23 May 2000
Armenia’s application for membership of the Council of Europe
Political Affairs Committee
Rapporteur: Mr Demetrio Volcic, Italy, Socialist Group
Armenia applied to join the Council of Europe on 7 March 1996. Since then, the country has made considerable progress, whether in setting up a pluralistic political system, establishing the rule of law or observing human rights and fundamental freedoms.
Armenia is a party to a series of European conventions. Since 1996, it has been taking part in various activities of the Council of Europe at intergovernmental level as well as in the work of the Parliamentary Assembly. The Parliament of Armenia actively participates in the parliamentary co-operation of the South Caucasian countries, which takes place under the auspices of the Parliamentary Assembly.
Accordingly, the Political Affairs Committee proposes to the Assembly to recommend to the Committee of Ministers to invite Armenia to become a member of the Council of Europe, on the understanding that the country will fulfil the commitments set out in the draft opinion within the stipulated time limits.
The committee believes that Armenian membership of the Council of Europe would reinforce the country's democratic reforms. It would also help to establish a climate on confidence in the region, thus contributing to the peaceful solution of Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
I. Draft opinion
1. The Republic of Armenia applied to join the Council of Europe on 7 March 1996. In Resolution (96) 21 of 15 May 1996 the Committee of Ministers invited the Parliamentary Assembly to give an opinion on this request in accordance with Statutory Resolution 51 (30A).
2. The Armenian Parliament obtained special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 26 January 1996. This application was considered in the light of the adoption of Recommendation 1247 (1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe, in which the Assembly stated that “in view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.
3. Delegations from the Assembly observed the presidential election in March 1998 and the general elections in July 1995 and May 1999.
4. Since 1996 Armenia has been taking part in various activities of the Council of Europe through the intergovernmental co-operation and assistance programmes, and in the work of the Assembly and its committees through its special guest delegation.
5. Armenia is a party to the European Cultural Convention and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities and a member of the Open Partial Agreement on the Prevention of Protection against and Organisation of Relief in Major Natural and Technological Disasters, and an associate member of the Venice Commission, with which it has developed close co-operation. The Assembly also takes note of the fact that Armenia has requested accession to the Convention on Extradition and the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation.
6. The Assembly considers that Armenia is moving towards a democratic, pluralist society, in which human rights and the rule of law are respected, and, in accordance with Article 4 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, is able and willing to pursue the democratic reforms initiated in order to bring its entire legislation and practice into conformity with the principles and standards of the Council of Europe.
7. In asking the Assembly for an opinion on the membership application, the Committee of Ministers reiterated that a closer relationship between the Caucasian countries and the Council of Europe would demand not only the implementation of substantial democratic reforms, but also their commitment to resolve conflicts by peaceful means.
8. The Parliamentary Assembly believes that the accession of both Armenia and Azerbaijan could help to establish the climate of trust necessary for a solution to the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh.
9. The Assembly considers that the OSCE’s Minsk group is the optimum framework for the negotiation of a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
10. The Assembly takes note of the letter from the President of Armenia in which he undertakes to respect the cease-fire agreement until a final solution is found to the conflict and to continue the efforts to reach a peaceful negotiated settlement on the basis of compromises acceptable to all parties concerned.
11. The frequency of meetings between the Presidents of the two countries has been stepped up. The Speakers of the parliaments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia have decided to institute regional parliamentary co-operation, consisting in particular of meetings of the Speakers of the parliaments and parliamentary seminars to be held in the capitals of the three countries and in Strasbourg. The first meeting in the region, which was held in Tbilissi in September 1999, made it possible to establish an atmosphere of trust and détente between the parliamentary delegations of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
12. The Assembly calls on the Armenian and Azerbaijani authorities to pursue their dialogue with a view to achieving a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh and giving new impetus to regional co-operation.
