Armenia Promises to Bring Law in Line With European Standards

YEREVAN (RFE-RL/Armenpress)–Senior legal experts from two leading pan-European organizations said on Friday that more amendmen’s to Armenia’s controversial law on demonstrations are needed to bring it into conformity with European standards on freedom of assembly.

The law was amended by the Armenian parliament last month and makes it easier for political and other groups to organize public gatherings.

Senior representatives of the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) welcomed those changes at a seminar organized by them in Yerevan–but they said it still gives the authorities unjustified discretionary powers to restrict and block street protests.

"There are still problems that need to be dealt with and solved–like–for instance–the list of locations where meetings and rallies are forbidden or the distances between these places and a rally," said Gianni Buquicchio–secretary of the Venice Commission.

Buquicchio said Armenian authorities have demonstrated their commitment to amending the law following a Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly resolution–which called on the Armenian authorities to introduce amendmen’s to the law on demonstrations and public assemblies by March 2005 to bring it into full conformity with Council of Europe standards. "We want to see Armenia develop both democratically and economically," he said.

The Armenian authorities say they have already accepted most of the Venice Commission’s recommendations on the issue. They argue that law-enforcement officials can now disperse a demonstration only if it poses a threat to "public and state security." Another amendment simplified procedures for notifying relevant authorities of plans to rally people in a particular location.

Deputy parliament speaker Tigran Torosian assured that changes will be incorporated into the new law to clarify any vagueness–adding that cooperation with the Council of Europe will continue to ensure Armenia’s full integration into the "Wider Europe: New Neighborhood" program.

Representatives from Armenia and members of the Venice Commission will met in Strasbourg on June 23-24 to discuss the draft–after which it will be presented to the National Assembly for a second reading. The referendum is expected to take place no later than in October.

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