YEREVAN–Armenia will formally commit itself to specific obligations required for its membership in the Council of Europe after next week’s meetings of two key commissions of the respected human rights organization–officials said on Wednesday. The legal and political commissions of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) will meet in Paris on March 6 and 7 to discuss among other things Yerevan’s long-standing membership bid.
According to the chairman of the parliament committee on foreign relations–Hovannes Hovannisian–the commissions and Armenian officials will work out a package of those obligations. "The list of obligations and the time frame for their acceptance by Armenia will then be sent to the PACE president. The document will be signed by the president of the republic–prime minister–National Assembly speaker and leaders of the parliament factions," Hovannisian told RFE/RL in an interview. It is expected that the PACE will discuss the document at its June session and take a final "political decision" on Armenia’s accession–he said.
President Robert Kocharian and leaders of the country’s main parties discussed the issue at a special meeting earlier this month. They reached agreement on changing Armenian legislation so as to bring it into conformity with European standards–officials said. Crucial reports–commissioned by the two Council of Europe bodies and released late last year–spoke in favor of Armenia’s membership–concluding that the country has made a substantial progress in its transition to democracy. The reports also recommended specific conditions for accepting Armenia as a full member of the organization.
Hovannisian said Yerevan has "reservations" about the proposed introduction of alternative military service–abolition of death penalty and more safeguards for religious freedom. He claimed that after a series of explanations Council officials have agreed that Armenia’s law on religion does not need any amendmen’s. While guaranteeing citizens’ freedom to practice any religion–the law also provides for a certain supremacy of the Armenian Apostolic Church over other faiths.
Hovannisian also said Kocharian will submit a separate letter to Strasbourg–in which he will reiterate Yerevan’s commitment to a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict–pointing to his direct talks with Azeri President Haydar Aliyev. Azerbaijan has also been seeking Council of Europe membership.