Armenian delegates attending a major international forum in Yerevan focused on issues of democracy have leveled harsh criticism at its organizer, the Council of Europe, accusing this institution of failing to press for reform in Armenia.
The three-day event entitled “For the Future of Democracy” started its work in the Armenian capital on October 19. The forum sessions continued on Wednesday in different workshops addressing different global aspects of democracy.
But a number of Armenian politicians and public figures attending the form made repeated attempts to direct discussions into particular issues of concern to Armenia.
Armenia’s leading human rights activist Artur Sakunts urged the Council of Europe “to give a serious thought” to applying sanctions against “a country like Armenia” and also leveled some specific accusations against the body which Armenia joined as a full member in 2001.
“You provide an opportunity for nurturing corruption. By your indifference and inferior approach you allow this dictatorship to grow deeper,” claimed Sakunts, who heads a Helsinki Citizens Assembly office in Armenia’s third largest city of Vanadzor.
“A country that is a member of the Council of Europe has political prisoners. How can it be tolerated?” he charged.
Zaruhi Postanjian, a member of the opposition Heritage faction in the Armenian parliament, spoke of her disappointment at the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) only after a year of working as a member of the Armenian delegation to this institution.
“Because it is clear that the PACE’s goal is to make political decisions rather than fulfill its mission,” she said, adding that despite the fact that violations of the European Convention on Human Rights in Armenia, including during the 2008 post-election clashes, have been addressed at the PACE, “there is still no response or sanctions”.
“I would like to ask the Council of Europe to use its possibilities and we would then be able to take one step forward,” Postanjian said.
Some delegates from Europe, however, called into question the wisdom of imposing sanctions on countries if an alternative is still available, implying that sanctions are not a guarantee that the government of the punished country will be more inclined to respect human rights.
Head of Armenia’s delegation to the PACE David Harutiunian agreed with the criticism expressed by other Armenian participants and acknowledged the existence of “double standards.”
“But it does not at all diminish the importance of this institution,” the lawmaker representing Armenia’s ruling Republican Party said in an RFE/RL interview. “These are negative phenomena against which one has to struggle and this struggle is going on.”
The Yerevan forum will end on Thursday with the concluding speech by Council of Europe Secretary General Thorbjorn Jagland.