Friday, September 5, 2008

Europeans give Armenia more time for reforms

First published in June 28, 2008 Armenian Reporter.

European body extends deadline for Armenia reforms
Gives Armenian president a boost
Maintains pressure for compliance
by Emil Sanamyan

– The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) gave Armenia an additional six months to implement the body’s recommendations originally made in April, RFE/RL and Arminfo reported from Strasbourg.

The move came in a new resolution unanimously passed by PACE over protests from the Armenian opposition. It was a significant boost to President Serge Sargsian’s administration.

The body that includes parliament members from 47 European countries previously threatened to suspend the Armenian delegation’s voting rights at PACE unless its recommendations were implemented before the current session.

Those recommendations included calls for the urgent release of individuals held for political reasons, restoration of the freedom of assembly, an independent investigation of the March 1 violence, as well as government-opposition dialogue and the opposition’s recognition of the presidential election results.

PACE’s co-rapporteurs on Armenia John Prescott (United Kingdom) and Georges Colombier (France) visited Yerevan last week and determined that progress made on PACE recommendations was “insufficient,” but decided that Armenia needed more time rather than censure.

“While regretting the delay in implementing the concrete measures to comply with the Assembly demands, the Monitoring Committee acknowledges that the time given to the Armenian authorities was short,” said the PACE Monitoring Committee report later endorsed by the full Assembly.

“It therefore proposes to the Assembly to review at its January 2009 part-session the extent of Armenia’s compliance with the requirements made in Resolution 1609.”

During the PACE debate, Mr. Prescott, a former deputy prime minister of Great Britain, argued that “Armenia is going in the right direction, and changes are being made,” but more time was needed.

The Armenian delegation to PACE, led by lawmaker and former Justice Minister David Harutiunian (of the ruling Republican party) was instrumental in securing removal from the text of the new resolution passages calling for granting a television frequency to an antigovernment news agency and release of several dozen opposition members currently charged under certain Criminal Code articles.

The new resolution also said that PACE “regrets that not all opposition forces have recognized the Constitutional Court’s decision, which confirmed the results of elections as announced by the Central Electoral Commission.”

In protest over these developments, former foreign minister Raffi Hovannisian, the sole opposition member of the Armenian delegation to PACE, stormed out of the session after declaring that he was revoking his own right to vote until Armenia meets Europe’s – and his own – standards.

Azerbaijan resolution includes anti-Armenia passages

Also in its summer session PACE passed a resolution on the “deteriorating” human rights situation in Azerbaijan. The resolution adopted on June 24 contained Baku-inspired passages that blamed the lack of democratic progress in the country to the unresolved nature of the Karabakh conflict.

The resolution also “takes note” of the United Nations’ nonbinding General Assembly resolution passed last March that endorsed Azerbaijan’s claims to Karabakh.

That resolution was opposed by the United States, France, and Russia as biased; nearly all European countries abstained from voting on it.

The Armenian delegation to PACE protested and tried unsuccessfully to prevent the inclusion of these and other anti-Armenian passages into a resolution ostensibly dealing with Azerbaijan’s domestic political problems.

In a commentary this week on the resolution, Kenan Aliyev and Khadija Ismaylova of the RFE/RL Azerbaijan Service complained that Council of Europe membership has done very little for democracy promotion in Azerbaijan and the country “is backsliding into authoritarianism.”

On several occasions since Azerbaijan joined the organization, PACE, citing issues with political prisoners, threatened to suspend Azerbaijan’s voting right, but never did.

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