13. The Parliamentary Assembly takes note of the letters from the President of Armenia, the Speaker of the parliament, the Prime Minister and the chairmen of the political parties represented in the parliament, in which they undertake to honour the following commitments:
a. to sign, at the time of its accession, the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as amended by Protocols Nos. 2 and 11 thereto, and Protocols Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 7;
b. to ratify the ECHR and Protocols Nos. 1, 4, 6 and 7 thereto during the year following its accession;
c. to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its protocols;
d. to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages;
e. to sign and ratify, within one year of its accession, the European Charter of Local Self-Government;
f. to sign and ratify, within two years of its accession, the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation and its protocols and the Council of Europe conventions on extradition, on mutual assistance in criminal matters, on laundering, search, seizure and confiscation of the proceeds from crime, and on transfer of sentenced persons, and in the meantime to apply the fundamental principles contained therein;
g. to sign the European Social Charter within two years of its accession and ratify it within three years of accession, and to strive forthwith to implement a policy consistent with the principles of the Charter;
h. to sign the General Agreement on Privileges and Immunities and the protocols thereto at the time of its accession, and to ratify these within one year of its accession;
ii. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh
a. to pursue efforts to settle this conflict by peaceful means only;
b. to use its considerable influence over the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh to foster a solution to the conflict;
c. to settle international and domestic disputes by peaceful means and according to the principles of international law (an obligation incumbent on all Council of Europe member states), resolutely rejecting any threatened use of force against its neighbours;
iii. Domestic law
a. to adopt, within one year of its accession, the second (specific) part of the Criminal Code, thus abolishing de iure the death penalty;
b. to adopt, within six months of its accession, the law on the Ombudsman;
c. to adopt, within one year of its accession, a new law on the media;
d. to adopt, within one year of its accession, a new law on political parties;
e. to adopt, within one year of its accession, a new law on non-governmental organisations;
f. to adopt, within six months of its accession, the law on the transfer of responsibility for the prison system, including pre-trial detention centres and work colonies, from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Justice, and to ensure the effective implementation of this law within six months after it has been adopted, except as regards the effective transfer of the pre-trial detention centres and work colonies, which must be implemented within one year after the Law has been adopted;
g. to adopt, within one year of its accession, the law on the civil service;
h. to amend, before the next local elections, the current legislation governing the powers of local authorities so as to give them greater responsibilities and independence, taking into account the recommendations made in this respect by the Congress for Local and Regional Authorities in Europe (CLRAE);
i. to remedy the deficiencies of the new electoral law before the next elections, in particular as regards the procedural aspects of the work of the electoral committees and the authorities responsible for drawing up electoral registers;
iv. Human rights
a. to ensure that all churches, in particular those referred to as “non-traditional”, may practise their religion without discrimination;
b. to co-operate fully with NGOs in ensuring that the rights of prisoners and conscripts are respected;
c. to adopt, within four year of its accession, a law on alternative military service and, pending the adoption of that law and within six months of its accession, to take measures allowing conscientious objectors to perform military service in non-armed units under the existing legislation and, on the occasion of its accession, to pardon conscientious objectors currently serving prison sentences or in disciplinary battalions;
d. to turn the national television channel into a public channel managed by an independent administrative board;
v. Monitoring of commitments
a. to co-operate fully in the implementation of Assembly Resolution 1115 (1997) on the setting-up of a committee on the honouring of obligations and commitments by member states of the Council of Europe (Monitoring Committee) and
b. to co-operate fully in the monitoring process established pursuant to the Declaration adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 10 November 1994 (95th session).
14. On the basis of these commitments, the Assembly is of the opinion that, in accordance with Article 4 of the Statute of the Council of Europe, Armenia is able and willing to fulfil the provisions of Article 3 of the Statute, setting forth the conditions for membership of the Council of Europe: “Every Member of the Council of Europe must accept the principles of the rule of law and of the enjoyment by all persons within its jurisdiction of human rights and fundamental freedoms, and collaborate sincerely and effectively in the realisation of the aim of the Council (of Europe).”
15. With a view to ensuring compliance with these commitments, the Assembly decides to monitor the situation in Armenia closely, with immediate effect from the date of accession, pursuant to its Resolution 1115 (1997).
16. On the understanding that the commitments set out above are firm and will be fulfilled within the stipulated time limits, the Assembly recommends that the Committee of Ministers:
i. invite Armenia to become a member of the Council of Europe;
ii. allocate four seats to Armenia in the Parliamentary Assembly.
17. Furthermore, in order to enable Armenia to honour its commitments and obligations as a member state, the Assembly also recommends that the Committee of Ministers develop its assistance to the Armenian authorities in the framework of the activities for the development and consolidation of democratic stability (ADACS).
II. Explanatory memorandum, by the Rapporteur
1. In 1994 the Parliamentary Assembly stated in its Recommendation 1247(1994) on the enlargement of the Council of Europe that “in view of their cultural links with Europe, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia would have the possibility of applying for membership provided they clearly indicate their will to be considered as part of Europe”.
2. The Republic of Armenia applied for admission to the Council of Europe on 7 March 1996. The Committee of Ministers invited the Parliamentary Assembly to draw up an opinion on the subject in Resolution 96/21 of 15 May 1996.
3. Since 1996 Armenia has taken part in various Council of Europe activities under the intergovernmental co-operation and assistance programmes. It ratified the European Cultural Convention in 1997 and the Council of Europe’s Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities in 1998.
4. On 26 January 1996 the Armenian Parliament was granted special guest status with the Parliamentary Assembly and since then its delegation has taken an active part in the work of the Assembly and its committees. In March 1999 the Speaker of the Armenian Parliament and his colleagues – the Speakers of the Azerbaijan and Georgian parliaments – launched a programme for interparliamentary co-operation between the three Caucasian countries under the aegis of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly (see section VII).
