By Ruzanna Khachatrian
Visiting officials from the Council of Europe heard on Wednesday strong objections in the Armenian parliament to their demands for a full and unconditional abolition of the death penalty in peacetime.
Top lawmakers and relatives of senior government officials murdered in the October 1999 raid on the parliament told two representatives of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) that Armenia must be allowed to execute the five perpetrators of the massacre. Meeting with the rapporteurs of a PACE monitoring group, Irena Bielohorska of Slovakia and Jerzy Jaskernia of Poland, they said that the jailed gunmen must be put to death despite the Armenian government’s earlier pledge to scrap capital punishment – a key condition for its hard-won membership of the Council of Europe.
“We, the relatives, will fight for the death penalty to the end,” Rima Demirchian, the widow of the late parliament speaker Karen Demirchian, told reporters after the meeting. “And we are not alone. We express the popular view.”
Her comments were echoed by Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs. Dallakian called for the postponement of Armenia’s ratification of Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans the death penalty in all circumstances except times of war. “This is a political issue and I think that the country’s leadership should raise this issue [with the Council of Europe],” he said.
Dallakian was the main author of a clause in the recently adopted Criminal Code that, while formally abolishing the death penalty, contains a loophole allowing the execution of Nairi Hunanian and his four henchmen. He argued on Wednesday that ratification of Protocol No. 6 would contradict the clause.
Senior Council of Europe officials have already rejected the legal provision as unacceptable, saying that they will not tolerate any exceptions from the pan-European rule. Bielohorska and Jaskernia reiterated this position during their ongoing fact-finding trip to Armenia.
Also, the victims’ relatives spoke out against the two officials’ planned meeting with Hunanian in jail. Dallakian said the officials “ruled out the possibility of such a meeting.” However, Jaskernia told RFE/RL earlier in the day that a visit to Hunanian’s prison cell “is in the program” of their trip.