Death Penalty Disappears in Europe: Pressure on Armenia

"The death penalty shall be abolished. No one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed." Thus reads Article 1 of Protocol No 6 to the European Human Rights Convention. In two sentences–the Council of Europe has put capital punishment beyond the pale of democratic nations and set an example to the whole of the international community. As a result–no execution has taken place in the Council’s member states since 1997.

STRASBOURG (Council of Europe–Armenpress)–Council of Europe leaders welcomed today the implementation of Protocol 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights; the Protocol outlaws the death penalty in all circumstances–including crimes committed in times of war and imminent threat of war–revealed a press release by the Council of Europe.

Parliamentary Assembly President Peter Schieder–said the death penalty was the worst of all human rights violations. "Our ambition is to extend the de facto death-penalty-free zone of our 45 member states to the USA and Japan–who both enjoy observer status with the Council of Europe"–said Mr. Schieder.

"We are concerned because–as Martin Luther King once said: ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality–tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly–affects all indirectly’"–he added.

"I welcome that the recent agreement between the USA and the EU on extradition allows for refusal in cases where the death penalty may be imposed," concluded Mr. Schieder.

Council of Europe Secretary General Walter Schwimmer said that the Council of Europe was the first international organization to draw up a legal text banning the death penalty in peacetime.

"Now we are the first to extend that to times of war–and I am delighted with the speed at which governmen’s have signed up to the Protocol. It is a sure sign of their belief in a civilized society–which values–above all–the right to life. It is also another sign of the irreversible trend towards universal abolition," added Mr. Schwimmer.

Stressing that July 1 marks a milestone in the protection of human rights and dignity–the Secretary General urged member states that had not yet done so to ratify the Protocol.

All new Council of Europe member states commit themselves–when they join–to introduce an immediate moratorium on executions and to ratifying Protocol 6. A number of mechanisms were set up to monitor the respect of those commitmen’s–while assisting governmen’s and parliamen’s with their implementation.

The Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has held several public debates on the issue of executions–which continued in some countries after their admission–and on the death penalty in general–putting pressure on the states to keep their promises. It has adopted several proposals to outlaw capital punishment. Capital punishment is practically always among the main issues in country reports by the Assembly’s monitoring committee. This mainly concerns Japan and the United States.

PACE said last September it may suspend Armenia’s membership if it fails to scrap a controversial legal provision attached to its new Criminal Code–which allows the execution of criminals who committed grave crimes before the Code was implemented. This provision is clearly aimed at allowing the death penalty for the five gunmen who raided Armenian Parliament in 1999.

Armenia has yet to ratify Protocol 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights that abolishes the death penalty in peacetime. Armenia’s previous parliament was supposed to ratify the Protocol in June–but Armenian authorities have asked the Council of Europe to extend the June 2003 deadline.

This controversial provision allowing the death penalty for the five gunmen is backed by the Republican Party that gained important positions in the new Armenian parliament. It is also supported by the major opposition Ardarutyun (Justice) bloc led by Stepan Demirchian and Aram Sarkisian–whose father and elder brother respectively were killed in the attack. The Armenian Revolutionary Federation adamantly opposes the death penalty and has worked to lift it specifically in consideration of Armenia’s status in the Council of Europe.

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