YEREVAN–(Noyan Tapan-RFE/RL). The PACE fall session began reviewing the fulfillment of obligations by Armenia and Azerbaijan before the Council of Europe. Before this session–however–the monitoring commission had accepted the reports of monitoring groups in Armenia and Azerbaijan.
The document–submitted to the council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE)–reviews the fulfillment of Yerevan’s membership obligations that also relate to broader human rights–press and religious freedom as well as the Nagorno-Karabagh conflict. It was drafted by two PACE rapporteurs who have paid several fact-finding visits to the country since the beginning of 2001.
In his interview to the "Orran" newspaper Vice Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Commission on Foreign Relations–Representative of the ARF Dashnaktsutyun Armen Rustamian expressed concern over the fact that Azerbaijan managed to push its terms on the Council of Europe concerning the Karabagh issue.
"As a result–in the Azerbaijan report–there is no hint of the fact that Karabagh is a side of the conflict; instead–the "territorial conflict" concept has been used–which supposes territorial claims of Armenia to Azerbaijan," said Rustamian
Rustamian also pointed out that though the Monitoring Commission decided (at the beginning of the year) the sides–Armenia and Azerbaijan would be conducting the NKR monitoring jointly–this was–nevertheless–put off for some inconceivable and inadmissible reasons. "Thus the aforementioned facts may be considered as an exclusively Azeri approach," Rustamian says.
PACE was also scheduled to discuss on Thursday evening a similar report on political reform in Azerbaijan. Despite containing strong criticism of President Geydar Aliev’s tightening grip on power and the existence of political prisoners in Azerbaijan–the report does not suggest specific sanctions against Baku.
The Armenian side stated that this reveals the CE will try to thrust the Azeri approach on Armenia and that this was not a way to lead the conflict out of the deadlock. The CE–stated the Armenian side–is losing its sight as a mediator.
The Armenian side proposed writing the "Karabagh conflict" instead of the ‘territorial conflict;’ removing the phrase ‘occupied territories’ and writing ‘including all the issues being considered by the OSCE Minsk Group.’
The Armenian side also suggested including the Nagorno-Karabagh Republic in the formula as a side of the conflict. The monitoring commission accepted only one of all these proposals – to write "and all the other issues being considered by the OSCE Minsk Group" after "the occupied territories." Nevertheless–the Armenian side will try to achieve these changes in Strasbourg as well.
Social Issues Criticized by PACE
The OSCE also envisages serious political sanctions against Armenia if it fails to unconditionally abolish the death penalty–a key condition for its admission into the respected organization.
Irina Belohorska of Slovakia and Jerzy Jaskernia of Poland are proposing that the 44-nation assembly suspend Armenia’s membership if it fails to ratify Protocol No. 6 to the European Convention on Human Rights by June 2003. The protocol bans the death penalty in all circumstances except times of war.
Yerevan was originally due to ratify it by January 2002. However–the authorities have failed to meet the deadline amid strong domestic opposition to any clemency for the five jailed perpetrators of the 1999 massacre in the Armenian parliament. Most members of the legislature insist on the gunmen’s execution as an exception from the rule – a stance rejected by Strasbourg officials and the council’s member governmen’s.
The new deadline means that a decision on scrapping capital punishment will have to be taken by the next Armenian parliament to be elected in May 2003. However–some PACE deputies are demanding that the decision be taken before the end of this year.
The report criticizes the Armenian authorities for their failure to legalize Jehovah’s Witnesses and its continuing prosecution of young members of the religious group who refuse military service.
It also effectively addresses the scandalous closure last April of the independent A1+ television–saying that the first controversial bidding for TV frequencies have provoked "strong protests" from the public. The rapporteurs call for major amendmen’s to the Armenian law on broadcasting which many believe is open to government abuse.