By Armen Zakarian
Armenia is increasingly getting in trouble with the Council of Europe for dragging its feet in completely and unconditionally abolishing the death penalty in peacetime, a senior Armenian lawmaker admitted on Wednesday. Hovannes Hovannisian, who heads the parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said Yerevan should brace for more “serious complications” at the upcoming session of the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE).
“The Council of Europe has concluded that we are not fulfilling our [membership] obligations, and that has created serious complications for us,” Hovannisian told RFE/RL. “We will face very tough discussions pretty soon.”
Hovannisian was speaking on the phone from Luxembourg where he attended a three-day meeting of the PACE’s coordinating body, the Bureau. The meeting approved the agenda of the 44-nation assembly’s autumn session in Strasbourg which starts on September 23. The agenda includes debates on an interim report on the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership commitments.
One of the main requirements is the ratification of the Protocol No. 6 of to the European Convention on Human Rights, which bans the death penalty in all circumstances except times of war. Armenia was due to sign it within the first year from its admission into the Council of Europe in January 2001.
But the ratification is still held up by strong domestic opposition to any clemency for the five perpetrators of the October 1999 massacre in the parliament. The recently adopted Armenian Criminal Code, while formally abolishing the death penalty, allows for the gunmen’s execution as an exception from the rule. Officials from Strasbourg have rejected the clause as unacceptable.
The report on Armenia’s compliance with the council’s requirements will be based on the findings of two PACE members who visited Yerevan late last month. Their insistence on a full abolition of capital punishment was brushed aside by some top parliamentarians, including Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs. Dallakian called for the postponement of Armenia’s ratification of Protocol No. 6, saying that it contradicts the new Criminal Code.
Hovannisian said that the Armenia report is expected to be approved by a PACE monitoring commission at a meeting in Paris on September 10.