By Armen Zakarian
Foreign Minister Vartan Oskanian revealed on Monday that differences exist inside the Armenian leadership over the abolition of the death penalty, signaling his government's disapproval of a new criminal code recently adopted by the parliament.
In a stern rebuke to the majority of deputies, Oskanian said that by keeping open the possibility of executions in Armenia the parliament factions reneged on their earlier promise to the Council of Europe to scrap capital punishment altogether.
"They must honor their pledges," he told RFE/RL, referring to a joint statement to that effect signed in January 2001 by the political parties represented in the National Assembly.
"There are certain differences on the issue between the executive and legislative branches," Oskanian said. "The executive has made its position clear&If we have decided to become part of the European family, there can be no second thoughts about scrapping the death penalty because 41 out of 43 members of the Council of Europe have already done so. Only Armenia and Russia have not."
The criminal code passed by the assembly late last month replaced capital punishment with life imprisonment -- a key condition for Armenia's Council of Europe membership. But it contains a special clause stipulating that those who committed serious crimes before the code's entry into force can be sentenced to death by Armenian courts. The clause is primarily directed against the five jailed perpetrators of the October 1999 terrorist attack on the parliament.
The secretary general of the Council of Europe, Walter Schwimmer, warned over the weekend that Armenia will face unspecified "serious political consequences" if it ends its 12-year moratorium on executions of criminal convicts. He told RFE/RL that "there can be no 'terrorism exception' to this principle."
Schwimmer was due to arrive in Yerevan late on Monday on a three-day visit during which he will discuss with Armenian leaders fulfillment of political and legal commitments assumed by them when Armenia joined the Council of Europe in January 2001.
He will also discuss international efforts to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. The Council's Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has recently named a rapporteur who will head its fact-finding mission which is expected to tour the zone of conflict soon. The delegation will submit a detailed report afterwards.
Oskanian said that the authorities in Yerevan and Stepanakert will cooperate with the PACE officials in the search for a peaceful settlement, but made it clear that the organization should not replace the OSCE's Minsk Group as the chief conflict mediator. He said: "We do not expect concrete decisions [from the PACE] regarding the conflict's settlement and believe that this would have very negative consequences."