By Armen Zakarian
The Armenian parliament approved on Thursday a new Criminal Code that allows for the execution of jailed gunmen who had seized it in October 1999 and is likely to draw strong criticism from the Council of Europe.
The legislation passed in the first reading by 66 to 15 votes formally abolishes the death penalty. But the deputies made sure, with a special clause, that the measure is only applicable to serious crimes that will be committed after its entry into force. The clause reads that individuals convicted of “murders in aggravating circumstances, terrorist acts and the rape of female infants” can be sentenced to death.
“This applies to the October 27 terrorists,” Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, said of the perpetrators of the 1999 parliament massacre which had left the Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian, parliament speaker Karen Demirchian and six other officials dead.
The give assailants led by former journalist Nairi Hunanian have been facing trial for more than a year.
The loopholes contained in the new Criminal Code could set Armenia on a collision course with the Council of Europe which is strongly opposed to capital punishment. Armenia undertook to scrap the death penalty when it was admitted into the respected organization in January 2001.
A visiting senior representative of the Council of Europe reiterated last month that its main decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, will not tolerate any exceptions from the rule. "The position of the Council of Europe is firm on the death penalty, and no exceptions should take place," Ambassador Pietro Ago told reporters in Yerevan.
Conditions attached to the Armenian code could be seen as contradicting Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights which bans the death penalty in all cases except war, imminent threat of war or "exceptional circumstances." Armenia has to ratify it under the terms of its Council of Europe membership.
Under the Armenian constitution, international treaties signed by Yerevan take precedence over national laws. Dallakian said this is why he is against the parliament’s eventual ratification of Protocol No. 6.
But some deputies disagreed, saying that Armenia could be suspended from the Council of Europe if it fails to honor its obligations.