The Council of Europe denied on Friday any political motives behind its failure to invite some of Armenia’s leading civic organizations to a high-level international conference to be held in Yerevan later this month.
Its annual Forum for the Future of Democracy, scheduled for October 19-20, will bring together some 250 officials, politicians and civil society from Council of Europe member states. The Strasbourg-based organization’s secretary general, Thorbjorn Jagland, and the president of its Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), Mevlut Cavusoglu, are also expect to take part in it.
Among those invited to the forum are representatives of 60 non-governmental organizations from across Europe, including 16 from Armenia. Several well-known Armenian NGOs involved in human and civil rights advocacy and critical of the Armenian government will not be among the participants. Most of them consider their exclusion politically motivated
“Unfortunately, the Council of Europe is once again showing that political expediency is much more important for it than democracy and human rights,” said Artur Sakunts, a leader of the Armenian Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly. He claimed that the 45-nation organization is thus underscoring its leniency towards the Armenian authorities.
“The failure to involve or invite organizations that have quite critical and principled approaches to instances of human rights abuses … and the [Armenian authorities’] non-compliance with PACE resolutions testifies to an attempt to keep our critical voices out of the forum,” Sakunts told RFE/RL’s Armenian service.
Childerik Schaapveld, head of the Council of Europe’s Directorate of Democratic Institutions, described such claims as “regrettable.” “What is important to consider, of course, is that this is a European conference and the space available is limited, because we’re also looking for full European participation,” he told RFE/RL’s Armenian service from Strasbourg.
Schaapveld insisted that Armenian civil society will be properly represented at the forum and that the Armenian government had no say in the selection of the 16 local NGOs. “The Armenian government has kindly offered to host the event but it is in no way involved in the selection of participants,” he said. “This is a completely Strasbourg-based selection.”
The results of that selection have also been questioned by Armenia’s leading opposition forces. “If they hold an event which is meant only for them and their audience, then that runs counter to the Council of Europe spirit,” said Zaruhi Postanjian, a senior member of the Zharangutyun (Heritage) party and a member of the Armenian parliamentary delegation at the PACE.
“The transparency of the event is already in question,” agreed Vladimir Karapetian, a foreign policy spokesman for the Armenian National Congress (HAK). Speaking to RFE/RL, Karapetian reaffirmed the opposition bloc’s plans to stage street protests during the Council of Europe conference.
Commenting on those plans, Schaapveld said, “It would be most unfortunate if all this happened on a misunderstanding or misinterpretation of the selection of NGOs.”