EC Delegation Meet with Parliamentarians

YEREVAN (Noyan Tapan)–A human rights delegation of the Council of Europe–which is currently in Armenia on a fact-finding mission regarding Armenia’s application for membership to the group–met with the parliamentary leadership on Thursday.

The delegation–which includes the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Slovakia Jerzi Makarcik–Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Poland Daniel Szwab (both are members of the Committee for Human Rights of the Interparliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and counsel to the EC’s Judicial Office Christian Duran–met with National Assembly Speaker Babken Ararktsian–chairman of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee–Hovannes Igitian–and members of various parliamentary factions to discuss Armenia’s legislation and its correspondence to international democratic norms.

Following their three-day visit–the delegation will present their findings to the EC executive body for consideration.

During the meetings with the parliamentary factions–in which four out of five factions participated–Daniel Szwab stressed that naturally it had been difficult for them to obtain a full picture of the situation for three days of their stay in Armenia.

He said that their main concern was the absence of a law on the Armenian Bar. The institution of barristers is a major part of the European democratic system–he said.

According to Szwab–there are two approaches in the Council of Europe: to admit countries with the appropriate level of democracy or countries which are committed to the democratic path of development. The members of the delegation noted that one of the major conditions for admission to the Council is ensuring independence of judges.

They also reported that before visiting the National Assembly they had met with National Democratic Union chairman Vazgen Manoukian and representatives of national minorities. The group also studied the Armenian Constitutional Court’s resolution regarding the presidential election.

Chairman of the Armenian National Movement Rev. Husik Lazarian–speaking on behalf of the Republic bloc of parliament–said that the country’s judiciary plays the role of an executor–while at the same time it is called to defend individuals. It is impossible to avoid difficulties while the judiciary is being reformed–Lazarian said.

National Self-Determination Union chairman Paruyr Hairikian stressed that the NSDU parliamentary faction’s viewpoint on the present situation differs from that of the authorities. The NSDU believes that the situation in Armenia does not meet the European standards and that there are violations of human rights in the Armenia–he said.

Since 1990 there have not been fair and free elections in Armenia–Hairikian said. With regard to the last two elections–presidential and local elections–the NSDU’s opinion fully coincides with that expressed by election monitors.

"We have no legally elected President–Constitutional Court and Parliament. We have a deceived people and 25 percent of the population that has left its homeland," Hairikian said. He asked the group–however–despite the NSDU’s opposition to the current leadership–to promote close ties between Armenia and Europe. He pointed to a Harvard University plans to conduct a survey of democracy in Armenia– for which Prime Minister Armen Sarkissian has promised assistance.

Most of the representatives of public organizations who participated in Thursday’s meeting with the EC delegation said that Armenia lacks democracy.

"A country–where the president is elected at gun point–where there still exists the death penalty–where there is no room for freedom of speech and young people unfit for military service are conscripted into the army–cannot be a member of the Council of Europe," Mikael Danielian–Armenia’s Helsinki Committee representative–said.

Another member of the same organization–Vahan Ishkhanian–noted that there was no concept of liberty of conscience in Armenia.

Representatives of the "Supreme Council" deputy club–the Armenian Republican Women’s Union and the Sakharov Human Rights Fund also met with the delegation.

The views of public organizations were of great significance–Jerzi Makarcik said.

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