By Karine Kalantarian and Ruzanna Stepanian
Armenia’s pro-establishment lawmaker on Friday quoted the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights as reporting “progress” on Armenia in the presentation that he made to the monitoring body of the pan-European organization’s parliamentary assembly the previous day.
David Harutiunian, who heads the Armenian delegation to the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), told RFE/RL on the phone that while not submitting a written report, Thomas Hammarberg made a verbal assessment of Armenia’s fulfillment of Resolution 1620, a follow-up on the organization’s previous document calling on the Armenian authorities to restore democratic rights and freedoms after their unprecedented post-election crackdown on the opposition.
“He [Hammarberg] verbally presented his assessment of the situation and his latest communications with the Republic of Armenia. In particular, he presented the current status of criminal cases and informed [the monitoring committee] that preliminary investigations in all cases are now complete,” Harutiunian said. “He also mentioned that some issues still require additional studies.”
“The overall assessment was that although some progress has been made, further serious steps are still warranted.”
Harutiunian also said that the issue on Armenia will not be heard at the plenary session of the PACE this time. Instead, he said, the PACE Monitoring Committee will reflect on the matter during its separate meeting and will make a statement in this connection.
The Armenian authorities avoided embarrassing sanctions of the PACE in June over their handling of the post-election crisis.
In its follow-up resolution then the PACE Monitoring Committee gave Armenia more time to comply with its demands laid out in April to deal with the country’s worst post-election crisis.
At least ten people were killed in clashes between opposition protesters and security forces on March 1-2 following ten days of street demonstrations staged by opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrosian’s supporters demanding a rerun of the February presidential vote that they claimed had been rigged by the authorities.
The authorities have defended the use of deadly force against the protests which they said threatened the constitutional order of the state. Hundreds of opposition members were arrested during the imposed 20-day state of emergency rule for their alleged roles in what the authorities presented as a coup attempt.
The Strasbourg-based body’s resolution had demanded the release of all opposition members arrested on “seemingly artificial and politically motivated charges” and also called for the scrapping of serious restrictions on freedom of assembly and the launch of an independent inquiry into the unrest. The PACE also warned that failure to take these measures could lead to the suspension of the voting rights of its four Armenian members.
Commenting on the development, senior representative of the Armenian opposition Ararat Zurabian said that obviously the discussion of problems related to democracy in Armenia have been “overshadowed by the Russian-Georgian relations” currently dominating the international policy agenda.
But Zurabian also sounded certain that unless the authorities take steps towards fulfilling the demands of the Council of Europe, the PACE will impose sanctions on Armenia during its next session in January.
Speaking to RFE/RL on the phone later in the day, Thomas Hammarberg’s spokesman said that the Council of Europe’s commissioner for human rights on Thursday had “an informal discussion with the Parliamentary Assembly”, but wasn’t there to publish the report. He added that the report on Armenia is in the process of being finalized.