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Russia: Death Penalty Ruled Unconstitutional

(Dec. 1, 2009) On January 1, 2010, a death penalty moratorium, which was introduced in Russia in 1999, was scheduled to expire because of the establishment of courts with jurors in all constituent components of the Russian Federation, a requirement set by the Constitutional Court when this moratorium was declared. On November 19, 2009, the Constitutional Court of Russia ruled that even after the expiration of the moratorium, the death penalty cannot be used in Russia. The ruling appealed to international legal norms recognized by Russia, which prohibit or recommend prohibition of the application of the death penalty.

The ruling stated that even though courts with jurors will be functioning throughout the territory of Russia, and there is a legal possibility of jurors pronouncing the death penalty, the existing moratorium must be extended until Russia's ratification of Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which abolishes the death penalty. The Court's position was that Russia's “legal system and the clear expression by the Russian authorities of [Russia's] intention to accept obligations provided in Protocol 6 formed guarantees for the right of an individual not to be sentenced to death.” (Press Release, Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation, 19 November 2009, RF Constitutional Court Declared It Impossible to Impose Death Penalty in Russia After January 1, 2010 [in Russian](Nov. 19, 2009), available at

Russia signed Protocol 6 in 1997. According to the Protocol, no one can be sentenced to death or executed in a time of peace. The Russian legislature has not yet ratified the Protocol due to strong public opinion in favor of the death penalty, even though Russia was obligated to ratify the Protocol within three years of signing it. (Smertnoi kazni v Rossii Ne Budet [There Will Be No Death Penalty in Russia] [in Russian], NEWSRU.COM, Nov. 19, 2009, available at

According to the Court's ruling, the moratorium will be extended for an indefinite time until the death penalty is formally abolished in Russia through the ratification of Protocol 6 and the amendment of the Criminal Code and several other federal laws. The Speaker of the Russian Duma said that this may occur within a “reasonable” period of time. (Viktor Banev & Lev Makedonov, Smertnaia Kazn ne Perezhivet Moratorii [Death Penalty Will Not Survive the Moratorium] [in Russian], GAZETA.RU, Nov. 19, 2009, available at