By Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Armenian parliament defied possible Council of Europe sanctions on Wednesday to reaffirm a controversial legal provision allowing death sentences against five jailed gunmen that had seized and sprayed it with bullets in October 1999.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly passed in the second reading a new criminal code which outlaws the death penalty. However, they attached to it a separate law which stipulates that individuals who engaged in terrorism and pedophilia before the code’s entry into force can be sentenced to death and executed.
“It is obvious for the majority of our committee members and many other people that the October 27 criminals must be shot dead,” said Victor Dallakian, chairman of the parliament’s legal affairs committee.
This stance was endorsed by government representatives attending the session. “The government also insists on this reservation and believes that it will not lead to any [international] complications,” Mikael Grigorian, a top interior ministry official, told the deputies.
Armenia undertook to fully and unconditionally abolish capital punishment in peacetime when it became a member of the Council of Europe in January 2001. Officials from the Strasbourg-based human rights organizations have made it clear that they will not tolerate any exceptions from the rule. In a resolution adopted last September, the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) expressed “shock” at the Armenian lawmakers’ desire to have the parliament gunmen executed and threatened to impose sanctions on Yerevan if it fails to fall in line by June 2003.
The PACE warnings were a major argument cited by opponents of the death penalty during Wednesday’s heated parliament debates. Among them were the deputies affiliated with the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (Dashnaktsutyun), an influential party represented in the government. Two prominent opposition deputies, Vazgen Manukian and Shavarsh Kocharian, said they are against the death penalty in principle.
Kocharian is believed to share their view but has avoided expressing it openly, apparently fearing renewed allegations about his role in the parliament massacre. His foreign minister, Vartan Oskanian, expressed hope recently that the PACE demands will be met by the next parliament which will be elected in May.
Dallakian agreed that the new legislature will be more impartial in dealing with the matter. “This parliament has certain complexes which is very understandable,” he said.
The criminal code is expected to be passed in the third, final reading on Thursday.