PACE Urges Reforms in Armenia

STRASBOURG (Combined Sources)–The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe overwhelmingly voted on Thursday to urge Armenia to undertake comprehensive reforms and conduct an independent investigation into the March 1 riots in Yerevan.
Adopted with a vote of 93 in favor and 8 against, the PACE report on "The State of Democratic Institutions in Armenia," called on Armenia to reform its political system and electoral process. The required an "independent, transparent and credible inquiry" into the March 1 clashes in Yerevan between Levon Ter-Petrosian’s supporters and Armenia’s security forces. It also said that the recently enacted legal amendmen’s to the Law on Conducting Meetings, Rallies, Marches and Demonstrations should be repealed and all people detained in the wake of the riots who did not commit crimes should be released.
The resolution stressed that these measures are necessary conditions for a dialogue between the Armenian government and the opposition as well as far-reaching political reforms, which it said, need to be implemented in the country. It warned that failure to take them would mean that "the credibility of Armenia as a member of the Council of Europe is put into doubt."
PACE delegation member, Armen Rustamian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, said the resolution is a “road map” for resolving issues facing Armenia today.
He explained that the Council of Europe, as an important world body, has placed certain deadlines for Armenia and “we have to resolve our issues within that time frame.”
Rustamian also said that the “road map” analogy also applied to the opposition and Ter-Petrosian. “The opposition should work in a constructive environment within the deadlines imposed by the Council of Europe.
He also added that while both sides have such opposing and polarizing positions, dialogue between the two would be impossible. However, he added, certain changes have been made to ensure that such a dialogue would be possible. “Now, it’s the opposition’s decision whether to find that so-called %u218happy medium’ in order to create that dialogue,” added Rustamian.
The head of the delegation, Britain’s former Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, stood by the observers’ initial conclusion that the vote was administered “mostly in line” with democratic standards. Prescott also reiterated his concerns about what he and other PACE observers see as a lack of public trust in the electoral process.
The adopted resolution likewise noted that serious irregularities observed during the vote “raised questions among the Armenian public with regard to the legitimacy of the outcome of the election.” “This lack of public confidence was the basis for the peaceful protests that ensued after the announcement of the preliminary results, initially tolerated by the authorities,” it said.
The PACE at the same time backed Prescott’s calls for the Ter-Petrosian-led opposition to accept last month’s Constitutional Court ruling that upheld Sarkisian’s election victory.
The report was "harsh but balanced," according to the Head of the Armenian delegation to PACE David Harutiunian.
"It was balanced in the regard that it reflects the views of our partners and an honest opinion about the events in Armenia, as well as their views on the state of democratic institutions," he said. "The document should become a serious practical program for Armenia, and if we compare it with the memorandum of the political coalition, we shall see that there are many similarities."
Many of the issues highlighted in the PACE report are included in the memorandum adopted by the coalition government, Harutiunian explained.
These recommendations should become a part of a serious program for action, he stressed, adding that Armenia must take serious steps to materialize these recommendations.
"We must immediately start taking steps towards the country’s democratization," Harutiunian told RFE/RL. "This should be done not to let the Armenian delegation retain its voting rights at the PACE or get somebody here to report progress in Armenia. We should realize that we are doing that for ourselves."
PACE will be assessing Armenia’s performance in implementing its recommendations during its next session in June. According to the resolution, failure to comply with the Strasbourg-based organization’s recommendations will jeopardize Armenia’s full membership in PACE.
"The Assembly should therefore consider the possibility of suspending the voting rights of the Armenian delegation to the Assembly at the opening of its June 2008 part-session, if no considerable progress has been made on these requiremen’s by then," read the resolution.
The Armenian delegation to PACE submitted 36 of its own proposals to the PACE. According to Harutiunian, the proposals aimed to eliminate the provisions which are disputable or do not correspond to reality. The Armenian delegation did not aim to soften or conceal the realities or evaluations of the PACE and most of the suggestions were accepted, he noted.
The recent political developmen’s in Armenia have also given Azerbaijan’s delegation to PACE an opportunity to criticize Armenia in a negative way, Harutiunian explained. Despite the fact that Azerbaijan is currently under pressure from the international community for its long list of human rights abuses, its delegation has been exploiting the PACE hearings to on Armenia and uses every opportunity to strike a blow to Armenia, he said.
Armenia’should not give Azerbaijan the opportunity to attack its record, Harutiunian stressed.
"But we must not be afraid of those attacks because we are discussing an issue which is of necessity to us," he said, referring to Azerbaijan’s criticism of Armenia. "This is why we did not attempt to soften PACE’s objective assessmen’s."

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