By Armen Zakarian
Officials from the Council of Europe have voiced serious misgivings about an Armenian draft law that would offer males citizens an alternative to compulsory military service demanded by the Strasbourg-based human rights watchdog.
Vahan Hovannisian, the main author of the bill debated by Armenia’s parliament, said on Wednesday Council of Europe experts insist that the alternative service have a distinctly civilian character and that serving army conscripts be given the option of switching to it at will.
Under the proposed legislation, those young Armenian men who refuse to serve in the armed forces on religious grounds can avoid carrying weapons by performing non-combat tasks inside military units. They would also be banned from working for law-enforcement agencies and the judiciary for the rest of their lives.
Council of Europe officials have stated previously that the practice would run counter to European standards, saying that Yerevan must comply with them. Hovannisian said this position was reaffirmed by European human rights experts that attended two-day discussions on the bill that ended in Yerevan on Wednesday.
He said the Armenian authorities stand by their view, but are ready for more talks on the sensitive issue. They have already agreed to make other major changes in the bill as a result of the seminar, he added. Among those concessions is a pledge to shorten the length of alternative service from your to three years. Hovannisian further revealed that Yerevan may accept Council of Europe demands to make every Armenian male citizen, and not only conscientious objectors, eligible for alternative service.
Passage of such legislation was one of the conditions for Armenia’s and its arch-rival Azerbaijan’s acceptance into the Council of Europe in January 2001. The Armenian parliament has until next January to approve it in the final reading.
(Photolur photo: Hovannisian, second from right, speaking at the seminar.)