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Thursday, 23 October 2008

Armenia: Is this the light at the end of the tunnel?

Armenia’s incumbent president Serj Sargsyan signed a decree on forming the fact-finding team to shed the light on 1 March events, particularly the use of lethal force against opposition supporters and circumstances of death of at least 10 people. The team comprises equal numbers of the ruling coalition (2 representatives) and opposition: 1 representative from the only opposition parliamentary party Heritage, and 1 representative from Ter-Petrosyan led opposition political alliance. There will be also 1 representative from the human rights Ombudsman office.

Presidential decree (in Armenian)

This is the most important decision to come out from the presidential office in Armenia in the aftermath of 1 March events. First real step from the authorities to alleviate internal political crisis. First real step made by the Armenian authorities to meet Council of Europe demands, ahead of crucial visit of Commissioner for Human Rights Hammarberg towards the end of the year. First real step by the authorities following Ter-Petrosyan lead opposition announcement that they are calling off street protests in Yerevan. Not enough, but essential. Next step should be release of all political prisoners. (So far there has been no positive signs with this regard, but there is hope.) This will create a basis for political dialogue in Armenia and will at least partially clear up Armenia’s troubled international image. There is a lot at stake.

23 comments:

artmika said...

via RFE/RL:

[...] The group’s creation is the result of an opposition boycott of the parliamentary inquiry launched in June and pressure exerted on the Armenian authorities by the Council of Europe. Armenia’s two main opposition forces refused to join the parliamentary commission on the grounds that it is dominated by pro-government lawmakers. [...]

The presidential order stipulates that the group members not chosen by Harutiunian [Ombudsman] must have ample experience in jurisprudence and can not be affiliated with any party, hold government positions or be members of parliament. They will have the right to engage local and foreign experts in the probe.

More importantly, the commission will be able to obtain information relating to the March 1 clashes from “any state or local government body or any of their officials” and to tell “relevant state bodies” to conduct forensic tests and examinations. It can also question individuals who played a part in the unrest but only with their consent.

The group is supposed to present its findings to the parliamentary commission which will then evaluate them in a separate report. Sarkisian’s directive sets no time frames for their submission.

The Ter-Petrosian-led alliance and Zharangutyun did not immediately react to the potentially significant development. They said earlier that they are ready, in principle, to join in the new inquiry.

The launch of the independent and parliamentary probes reflects a lack of domestic and Western trust in the ongoing criminal investigation into the post-election violence that has been accompanied by mass arrests of opposition members. Law-enforcement bodies conducting it have stuck to government claims that the unrest was the result of a coup plot hatched by Ter-Petrosian ahead of the February 19 presidential election.

The official version of events is now questioned not only by the opposition but some lawmakers affiliated with Sarkisian’s Republican Party of Armenia (HHK) and its coalition partners. Rafik Petrosian, the Republican chairman of the parliament committee on legal affairs, is one of them.

“Who shot [on March 1] and at whose orders?” Petrosian said. “Who struck first? The opposition or the authorities? Who is to blame for that? The fact-finding group should find answers to these questions.” The Armenian president’s decision to form it was therefore a “necessary step,” he said.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Great news.

Haik said...

As far as I understand it is not a decision making group. It can not enforce anything. It is just a fact gathering body and nothing more.
A good step forward but can end up being fruitless. We don't lack any facts. I don't think there is a single person who doesn't know that the order for attack in the early hours of March 1 and the order to use firearms and shoot to kill came directly from RK. He is walking free while innocent people are in jails.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Well, look at it this way. If the fact-finding group is formed people will be able to monitor whether they are allowed to do their job. They will also be able to highlight what they are allowed access to and what they're not, as well as any other obstacles put in their way.

So, I hope it is formed, and I hope it is allowed to do their work. However, if it isn't, then there will be plenty of people able to use that against the authorities. Unfortunately, this is also part of the process anywhere.

artmika said...

I think it is essential to get documented evidence. Also, circumstances of death of killed people are not clear, as of now, and need to be clarified.

Although the fact-finding team will work under the closed doors and will not be allowed to disclose any info related their work, I am sure if they face obstacles, public will know about it.

