Tuesday, 24 June 2008

PACE: Extended deadline for Armenian authorities - January 2009

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will approve tomorrow the Resolution extending a deadline for the Armenian authorities till January 2009 to fully comply with the PACE demands and Armenia’s European obligations. I personally consider this deadline way too long to meet 4 key demands: freedom of assembly; independent inquiry into 1 March events; release of political prisoners; and dialogue with the opposition. However, the wording of this document is pretty unpleasant for the Armenian authorities, and makes it clear that PACE will not get fooled by the imitation of reforms, or will it? Time will tell...

Regardless of PACE demands, what is clear is that there is urgent need for radical reforms and democracy in Armenia. I just cannot see any other alternative to it. And the urgency of releasing all political prisoners is as imminent as ever. Sooner the Armenian authorities will understand this, the better it will be for the country, and for the authorities themselves. I do not think a prospect of becoming a second 'Lukashenko' in Europe is particularly attractive for Serj Sargsyan administration.

Below is a summary of the Resolution, along with the selected excerpts on implementation of key European demands by the Armenian authorities. /emphasis mine/

Full text of the draft Resolution is available here

In Resolution 1609 (2008) on the functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia, the Parliamentary Assembly set out four concrete requirements for the resolution of the political crisis that ensued after the presidential election in Armenia and resolved to consider the possibility of suspending the voting rights of the Armenian delegation to the Assembly at the opening of the June 2008 part-session, if no considerable progress on the requirements was made by then.

In the present report, the Monitoring Committee welcomes the progress achieved by the Armenian authorities in addressing the Assembly demands but notes that, despite the political will expressed by the authorities, this progress is at present insufficient to meet the requirements outlined in Resolution 1609.

While regretting the delay in implementing the concrete measures to comply with the Assembly demands, the Monitoring Committee acknowledges that the time given to the Armenian authorities was short. It therefore proposes to the Assembly to review at its January 2009 part-session the extent of Armenia’s compliance with the requirements made in Resolution 1609.

If the requirements mentioned in Resolution 1609, as well as those set in the present draft resolution are not met by then, the Monitoring Committee proposes that the Assembly considers the possibility of suspending the voting rights of the Armenian delegation to the Assembly at the opening of its January 2009 part-session.
* * *

Freedom of assembly
The requirement that the 17 March amendments to the Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies and Demonstrations be revoked in line with Venice Commission recommendations has therefore been met by the authorities. However, in article 8.4 of Resolution 1609, the Assembly demanded that freedom of assembly be guaranteed in both law and practice. The implementation of the law and the willingness of the authorities to allow opposition rallies without undue restrictions placed on them are therefore crucial to assessing Armenia’s compliance with this requirement of the Assembly.

Independent inquiry into 1 March events
The suggestion made in our previous report that this inquiry could be conducted under the aegis of the Human Rights Defender was, regrettably, not acceptable to the authorities. In our opinion, this is related to the Ad Hoc Report on the Presidential Elections and Post-Electoral developments which was published by the Human Rights Defender on 25 April 2008. In this report, he raises questions about the official version of the events of 1 March 2008 and he is highly critical of the response of the authorities towards the protests that ensued after the presidential election. [...]

The fact that 4 out of the 5 factions represented in parliament belong to the ruling coalition raises questions with regard to the possibility of the committee [Unzipped - newly established parliamentary committee for an inquiry into 1 March events] to conduct its inquiry independently and impartially. Opposition representatives raised concerns that, in practice, votes in the committee would be dominated by the ruling factions. Proposals by the opposition that the committee should be composed on the basis of parity between opposition and pro-government forces or, failing that, that the decisions in the committee should be taken on the basis of consensus, were rejected.

Invitations to provide experts to participate in the work of the inquiry committee were sent, inter alia, to the Council of Europe, the OSCE/ODIHR and the European Commission. We consider the participation of international experts essential to ensure the credibility of the inquiry. However, it is equally clear that international experts will only be willing to participate if the independence and impartiality of the inquiry committee is guaranteed.

Release of political prisoners
While we welcome the recent progress in meeting this requirement of the Assembly, we cannot consider that it has so far been satisfactorily met. The cases still under investigation should be either closed or transmitted to the courts with immediate effect. The cases against those principally accused of crimes under Articles 300 and 225 should be dropped unless there is strong evidence that these persons have personally committed acts of violence. In addition, it should be clear that a verdict based solely on a single police testimony, without corroborating evidence or independent witnesses’ testimonies, cannot be acceptable.


Onnik Krikorian said...

This was expected, and there is one main reason being given here among those who did anticipate it.

That is, CE usually assesses both Armenia and Azerbaijan together to maintain some parity in their criticism of them and so on.

So, some were expecting Armenia's case to instead be decided at the same time as Azerbaijan after it holds its presidential election in October.

I suppose some might also say that CE is rather toothless anyway, but the reason above sounds the most likely and plausible.

artmika said...

It does sound plausible, Onnik. I forgot re Azerbaijani factor in terms of timing for presidential election. So, yes, it is possible that they did choose that time frame to maintain parity, which is getting on my nerve, to be honest (this constant parity game), but that's the reality...

artmika said...

*UPDATE (26 June 2008): Final version of PACE resolution has been substantially toned down, under the influence of Armenian parliamentarians.

There are speculations that this is a result of some kind of behind the scenes deal between John Prescott, Council of Europe and Armenian authorities, to ensure Serj Sargsyan's administration compliance with the Resolution, while avoiding strongly worded open statements. The other possibility is that this is a consequence of John Prescott's continuing disastrous role as PACE rapporteur on the Armenian elections, in a new format. This guy should be kept away from anything related to democracy, human rights, as far as possible. If you doubt, ask anyone from the UK...

In a separate but related development, Raffi Hovhannisyan of the opposition Heritage party - the only opposition MP from Armenia in PACE - refused to participated in further PACE sessions until Armenia gets back into European track of development and comply with its obligations in terms of democracy and human rights. This move was strongly criticised by... yes, John Prescott.