By Ruzanna Stepanian in Strasbourg
The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) on Thursday condemned the Armenian authorities’ post-election crackdown on the opposition and warned that failure to reverse it would put at risk Armenia’s full membership in the Strasbourg-based organization.
In a resolution, the assembly demanded an “independent, transparent and credible inquiry” into the March 1 deadly clashes in Yerevan between security forces and opposition supporters and “the urgent release of the persons detained on seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges.” It also said that the recently enacted legal amendments which effectively banned opposition rallies should be repealed “with immediate effect.”
The resolution stressed that these measures are necessary conditions for a dialogue between the Armenian government and the opposition as well as far-reaching political reforms which it said need to be implemented in the country. It warned that failure to take them would mean that “the credibility of Armenia as a member of the Council of Europe is put into doubt.”
“The Assembly should therefore consider the possibility of suspending the voting rights of the Armenian delegation to the Assembly at the opening of its June 2008 part-session, if no considerable progress has been made on these requirements by then,” read the resolution.
The authorities in Yerevan have faced similar calls from the Council of Europe’s decision-making Committee of Ministers as well as the European Union and the United States. Nonetheless, their crackdown on the opposition led by former President Ter-Petrosian appears to have continued unabated in recent weeks.
“The Assembly condemns the arrest and continuing detention of scores of persons, including more than one hundred opposition supporters and three members of parliament, on what appear to be politically motivated charges,” read the PACE resolution. “This constitutes a de facto crackdown on the opposition by the authorities.”
While disagreeing with some of its provisions, the head of the Armenian delegation at the assembly, David Harutiunian, described the document as “reasonable” and “balanced” and said the administration of President Serzh Sarkisian should comply with it.
“We must immediately start taking steps towards the country’s democratization,” Harutiunian told RFE/RL. “This should be done not to let the Armenian delegation retain its voting rights at the PACE or get somebody here to report progress in Armenia. We should realize that we are doing that for ourselves.”
The Armenian government’s handling of the February 19 presidential election and the ensued dramatic developments were high on the agenda of the PACE’s weeklong spring session in Strasbourg. As well as adopting the resolution, the assembly discussed earlier this week a separate report presented by a PACE delegation that monitored the election along with more than 200 Western observers.
The head of the delegation, Britain’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, stood by the observers’ initial conclusion that the vote was administered “mostly in line” with democratic standards. Prescott also reiterated his concerns about what he and other PACE observers see as a lack of public trust in the electoral process.
The adopted resolution likewise noted that serious irregularities observed during the vote “raised questions among the Armenian public with regard to the legitimacy of the outcome of the election.” “This lack of public confidence was the basis for the peaceful protests that ensued after the announcement of the preliminary results, initially tolerated by the authorities,” it said.
The PACE at the same time backed Prescott’s calls for the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition to accept last month’s Constitutional Court ruling that upheld Sarkisian’s disputed election victory. “This should not be interpreted as the obligation to accept the merits of the court’s decision,” it said, adding that the ruling can be appealed at the European Court of Human Rights.
(Council of Europe photo)