By Emil Danielyan
The Council of Europe welcomed on Wednesday the Armenian parliament’s decision to unconditionally abolish the death penalty, but said Yerevan should also honor other political commitments to the 45-nation organization.
“This important step brings Europe closer to total abolition of the death penalty, which is one of our Organization's priorities,” the Council of Europe secretary general, Walter Schwimmer, and the president of its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Peter Schieder, said in a joint statement from Strasbourg.
A complete ban on capital punishment was one of the main conditions for Armenia’s accession to the prestigious human rights organization in 2001. However, the country’s leadership dragged its feet until recently, enacting a legal loophole that allowed for death sentences against the perpetrators of the 1999 massacre in the Armenian parliament. The Council of Europe found the exception unacceptable, with the PACE giving Yerevan until June 2003 to scrap it or face sanctions. The deadline was extended until the end of the year after President Robert Kocharian’s administration asked for more time.
The National Assembly, dominated by Kocharian supporters, voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to ratify the sixth protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights which outlaws the death penalty in peacetime. It effectively abrogated the controversial clause in Armenia’s new criminal code. Under that code, life imprisonment will now be the strictest punishment for crimes.
Armenian leaders hope that the move will also placate the PACE into abandoning its threats to sanction Yerevan for its controversial conduct of the 2003 presidential and parliamentary elections.
But Schwimmer and Schieder made it clear that Armenia should press ahead with carrying out other promised democratic reforms. “We strongly encourage the Armenian authorities to continue fulfilling the commitments made by the country when it joined the Council of Europe,” their statement said.
Specific measures stemming from those commitments were spelled out this week by a monitoring group from the Council’s more powerful Committee of Ministers. It called, in particular, for the strengthening of Armenia’s judiciary, decriminalization of libel offences and sweeping amendments to broadcasting legislation.