By Shakeh Avoyan
A senior official from the Council of Europe insisted on Tuesday that the Armenian government is under an international obligation to scrap its controversial legislation facilitating “administrative arrests” of citizens.
Natalia Vutova, head of the Council of Europe office in Yerevan, said a resolution adopted by the organization’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) in September 2002 is “obligatory” for Armenia. In particular, the resolution demanded the abolition of controversial provisions of the Armenian Code of Administrative Violations that allow local courts to jail people for “disrupting public order” and “insulting” law-enforcement officials.
The authorities have used the code to arrest more than 200 opposition supporters over the past four weeks. Many of them have been sentenced to up to 15 days in prison on charges stemming from their participation in unsanctioned rallies held by defeated presidential candidate Stepan Demirchian.
The Justice Ministry said on Monday that Armenia did not commit itself to revising the Administrative Code when it was admitted into the Council of Europe in January 2001. Ministry officials also argued that the PACE is a consultative body whose decisions are not necessarily binding for member states.
However, Vutova insisted that the additional demands made by the PACE are part of the ongoing monitoring of the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership commitments and have to be complied with. “The resolution adopted by the Parliamentary Assembly in September 2002 is as mandatory as the one adopted by it in 2000 before Armenia’s accession,” she told RFE/RL.
Vutova also said that the Strasbourg-based assembly will review Armenia’s compliance with pan-European standards at its summer session this June.
Next week the PACE will hear a report from a team of its observers who monitored the Armenian presidential election. The head of the observers, Lord Russell-Johnston, has already said that the vote fell short of democratic standards.