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 September 12, 2003 

Death for Death Penalty: Capital punishment abolished; Human Rights Law approved

After long discussions and debates the recently elected National Assembly of Armenia has officially abolished the death penalty in Armenia and ratified the Sixth Protocol of the European Convention of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The decision was crucial to Armenia gaining membership in the Council of Europe.

Of 131 deputies, 92 voted in favor of abolishing the death penalty. One independent deputy, Manuk Gasparyan, voted against it. Twenty two deputies didn't take part at the voting while the whole "Ardarutiun" bloc ("Justice") consisting of 15 deputies boycotted.

Debate on the death penalty has been stormy, as deputies including "National Unity" head Artashes Geghamyan have argued to maintain capital punishment so that guilty parties in the October 27 1999 Parliament shootings might be executed. But Geghamyan was among those who yielded to pressure to secure Armenia's good standing in the Council of Europe.

The official vote was rendered September 9, but in fact the death penalty has been abolished since August 1, when new criminal legislation came into force. But that legislation included exceptions for certain crimes, including acts of terror.

From now on the court has a right to award a death penalty verdict only during war or in case of the threat of war when martial law is declared in the country.

Vice Speaker of the Parliament Tigran Torosyan assures that from this vote forward, no exceptions can be applied legally.

Arguments against abolishing the death penalty were mainly directed to the act of terror taken place in the National Assembly on October 27, 1999 when an armed group headed by Nairy Hunanyan entered the building of NA and killed Prime Minister of Armenia Vazgen Sargsyan, Speaker of NA Karen Demirchyan and 6 other officials.

Oppositional bloc "Ardarutiun" (which is headed by Stepan Demirchyan, the son of murdered Speaker of the Parliament Karen Demirchyan) continues to insist that abolishment of the death penalty is a guarantee for the terrorists.

"Vazgen Sargsyan was a leader of your party," said Victor Dallakyan of the "Justice" bloc to the members of Republican party, "you think that God must have added another commandment to ones he has already given? Thou shalt not apostate."

"If Vazgen Sargsyan were here with us he would be the first to demand ratification of the Sixth Protocol. You ought not to use the names of victims," said Torosyan from "Hanrapetakan" party, in reply to Dallakyan.

Representing the "Orinats Yerkir" party, Mher Shahgeldyan argued in favor of ratification on the grounds that courts make mistakes, adding that Armenia's courts are far from perfect.

Minister of Justice David Harutyunyan considers heated debate a normal reaction to such a volatile issue.

"During the process of ratification of the Sixth Protocol heated discussions were taking place in almost all countries of the Council of Europe and despite those discussions almost all countries signed it," he said. "The main reason for abolishing death penalty is not that we are forced or we aren't to do that or there can be mistakes made by the court. The murder committed by the government doesn't differ from the murder committed by a person."

Concerning the draft law on "Protection of Human Rights", the 97-14 approval allows the president of the republic to appoint an ombudsman as guardian of rights protection. (Activists had argued that adopting the law would give a president too much power, and would turn the ombudsman position into something like an executive committee.)

The Chairman of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) Peter Shider and General Secretary Walter Shwimer welcomed the decision of the National Assembly concerning the abolishment of the death penalty and ratification of the sixth protocol of the European convention.

For the present moment 41 of 45 countries have ratified or signed that protocol.




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