By Ruzanna Stepanian in Strasbourg and Ruzanna Khachatrian
The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) included a key debate on the tense political situation in Armenia on the agenda of its summer session which began in Strasbourg on Monday.
The debate will take place on Wednesday under the so-called “urgent procedure” that allows for the discussion of issues that are not on the draft agenda drawn up by the PACE leadership ahead of a quarterly assembly session. The procedure was invoked at the request of Serhiy Holovaty, chairman of a PACE committee monitoring the fulfillment of Armenia’s membership commitments to the Council of Europe.
Lawmakers from 47 nations affiliated with the pan-European human rights organization will specifically discuss the Armenian government’s compliance with a recent PACE resolution that demanded an end to its post-election crackdown on the opposition. They will be presented with a relevant report by two members of the PACE’s Monitoring Committee.
The rapporteurs, Britain’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and French parliamentarian Georges Colombier, visited Yerevan last week to assess government steps stemming from the PACE resolution. Holovaty described those steps as “insufficient” in a letter to Lluis Maria de Puig, the PACE president, late last week.
The resolution in question demanded that the Armenian authorities release all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges” following last February’s disputed presidential election. It also called for the scrapping of serious restrictions on freedom of assembly and the launch of an independent inquiry into the deadly post-election clashes between opposition protesters and security forces. The PACE warned that failure to take these measures could lead to the suspension of the voting rights of its four Armenian members.
The administration of President Serzh Sarkisian says it is doing its best to comply with the resolution. It points, in particular, to its decisions to ease the de facto ban on opposition rallies and to form an ad hoc parliament commission tasked with investigating the March 1 violence in Yerevan.
Former President Levon Ter-Petrosian, Sarkisian’s main election challenger, and his opposition allies dismiss this as a gimmick designed to mislead the international community. They argue that dozens of Ter-Petrosian loyalists remain in jail on what the opposition considers trumped-up charges.
In an interview with RFE/RL last week, Colombier said the Armenian authorities have made “big progress” in meeting the PACE demands, while expressing concern about the continuing imprisonment of many oppositionists. “Only those who committed criminal acts must stay in prison,” he said.
Colombier at the same time made clear that he is against the imposition of any political sanctions against Armenia. “A Council of Europe recourse to sanctions would not automatically free prisoners,” he said.
David Harutiunian, head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, likewise expressed hope at the weekend that the Strasbourg-based assembly will not suspend his and his colleagues’ voting rights. “I do understand the concerns of our European colleagues,” he told RFE/RL, adding that the authorities in Yerevan need more time to fully comply with the PACE resolution.
(Council of Europe photo)