08.12.2000 | A. Bukalov, Donetsk

Death penalty is abolished, but the related problems remain


At the New Year’s eve the Constitutional Court of Ukraine took a decision that the article of our Penal Code permitting the death penalty is unconstitutional. Surely, this is a very important step on the road of Ukraine to the civilized democratic society. But I cannot feel joy because of a number of reasons.

First of all, I would like to remind the reader that it was in the year of 1995, when Ukraine, joining the Council of Europe, voluntarily promised to introduce the moratorium on the execution of death penalties since the moment of joining. This obligation has not been fulfilled. At first, after joining the Council of Europe Ukraine continued to execute the convicted to death for a year and a half. All in all about 200 people were killed. Then, starting with March 1997, the death penalty stopped to be executed without the official introduction of the moratorium. This stubborn refusal of the leading political forces to solve the problem of the legal capital punishment was very suspicious. The reasons are as follows.

The refusal of both the Supreme Rada and the President to introduce the official moratorium on the execution of the capital punishment during more than four years is not the consequence of the ’unpreparedness of the society’ to such a step, as some politicians hypocritically declare, but the actual unpreparedness of the politicians to put the human rights higher than their political interests. It is this ranging of priorities among our politicians that is dangerous for the society. One is embarrassed and even ashamed when reading in respectable newspaper ’Golos Ukrainy’ the description of the press conference given by the General Prosecutor where he said that the West ’demands’ the abolishment of the death penalty in Ukraine and that ’this is not the right tone in which they should converse with Ukraine’ and that ’any hurry in this question leads only to the noticeable rise in murderous deeds’.

Firstly, the statement of the General Prosecutor on the ’rise in murderous deeds’ after the abolishment of the death penalty is not true. Actually, t is contrary to the truth: the world experience witnesses that there is no correlation between the number of murders and the number of executed criminals. Even the Ukrainian experience confirms this: suspension of executions in March of 1997 DID NOT CAUSE the noticeable increase of the number of murders. So, the idea of a ’rise’ - that is just words and nothing more.

Secondly, maybe the top official considers that any demands from a country to fulfil an obligation taken voluntarily is ’not the right tone in which they should converse with Ukraine’. Certainly, we know well that many of our politicians use another tone: they promise one thing and do the opposite. But this is not a social problem, that is the problem of honesty of politicians.

Another myth spread by our politicians, supporters of this barbaric punishment, is the statement that it is too expensive to keep especially dangerous criminals in special prisons. Yes, it is expensive. However, in this case the number of the criminals kept is counted in hundreds, maybe in a few thousands. Now there are about five hundred criminals in Ukraine condemned to death. But, on the other hand, our courts incarcerate many tens of thousand, who committed petty offences. Their upkeep costs enormous sums. Yet, the Supreme Rada does not hurry to adopt a new, more humane, Penal Code. The prepared draft of the Penal Code, which already passed the first reading, in many respects is more cruel than the operating one and may cause even greater overcrowdness of penitentiaries. Why are silent those, who want to economize spending other people’s lives?

This position of the authorities and politicians, which is really a populist declaration is a very alarming symptom. In a society which is eager to become civilized the task of a politician is to protect humane values, to make them the norm of life. Alas, our politicians do the opposite and although the decision of the Constitutional Court on the death penalty is an important step on the road of humanization of our society, this is one step. A long road awaits us, and on this road we must explain to the society that we must not have the death penalty. Our politicians for the time being dodge this work.

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