Another important point. As this group is formed by Serj's decree, he will bear direct responsibility for failure of their work caused by obstacles.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Incidentally, the full set of circumstances are not yet known and anyway, need to be verified independently or at least through a mechanism which is not biased towards the government or the opposition.

There can be no room for considering that an account of what transpired that night is politically biased one way or the other.

As I said, if there are obstacles placed in the way of this team, then this represents another black mark for the government in the eyes of the international community, and it would seem that some real pressure is being applied behind closed doors.

As for Kocharian, the president -- whoever it is, was or will be -- is protected by the Constitution and immune from prosecution:

CHAPTER 3. THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA

[...]

Article 56.1

The President of the Republic shall be immune.

The President of the Republic may not be prosecuted or held liable for actions arising from his/her status during and after his/her term of office.

The President of the Republic may be prosecuted for the actions not connected with his or her status after the expiration of his/her term of office.


http://concourt.am/english/constitutions/index.htm

Nevertheless, I agree with those who also think some kind of amnesty should be declared except for those found guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt on both sides of very serious violence.

Onnik Krikorian said...

It's behind closed doors and they're not allowed to discuss any details?

No, I don't like that at all. It needs to be open. Everything related to this does.

There needs to be COMPLETE transparency.

This is what I'd expect from inquiries back home, and this is what I'd DEMAND in this case. There can be NO room for any doubt.

Onnik Krikorian said...

That said, what would happen to someone who broke ranks? They'd be prosecuted? Or if it all did go wrong, they could always leave, I suppose, and create a scandal.

However, regardless, I'd expect this to be fully open and transparent. Really, it has to be.

artmika said...

Yes, closed doors and no disclosure is part of the decree:

19. Խմբի աշխատանքն իր գործունեության ամբողջ ընթացքում լուսաբանման ենթակա չէ: Խմբի նիստերն անցկացվում են դռնփակ: Խմբի անդամներն իրավունք չունեն զանգվածային լրատվության միջոցներով կամ այլ կերպ մեկնաբանել կամ բացահայտել Խմբի կողմից քննարկվող հարցերը, կատարված աշխատանքները, ձեռք բերված փաստերը, Խմբի կամ դրա անդամների կարծիքները կամ որեւէ այլ տեղեկատվություն` կապված Խմբի գործունեության հետ:

According to the decree, members of the fact-finding group cannot be substituted unless they break the above conditions. To be honest, I am not sure how this will work.

I assume one of the reasoning behind the closed door policy is to prevent any external influences, although this is questionable.

As far as I understand, their findings will become public only with their final report containing all obtained evidence.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Ah, ok. As long as the full fact-finding report is made public, although I can suppose that the process could be drawn out.

Nevertheless, I still think that all aspects of this inquiry should be open and fully transparent. It's serious enough to warrant that.

I also hope that the international community will keep a close eye on proceedings. Of course, it remains to be seen whether Heritage and Ter-Petrossian will accept this.

If they do, I suppose they're happy with the arrangement and process. Let's see, but if they also raise the issue of disclosure, I might have to reconsider my previous elation about the decree.

I think there obviously has to be trust from society, political groups and the international community into the process itself. Making it open and transparent would guarantee that.

artmika said...

I assume Serj would not go ahead with the decree unless he had agreement of all parties, incl. opposition and Hammarberg. Let's see.

Ani said...

I'd interpret "behind closed doors" to be like an unpaneled jury--you can't be a jury member and go out and talk about deliberations while they're going on. Let's hope that they can actually round up the basic facts and that those facts haven't been defaced or rendered irretrievable (like coroner's and doctor's reports or CSI evidence-handling, if they weren't done or were done improperly).

Ani said...

As for the fate of Kocharian, I'll repeat my suggestion I posted on Khosq: All expenses paid ski vacation to--Antarctica, it's nearly summertime there! Just a one-way ticket however, sled dogs not included. I'll even throw in some soul-mate company for him: Bush, Putin, and Dodi Gago; they all like to exercise.

Haik said...

Just a simple question. Let's assume that you were a solder who was given an order to shoot and you disobeyed. You know the name of the officer and you know names of other solders.
Or you are a person who was next to a person who was shot on head and killed. Will you go and tell what you saw?

