institute for Russian Jewry.  Students from “International Law and Development” (LGLS 124b) joined BGI Undergraduate Fellows and others from the Brandeis community for the talk.

For more on the death penalty, see “Is capital punishment ethical?” in the October installment of the Ethics Center’s online "Ethical Inquiry" series. Researched by Katherine Alexander ’12, this inquiry outlines some of the key arguments made by proponents and opponents of the death penalty.

Categories: International Affairs

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