By Armen Zakarian
The Council of Europe has opened a permanent office in Armenia one year after the country became a full member of the Strasbourg-based organization promoting democracy and human rights.
The head of the office, the Bulgarian Natalia Vutova, arrived in Yerevan earlier this month. She told RFE/RL over the weekend that her main task will be to coordinate the implementation of the Council’s Armenia-related programs.
The programs stem from a long list of commitments assumed by the authorities Yerevan as they were officially admitted into the Council of Europe on January 26, 2001. They mainly cover human rights, local self-government and legislative reforms.
The latter revolve around amendments in Armenia’s 1995 constitution which the authorities undertook to amend as part of their membership commitments. The Council’s so-called Venice Commission has examined draft changes put forward by President Robert Kocharian’s administration and has on the whole approved them.
Observers believe that the highly contentious issue of the death penalty promises to be the first stumbling block in Armenia’s hitherto smooth relations with the respected Strasbourg organization. Abolition of capital punishment was one of the key conditions for Armenia’s entry.
But many Armenian parties and some top government officials insist that Yerevan should be allowed to execute the five gunmen who carried out the October 1999 shootings in the parliament and are currently on trial on terrorism charges.
Council of Europe officials, however, have made clear that Armenia will face suspension of its membership if it puts the defendants to death. The head of the Armenian foreign ministry’s Council of Europe desk, Lilit Doneghian, said their stance on the issue remains uncompromising.