If the committee had some powers to protect you or enforce changes you might have but otherwise I doubt.

The work of committee is futile as long as the criminal regime is in place. A good example is an article in today' A1+.

Some excerpts
"Աննան նաեւ տեղեկացրեց, որ Արմենի մահվան 7-րդ օրվա արարողությունից հետո նրա ընկերներից մեկին տարել են Ոստիկանության Մալաթիա-Սեբաստիա բաժին եւ ծեծի ենթարկել: ՚Այդ տղային ծեծել են միայն նրա համար, որ Արմենի 7-ին է եկել:"
"
Աննայի պատմելով` Արմենի մահվանից 40 օր հետո իրենց տուն այցելած նրա ընկերներից մեկին էլ իրենց տանից դուրս գալուց բռնել են եւ գցել ինչ- որ մեքենայի թափքի մեջ. ՚Նրան սկզբում ավտովթարի էին ենթարկել, հետո գցել մքենայի թափքի մեջ, տարել էին ու ծեծելուց հետո գցել Նոր-Նորքի աղբանոցը: Այսօր այդ տղան հաշմանդամ է: Ազգանունը չեմ հիշում, բայց անունը Գառնիկ է: Ինձ նաեւ այդ դեպքի առթիվ են հարցաքննելՙ:
"

http://a1plus.am/amu/?page=issue&iid=65404

Haik said...

Onnik
The constitution also says that the president should respect the constitution and protect the citizens.
Referring to laws or quoting articles is pointless in the current Armenia. I am sure you know this better than I do.
The current situation is this and it is not good. So we got to do something.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Haik, understood, but you also know that such an argument could be used against past, current and future presidents. Anyway, the clause is in there and is not negated by the violation of any other clauses. The only recourse under the constitution would be impeachment which is obviously too late to happen.

Anyway, I'll feel okay about this if Heritage, Ter-Petrossian and the Human Rights Ombudsperson say they are. Mika is probably right that a decree wouldn't be signed unless an agreement had been reached between all parties. However, let's see.

Even so, I would prefer complete openness, transparency and oversight. Still, if something does go wrong, one guesses that members of the team can resign. Moreover, I'm sure there will be the occasional leak.

Dunno. Let's see what reaction is from those who will possibly be involved.

Onnik Krikorian said...

CHAPTER 3. THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA

[...]

Article 57

The President may be impeached for state treason or other heavy crimes.

In order to obtain a conclusion on the motion of impeaching the President of the Republic from office, the National Assembly shall appeal to the Constitutional Court by a resolution adopted by the majority of the deputies.

The resolution to remove the President of the Republic from office shall be passed by the National Assembly by a two-thirds majority vote of the total number of deputies, based on the conclusion of the Constitutional Court.

In the event that the Constitutional Court concludes that there are no grounds for impeaching the President of the Republic the motion shall be removed from the agenda of the National Assembly.


Incidentally, what did concern me yesterday was one foreign diplomatic source who said he is very concerned that the prime minister will not last a year. His fear is that Kocharian will stage a comeback when the dust settles.

In my opinion, this must not happen under any circumstances. Tigran Sargsyan has a good reputation in diplomatic circles here, with many believing he is a positive force for albeit slow reform and change.

I do not consider Kocharian in the same light and I'd like to see a strong push for civic education and other initiatives to maintain pressure in demanding accountability from officials.

This also means any public resistance to moves which would represent a huge step backwards to what could possibly come out of all of this. Naive as it might sound to some, I do believe there is the possibility to move forwards.

Kocharian as prime minister, however, is not it.

artmika said...

While Armenian opposition still considering their response to the presidential decree on fact-finding group, human rights Ombudsman Armen Harutyunyan "welcomed the president’s decision and made clear that he will name a representative to the group. “I consider this format much more effective and have decided to definitely participate,” he told RFE/RL. Harutiunian urged the opposition to follow suit even if it has misgivings about the group’s rights and powers. He argued that the opposition and government sides will be equally represented in it. “I always avoid commenting on political issues but will say this time that it would be right to start a process on the basis of this idea,” he said."

