Ecrit par , 2008-04-21 11:45:12

Source : Kommersant

// The Council of Europe threatens to deny Armenia the right to vote
Yesterday the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided to deny the Armenian delegation the right to vote from June, this year, unless Yerevan provides for the observance of human rights and the freedom of the press, and releases political prisoners. Such a strict measure is reaction to the presidential election in Armenia, which was rendered rigged by the PACE. At the same time a group of delegates censured Vladimir Putin’s order to establish special relations with Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The Armenian issue was brought up during the current PACE session throughout the week. Monday it was decided to consider separately the topic of the recent presidential election and the one of the observance of human rights in Armenia. As to the former, the verdict of the Council of Europe was more or less neutral, whereas the latter was going to be subjected to severe criticism. The Armenian opposition, in its turn, supported separating the matters. “We presume that Armenian politics and inter-party struggle is our own business. Neither Europe nor Russia has the right to interfere,” Ovanes Yegityan, head of the Armenian delegation to the PACE from 1992 – 1998, told Kommersant, “But the human rights issue is quite a different matter. The PACE should articulate its position on violence, arrests and political prisoners.” According to Mr Yegityan, he managed to come to Strasbourg hardly escaping arrest in Yerevan, and he is sure to be arrested as soon as he returns. “I’m well-known in the PACE. In Strasbourg they know that I am no terrorist, nor bandit, and I’m only persecuted for expressing my views openly. So my example proves that opposition is persecuted for political reasons,” he told Kommersant.

Britain’s ex-Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott and France’s Georges Colombier delivered a report on the situation in Armenia, which opened yesterday’s debates. The British stated as far back as Monday that the fraud during the presidential election didn’t influence its outcome, but yesterday he was less emollient, “Not a single recommendation of the Council of Europe regarding Armenia has ever been met. The latest election was marked with fraud, which can cast doubt on the outcome of the election. In Armenia there is the atmosphere of jealousy and distrust towards major democratic institutions. As a result of the election, violence sparked, 10 people were killed, and thousands arrested ; candidate Ter-Petrosyan is under house arrest, the freedom of speech and assembly has been restricted, and evidently, human rights have been violated.”

A resolution drafted by Mr Prescott and Mr Colombier calls for Armenia to provide for independent investigation of the events of March 1 as soon as possible, to release all political prisoners, to begin dialogue with opposition, to amend the law on mass assembly, and to lift all restrictions on the freedom of speech. According to the resolution, unless Armenia fulfils the requirements, it will be denied the right to vote at the next PACE session June. John Prescott underscored that during his inauguration, the new president Serzh Sargsyan pledged to alter the legislation so that it could comply with the standards of the Council of Europe.

Igor Chernyshenko, Deputy Head of the Russian delegation, attempted to come to the rescue of the Armenian government. He stated that “the Armenian society is now stabilizing, various political parties are trying to consolidate, that’s why the PACE must send a message that we support the Armenian government in its desire to resolve the conflict. I suppose that any government has the right to defend itself by any means available, even using force sometimes.”

The leader of the Liberal Democratic Party in the Hungarian Parliament, Mattias Yorshi, retorted that “The European Council should not have integrated Armenia until the latter held at least one legitimate election. But there haven’t been any. Of course we can say that Armenia has taken another step towards democracy, but it’s not true. Elections are rigged, there is the lack of democracy, and distrust of democratic institutions in that country. In June we will have to be honest to acknowledge that the requirements we laid down onto Armenia won’t have been met. The government will make no compromise because there is no environment to control it. Alas, I’m pessimistic about it.”

Andreas Herkel, Head of the Estonian delegation, supported his colleague, although he claimed that the Armenian government was not the only one to blame for what was happening in that country – “It’s the reflection of the state of affairs in Russia.”

The Armenian delegation took things easy. Its members had prepared several amendments to the resolution, but approved of it on the whole, claiming that Armenia would do its best to fulfil all the PACE requirements. The only thing to exasperate the Armenian delegation was criticism on the part of the Azerbaijan delegation. “If Azerbaijan wants to be the paragon of democracy, it must hold fair presidential elections this year and resolve the case of political prisoners. You’d better get the beam out of your eye before preaching virtue,” said the indignant delegate Armen Rustamyan.

In the end, with the majority voting for it, the resolution was passed. Konstantin Kosachev, Head of the Russian delegation, told Kommersant that he voted for it keeping in mind the stance of the Armenian delegation, which considered the resolution acceptable and balanced. According to Mr Kosachev, by the time the summer session of the PACE opens, the matter will have gotten less sharp, and unless there is new unrest in Yerevan, possibly, no sanctions will be imposed on Armenia.

After the debates on Armenia finished, many of the delegates showed their interest in the news regarding Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The notorious Mattias Yorshi was quick to draft “Declaration on the unilateral decision of the Russian Federation to legitimate its links to the Georgian provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.” The document expresses worry about Vladimir Putin’s recent order regarding the issue and reads that Russia tries to undermine the territorial integrity of Georgia, that’s why Russian peace-keepers may not stay in the frozen conflicts zones anymore. In conclusion, the declaration calls on the UN Security Council to change Russia’s peace-keepers with those of the UN.

The declaration hasn’t become an official document of the PACE, only “stating the viewpoints of the 25 signatories,” but the list of the signatures Mattias Yorshi managed to collect, is rather impressive. Besides the ever-critical-of-Russia Lord Russell-Johnston and Roumania’s senator Ilie Ilashku (who participated in the war between Moldova and Transnistria), the speakers on Russia – Switzerland’s Andreas Gross and Dik Marti, as well as Belgium’s Luc van den Brande – signed the document.

Mr van den Brande and Greece’s Theodoros Pangalos are the delegates to deliver a report on the situation in Russia this fall. Next week they arrive in Moscow with their first inspection. They are supposed to have a meeting with Russia’s Justice Minister Vladimir Ustinov, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko, Heads of the Supreme and Constitutional Courts Vyacheslav Lebedev and Valery Zorkin, and Deputy Prosecutor General Alexander Zvyagintsev.

Dik Marti, the current speaker on Chechnya, became more active during the present session, too. He delivered a four-page information report and asked the Assembly to give him mandate to visit Chechnya. Russia’s Dmitry Vyatkin promised to render his assistance.

For all that, Russia’s delegates acknowledge that the critical potential regarding Russia has grown with the PACE, and the criticism of Moscow can become much more intensive within a few next months.

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