Death Penalty Becomes History in Armenia

YEREVAN (Armenpress–RFE/RL)–Lawmakers voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to abolish the death penalty in Armenia–in order to fulfill one of its main membership commitmen’s before the Council of Europe (CE).

The move effectively invalidated a clause in Armenia’s new criminal code that allows capital punishment in exceptional cases–such as terrorism and sexual abuse of children.

The move was backed by 92 deputies of the 131-member National Assembly (Parliament). Twenty-two others did not take part in the vote. Most of them are members of the opposition Artarutyun (Justice) alliance which has been pushing for the execution of the five jailed gunmen that attacked Armenia’s Parliament in October 1999.

Among the eight officials assassinated by the gunmen were then Prime Minister Vazgen Sarkisian and parliament speaker Karen Demirchian. Artarutyun is led by Demirchian’s son–Stepan–and Sarkisian’s brother–Aram.

"One shouldn’t tie the situation in the country or the current stage of development with strategic issues," ARF Bureau member and National Assembly Deputy Chairman Vahan Hovhannisian said in presenting ARF’s position to Parliament. "The people have elected us to make decisions here. . . The parliament has no right to escape a responsibility–saying ‘let’s hold a referendum or let intellectuals decide."

The delay in the ratification of Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights–which abolishes the death penalty in peacetime–has been a key sticking point in Yerevan’s relations with the CE. It was singled out by a group of CE officials monitoring Armenia’s and Azerbaijan’s fulfillment of membership commitmen’s. In a report to the organization’s main decision-making body–the Committee of Ministers–the group led by Italian diplomat Pietro Ercole Ago concluded that progress in the two countries’ democratization "has been halted for almost 18 months."

Following the vote–Levon Mkrtchian–the ARF faction leader said that "the ARF has consistently pushed for abolishment of the death penalty–despite criticism and speculations. Unfortunately–for a long time–many avoided clearly expressing their position. Today–we are happy that all the NA forces–except for one–voted in favor of ratifying Protocol 6 banning the death penalty."

ANOTHER CE COMMITMENT FULFILLED

By a vote of 97 to 14–Parliament also passed a bill creating the post of human rights ombudsman–to fulfill another commitment before the CE.

Under the bill–Armenia’s first ombudsman will be appointed by President Kocharian–with the approval of Parliament-represented factions and groups. The draft of the bill was criticized by local non-governmental organizations that proposed putting the bill on hold until the passage of a of constitutional reforms package that would stipulate that Parliament appoint the ombudsman.

Their argumen’s were rejected by CE’s representatives in Yerevan–saying that passage of constitutional reforms could take years.

The draft of the law stipulates that the President-appointed ombudsman must resign within 30 days after the passage of constitutional reforms–to make way for a Parliament-appointed ombudsman. Opposition lawmakers insisted that the candidacy of the Parliament-appointed ombudsman be approved by at least 60 percent of all deputies; the condition was incorporated into the final version of the bill. The human rights ombudsman will serve for six years.

Though the bill does not entitle the ombudsman to interfere in legal proceedings–it does guarantee the ombudsman the right to demand information on any case conducted by any court and offer proposals and suggestions to guarantee fair legal proceedings for every citizen–in line with the Constitution and international laws.

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