In a related development , while PACE co-rapporteurs "welcomed" creation of the fact finding group, they "expressed their hope that the establishment of the expert fact-finding group would soon be followed by similarly positive steps regarding the fate of the persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March, which continues to be an issue of great concern to the Assembly."

Below is the full text of their statement:

The co-rapporteurs for the monitoring of Armenia of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), John Prescott (United Kingdom, SOC) and Georges Colombier (France, EPP/CD), today welcomed the Presidential Decree establishing an expert fact-finding group to look into the events in Armenia on 1 and 2 March 2008 and the circumstances that led to them.

“This is as an important step towards meeting the Assembly’s demands that an independent, transparent and credible inquiry into these events be conducted,” said the two parliamentarians.

However, they also stressed that the manner in which this group conducts its work, as well as the access it has to the relevant state institutions at all levels, will ultimately decide if the inquiry will be seen as credible in the eyes of the Armenian public. “All parties should nominate their representatives as quickly as possible. It is now time to deliver results,” they said.

The co-rapporteurs expressed their hope that the establishment of the expert fact-finding group would soon be followed by similarly positive steps regarding the fate of the persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March, which continues to be an issue of great concern to the Assembly.

“We would like to be able to report to the Monitoring Committee, when it meets on 17 December, that there has been tangible and irreversible progress with regard to the independent and credible inquiry, as well as the issue of persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the events on 1 and 2 March,” the co-rapporteurs stressed.

Onnik Krikorian said...

Speaking to RFE/RL, Ter-Petrosian said he and other HAK leaders have still not decided whether to join the new inquiry. “This body is not independent because it is subordinated to the existing parliamentary commission and is supposed to present its report to the latter,” he said. “And that report will then be evaluated by the commission.”

“This group should have replaced the special parliamentary commission,” he added.

Both the HAK and Zharangutyun have boycotted that commission’s work on the grounds that it is dominated by pro-government parliamentarians. The boycott was a key reason why the Armenian authorities agreed to a new format of the unrest probe.

Ter-Petrosian claimed that the new probe will also lack transparency. He argued that under the presidential order, members of the fact-finding group will be forbidden from publicizing any details of the inquiry or even commenting on it before submitting their report to the parliamentary commission.

“But never mind. We are used to difficulties. If we see any opportunity to do some useful work there, we will take it,” Ter-Petrosian said, not ruling out the possibility of the HAK’s participation in the probe.

Ombudsman Harutiunian, meanwhile, reiterated on Monday that he will name a representative to the investigative group despite not being fully satisfied with Sarkisian’s order. He described it as the Armenian government’s first “serious step” towards a dialogue with the opposition. “Its positive aspects are not sufficient for being confident, but are sufficient for trying,” Harutiunian told journalists. “There are risk factors, but we need to understand the degree of responsibility.”


TER-PETROSIAN SKEPTICAL ABOUT NEW UNREST PROBE

artmika said...

Disappointment: Armenian opposition’s fact finding mission nominee

artmika said...

Well, now I can answer the question I poised as a title to this post. And sadly, the answer is "No".

No, forming a fact finding team was not the light at the end of the tunnel. Today it was formally shut down by presidential decree without accomplishing its mission. I am becoming increasingly pessimistic about the prospects of revealing those responsible for 10 deaths.

Cover up is the word first coming to my mind...

Ani said...

I'm going to link the story in Armenia Liberty from January about police officer Hamlet Tadevosyan's probable cause of death since it at least gives an inkling of why the cover up is now underway--the stories get more and more difficult to retrieve as time goes by, sadly: http://tinyurl.com/loo8c3

Ani said...

Missing bullet-proof vest of Hamlet Tadevosyan magically returns, now that commission is disbanded: http://tinyurl.com/nxsy86

[...]
According to Andranik Kocharyan, the cloths of the died policeman together with his bullet-proof vest contained in a single package. However, when members of the group wished to familiarize with material evidence, it turned out that the bullet-proof vest was missing from the package, which had not been noticed by the crime investigator.

“Through intermediary of group members, the bullet-proof vest “returned to its place,” Andranik Kocharyan said.
[...]