By Armen Zakarian
Armenia remains committed to scrapping the death penalty, but is “not in any rush” to follow the example of most other Council of Europe countries and extend the ban to times of war, a senior official said on Monday.
Deputy Foreign Minister Armen Martirosian cited the unresolved Nagorno-Karabakh conflict to justify Yerevan’s refusal last week to sign the new Protocol No. 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights which abolished capital punishment even in cases of war, imminent threat of war or "exceptional circumstances."
Also declining to sign the document were Armenia’s arch-rival Azerbaijan and six other member states. Armenia, which has carried out no executions since 1990, has yet to ratify the original Protocol No. 6 of the pan-European charter banning the death penalty. Officials say it will be ratified after the Armenian parliament makes corresponding changes in the Soviet-era criminal code which allows capital punishment.
“After we deal with Protocol 6 we will think about [signing] Protocol 13,” Martirosian told RFE/RL, stressing that the latter is not among Armenia’s membership obligations. He said the threat of renewed fighting in Karabakh resulting from “continuing belligerent calls in Azerbaijan” may keep Yerevan from signing Protocol No. 13 in the near future.
The Armenian parliament is expected to mount stiff resistance to the abolition of the death penalty when it debates the matter later this year. Many legislators insist that the Council of Europe allow Armenia to “make an exception” and sentence to death the five perpetrators of the October 1999 shootings in the National Assembly. Officials from Strasbourg have ruled out such possibility, however.