Armenia Accepts Council of Europe’s Recommendations

YEREVAN (RFE/RL)–The Armenian authorities have accepted the Council of Europe’s recommendations to restore full civil liberties restricted in the wake of last February’s disputed presidential election, senior lawmakers said on Monday.
In a resolution adopted last week, the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) threatened to suspend the voting rights of its Armenian members unless the authorities allow an independent investigation into the post-election violent unrest in Yerevan that left at least ten people dead. It also demanded the "urgent release" of individuals arrested for their political activities and the scrapping of severe restrictions on freedom of assembly imposed after the March 1 violence.
"Our country must seriously discuss the main points of this resolution and carry out what is demanded," said Vahan Hovannesian of the Armenian Revolutionary Federation, another junior partner in the governing coalition. "Obviously we have registered serious regress. We must win back our democratic achievemen’s of the past few years."
We must also win back our positions in the international arena," Hovannesian told RFE/RL.
Aram Safarian, a senior parliamentarian from the governing Prosperous Armenia Party (BHK), said official Yerevan has the "political will" to comply with these deman’s before the PACE’s next session due in June.
"After the formation of the new government is over, the authorities will draw up a timetable regarding all issues on which the Council of Europe has made decisions and proposals," he told reporters. "In accordance with that timetable, steps will be taken to settle and stabilize the situation before June."
The authorities have already moved to reconsider the controversial amendmen’s to Armenia’s law on rallies and demonstrations criticized by the Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The issue was discussed last week by senior Armenian officials and visiting experts from the Council of Europe’s Venice Commission and the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
In a joint statement on Monday, the two human rights and democracy watchdogs said the Armenian government agreed to "repeal or change the amendmen’s" and will draft corresponding amendmen’s to the law soon.
"The Venice Commission and the ODIHR look forward to receiving the drafts of the new amendmen’s and stand ready to review them in light of relevant international standards", said Gianni Buquicchio, the commission’s general secretary.
Safarian said that the BHK supports in principle the idea of an independent inquiry into the clashes that would involve foreign experts. According to Avet Adonts, another BHK lawmaker and deputy head of the Armenian delegation at the PACE, the BHK and three other parties represented in President Serzh Sarkisian’s coalition government will open consultations this week on how to organize such an inquiry.
Safarian added, however, that it should run parallel to the ongoing criminal investigation into an opposition attempt to stage a coup d’etat masterminded by former President Levon Ter-Petrosian. More than 100 supporters of Ter-Petrosian have been arrested as part of the governmen’s investigations.
"I have no doubts that our society will not let innocent people end up in jail," Safarian said.
The ARF’s Hovannesian, who was unlawfully jailed by Ter-Petrosian in the early 90s, likewise indicated that the jailed oppositionists should be let go if they prove their innocence during their upcoming trials.
"If you want to have evidence that a particular person is not a criminal, that he did not organize or incite crimes, it will take time," he said. "After all, we are talking about evidence. People should be set free when proven innocence."
In other news, thousands of people assembled in Yerevan at the weekend to voice support for imprisoned members of the radical opposition. The rally is the first opposition rally authorized by the Armenian government in two months.
It was also the largest gathering held since the March 1 clashes between Ter-Petrosian supporters and security forces and the resulting declaration of a 20-day state of emergency in the Armenian capital. The authorities effectively banned insightful demonstrations after the end of emergency rule with legal amendmen’s strongly criticized by the West.
The Yerevan municipality unexpectedly sanctioned Saturday’s protest. The rally proceeded peacefully, with participants demanding the release of more than 100 opposition activists arrested in the wake of the March 1 unrest. Ter-Petrosian, who presented himself as President Serzh Sarkisian’s main election challenger, did not join the protest officially organized by a pro-opposition women’s group.

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