By Emil Danielyan
A senior Italian diplomat urged Armenia to fulfill its membership commitments to the Council of Europe on Monday, four days after its parliament approved legislation allowing for the execution of criminal convicts under certain circumstances.
The Italian ambassador in Yerevan, Paolo Andrea Trabalza, told Prime Minister Andranik Markarian that respecting those obligations is essential for Armenia’s “rapid and unimpeded integration into the European family,” according to Markarian’s press office.
It was not clear whether Italy and other major European nations are unhappy with the way Yerevan is meeting the specific conditions for its hard-won membership in the Council of Europe. Armenia undertook to formally abolish the death penalty and enact a set of other legislative measures designed to promote its democratization when it was admitted into the Strasbourg-based organization in January 2001.
A new Criminal Code approved by the Armenian parliament on Thursday replaces capital punishment with life imprisonment. However, the deputies left a legal loophole that allows for death sentences to be passed on five jailed gunmen who staged a bloody attack on the assembly in October 1999.
The special clause stipulates that those individuals who committed serious crimes before the code’s entry into force could be sentenced to death. It appears to contradict 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." The protocol’s ratification is one of Armenia’s main Council of Europe obligations.
The Council’s main decision-making body, the Committee of Ministers, has made it clear that it will not tolerate any exceptions for the death penalty. Ambassador Pietro Ago, an Italian diplomat heading an ad hoc body monitoring Armenia’s compliance with those obligations, reiterated the committee’s position during a fact-finding visit to Yerevan last month. He may have thus conveyed his concerns about the new Criminal Code to the Armenian authorities through Trabalza.
Italy held the Council’s rotating presidency in 2000, during final preparations for Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s accession to the influential organization promoting human rights and democracy. Trabalza was quoted as reminding Markarian of his country’s support for Armenia’s membership.