This 4th resolution adopted by the PACE in relation to the bitter political crisis that ensued in Armenia after the disputed Presidential election in February 2008 can be seen as generally softer and more welcoming towards the steps taken by the Armenian authorities, when compared to Assembly’s earlier Resolutions 1609 (2008), 1620 (2008) and 1643 (2009).
PACE hearings on the functioning of democratic institutions in Armenia came only days after a general amnesty put forward by the country’s President Serzh Sarkisian and approved by National Assembly last Friday came into action and a number of prominent oppositionists walked out of courts and were released from prison.
Addressing the Assembly after the vote on Armenia, speaker of Armenian Parliament Hovik Abrahamian called the decision of Armenia’s authorities on amnesty a “timely and justified” one.
“We hope with this step, as well as the discussions taking place at the Assembly today, to approach a little more to closure of this trying stage for Armenia”, Abrahamian said.
Indeed, a provision in PACE resolution 1677 with regards to amnesty reads: “Through the adoption of a general amnesty for the persons deprived of their liberty in relation to the events of 1 and 2 March 2008, the Armenian authorities have complied with a crucial demand of the Assembly with regard to the political crisis that ensued after the Presidential election of February 2008.”
“This, as well as the assurances given by the authorities that they intend to conduct and conclude an impartial and credible investigation into these events,” is, according to the Assembly, an indication of “the willingness to overcome the political crisis and its consequences and to turn to a new page in Armenia’s democratic development.”
The Assembly welcomes the adoption, on 18 March 2009, of the amendments to Articles 225 (mass disorders) and 300 (usurpation of power) of the Criminal Code of Armenia, which it had voiced concern about in previous resolutions, noting the amendments “generally represent an improvement over previous provisions in that they reduce their scope for overbroad and abusive interpretation”.
Welcoming statements can be seen also with regards to “positive changes” in the Law on Conducting Meetings, Assemblies, Rallies and Demonstrations and amendments to the Law on Radio and Television, “which were elaborated in close consultation with the Council of Europe and are aimed at ensuring the independence of the media regulatory bodies in Armenia”.
Still, the Assembly notes that requests to organise rallies are” often rejected by the authorities on technical grounds, or that undue restrictions are placed on them”, as well as “reaffirms its position that the technical implications of the introduction of digital broadcasting in Armenia should not be used to delay unduly the holding of such a tender and thus the execution of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the case concerning the denial of a broadcasting license to the television channel A1+.”
With regard to the election of the Yerevan City Council on 31 May 2009, the Assembly notes the conclusions of the observer mission of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe, which had stated in their preliminary report, that the elections were a “considerable step forward in comparison to the local elections which took place in Yerevan in September 2008” and were “broadly carried out in compliance with European standards”.
The Resolution, however, notes the following: “The numerous allegations that fraud and violations were widespread during these elections demonstrate that public trust in the electoral process is still very low in Armenia. This, as well as the shortcomings and violations noted, underscores the fact that electoral reform should now be a priority for the authorities.”
Interestingly, Armenian opposition have already welcomed the adopted resolution. Speaking to journalists, Levon Zurabian, the coordinator of opposition Armenian National Congress pointed to the fact, that with regard to independent investigation into the events of 1 and 2 March, 2008, the Assembly “doesn’t consider the matter closed.”
The provision in the resolution referred to by Zurabian, expresses regret for the “breakdown of the work of the independent expert group to establish the facts in relation to these events (fact-finding group), as a result of the insurmountable tensions between its members and the politicising of its work by members of both sides” and notes that it considers an independent, impartial and credible investigation into the events of 1 and 2 March and its circumstances “is still necessary”.