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PACE Officials Question Armenian Reform Plan


Armenia -- John Prescott (L) and Georges Colombier of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly visit Yerevan, 16Jun2009

Armenia -- John Prescott (L) and Georges Colombier of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly visit Yerevan, 16Jun2009

Senior representatives of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) have expressed misgivings about a plan of political reforms which the Armenian authorities say would address the lingering political fallout from the 2008 post-election unrest in Yerevan.

Such reforms were recommended late last year by the PACE’s Monitoring Committee and an Armenian parliamentary body that investigated the deadly March 2008 clashes between opposition protesters and security forces.

The Monitoring Committee discussed a “roadmap” of relevant measures, submitted by Armenian parliament speaker Hovik Abrahamian, at its latest meeting in Strasbourg on Tuesday. It largely envisages fresh changes in Armenia’s electoral, judicial and law-enforcement legislation.

In a joint statement issued late on Thursday, the committee’s two co-rapporteurs on Armenia, John Prescott and Georges Colombier, gave a mixed preliminary assessment of the plan. While expressing their overall “satisfaction” with the planned reform of the Armenian police and judiciary, they said the authorities in Yerevan have so far failed to cooperate with the opposition in drawing up a new electoral code.

“It is clear to us that any election code that has not been discussed with the different political forces in the country, and that is not based on an as wide as possible a consensus among them, will not help to create the necessary public trust in the electoral system,” said the co-rapporteurs.

Prescott and Colombier also added their voice to serious international concerns about a recently enacted bill which Armenian media associations say will enable the government to maintain its strong influence on domestic television and radio stations. They stressed that “the reform of the legal framework for the media in Armenia should not only result in a fully transparent licensing procedure, but also in a far more diverse and pluralistic media environment than is currently the case in Armenia.”

The statement came on the last day of the PACE’s summer session in Strasbourg. The assembly bringing together lawmakers from all Council of Europe member states again avoided discussing the political situation in Armenia and, in particular, the Yerevan government’s compliance with several PACE resolutions adopted after the 2008 unrest.

The most recent resolution adopted in June 2009 welcomed a general amnesty that led to the release of more than 30 opposition members arrested following the February 2008 presidential election. But it said only the release of all Armenian oppositionists remaining in jail would “provide the necessary basis for the start of the dialogue and reconsolidation that is needed to overcome the political crisis.”

At least 13 individuals, who are considered “political prisoners” by the opposition Armenian National Congress (HAK), remain behind bars at present. The authorities insist that none of them was jailed for political reasons.

The HAK has repeatedly accused the Strasbourg-based assembly of doing little to ensure Yerevan’s compliance with the resolution. The opposition bloc’s representative to the Council of Europe, Arman Grigorian, last month denounced Colombier and Prescott for repeatedly canceling their planned fact-finding visits to Armenia this year.

The co-rapporteurs said on Thursday that they will visit Yerevan “in early spring.”
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