By Ruzanna Khachatrian and Harry Tamrazian
Speaking to reporters on Monday in Yerevan, the head of the Council of Europe’s monitoring group Pietro Ago, said that the Armenian leaders gave him firm and more concrete promises to speed up the fulfillment of the country’s obligations before 43-nation pan-European body, including abolition of the death penalty.
The group is headed by Italian ambassador Pietro Ago, who met today with Armenian president Robert Kocharian, Speaker of the Parliament Artur Baghdasarian, and the leaders of the factions in the newly elected Armenian parliament.
After joining the Council of Europe in 2000, Armenia has promised to abolish the death penalty, to reform the Constitution and to amend its controversial electoral code. Despite constant criticism and warnings from the Council of Europe, Armenia failed to fulfill all its membership obligations.
Italian Diplomat told reporters that so far Armenia’s performance in fulfilling its obligations was poor. Referring to the fact that the election season is over, Pietro Ago said that conditions are more favorable and Armenian leadership is more willing to harmonize its laws with the European requirements.
Armenian foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian also confirmed that Armenian leadership gave today firm promises to Council of Europe’s monitoring group. According to Oskanian, Armenia has to fulfill at least 90 percent of its obligations until the end of 2003, including the abolition of the death penalty.
Pietro Ago told journalists that abolishing the death penalty is a key requirement that Armenia must meet first. “Armenia could lose its mandate in Council of Europe if it fails to abolish death penalty until the end of 2003,” Italian diplomat warned.
The Vice-Speaker of the parliament Tigran Torosian told RFE/RL that President Kocharian could ask the parliament to abolish the death penalty as early as in September. Newly elected speaker of the Parliament Artur Baghdasarian also promised today to speed up consideration of all necessary bills that would not require constitutional amendments.
Before meeting with Armenian leaders, the group of European monitors met also with Armenian opposition. Some members of the opposition also have serious reservations against the abolition of the death penalty. The leader of the main opposition alliance Stepan Demirchian told RFE/RL on Monday that it is still too early to consider the issue, given the fact that violent crime is on the rise in Armenia. But at least two prominent members of the main opposition alliance Artarutitun (Justice), Vazgen Manukian and Shavarsh Kocharian strongly support the abolition of the death penalty.
In a resolution adopted last September, Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe warned that Armenia should abolish a controversial legal provision, which would allow executing the five gunmen that stormed the parliament in October 1999.
The protracted trial of five gunmen who stormed the Armenian parliament in October 1999 resumed in late June after a nearly six-month break attributed by the authorities to the illness of the presiding judge and one of the defendants. However, the opposition believes that the presidential and parliamentary elections were the main reason behind the postponement of the controversial trial.