5. As part of the accession procedure the Bureau of the Assembly asked “eminent lawyers”, Mr Jerzy Makarczyk, judge of the European Court of Human Rights, and Mr Daniel Svaby, member of the European Commission of Human Rights, to draw up a report on the conformity of the Armenian legal system with the standards of the Council of Europe. They visited Armenia from 4 to 8 February 1997 and the conclusions of their report (AS/Bur/Armenia(1997)1) appear in appendix 1.
6. The rapporteurs, Mr Woltjer (Netherlands, SOC) until September 1999, then myself, made numerous fact-finding visits to the country (October 1996, November 1997, June 1998, February 1999 and November 1999) and Parliamentary Assembly delegations observed the presidential elections in March 1998 and the parliamentary elections in July 1995 and May 1999. Likewise, Mr Magnusson, Rapporteur of the Committee on Rules of Procedure and Immunities, visited Yerevan in November 1998 while preparing a report on the credentials of the Armenian special guest delegation. These visits produced the following documents, which have substantially contributed to the preparation of this report:
- information report on the parliamentary elections in Armenia (5 July 1995) (Doc.7369, Addendum I);
- information report to the Political Affairs Committee (AS/Pol (1996) 29) by the previous Rapporteur, Mr Woltjer, following his visit to Armenia from 8 to 12 October 1996;
- memorandum to the Political Affairs Committee (AS/Pol (98) 02) by Mr Woltjer, following his visit to Armenia from 12 to 15 November 1997;
- information report on the presidential elections in Armenia (16-30 March 1998) (Doc.8058, Addendum IV);
- memorandum to the Political Affairs Committee (AS/Pol (1998) 19) by Mr Woltjer and Mr Baumel (the rapporteur on admission of Azerbaijan), on their joint visit to Baku, Yerevan and Nagorno-Karabakh from 14 to 20 June 1998;
- mission report by the Rapporteur of the Committee on Rules of Procedure and Immunities, Mr Magnusson, following his visit to Yerevan from 25 to 27 November 1998, on examination of the credentials of the Armenian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly (Doc.8292, Addendum I);
- report by the Ad Hoc Committee to observe the parliamentary elections in Armenia (30 May 1999) (Doc.8448).
7. Likewise, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe (CLRAE) observed the local elections held in 1996 and October 1999.
8. I should like to thank the Armenian authorities, particularly the Parliament, for the excellent organisation of all the above-mentioned visits and for their hospitality. I also wish to thank the German and Greek ambassadors in Yerevan for arranging meetings with diplomatic representatives of Council of Europe member states during the visits.
II. A historical overview
9. With an area of 29,800 km2, the Soviet Socialist Republic of Armenia was the smallest republic in the Soviet Union, surrounded by Georgia, Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkey. It has a population of about 3.4 million.
10. Armenia was established in the 6th century BC. Between 95 and 55 BC, the Armenian empire was one of the most powerful in Asia, extending from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean. In the course of its history Armenia was invaded by other empires. Under continuous pressure from foreign forces, the Armenians became highly protective of their own culture and traditions. Armenia was conquered by the Greeks, Romans, Persians, Byzantines, Mongols, Arabs, Turks and Russians. From the 16th century to the end of the First World War, much of the country was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. A large-scale massacre of the Armenian people took place in April 1915, when the Ottoman Empire ordered them to be deported to the Syrian and Mesopotamian deserts.
11. The independent state of the Republic of Armenia was established on 28 May 1918. It survived only until 29 November 1920, when the Soviet Union annexed it. At the end of the 1980s the Armenians were the first in the USSR to test the limits of “glasnost” by demonstrating against industrial pollution in the republic. On 23 September 1991 Armenia declared independence from the Soviet Union.
12. Since 1988 Armenia has been in conflict with Azerbaijan over control of Nagorno-Karabakh. The Armenians have experienced major energy restrictions as a result. In 1988 an earthquake killed thousands of people and weakened the country’s economy. All of this led to a worsening of the economic situation in the early 1990s.
13. Armenia has received substantial international aid to help it overcome its energy-related, social and economic problems, reorganise its economy and promote democratic reforms. In 1994 the Armenian government launched an ambitious economic programme backed by the International Monetary Fund, which has resulted in economic growth since 1995. Despite these efforts, the country’s economy remains fragile.
III. Political situation
a. Political developments since 1995
14. In the parliamentary elections of 5 July 1995, the Republican Group, an alliance of six parties, emerged with a parliamentary majority of 115 seats out of 190.
15. After President Ter Petrossian’s resignation and the early presidential elections in March 1998, in which Mr Kocharian was elected president, the parliamentary majority changed. The main group was Yerkrapah (“Veterans”), which supported President Kocharian. The Republican Group, which had 48 seats, regarded itself as the main opposition group.
16. Since the parliamentary elections in May 1999, the “Unity” group, made up of the Armenian Republican Party and the Armenian People’s Party has been the main political force in Parliament, with 61 seats out of a total of 131. Unity has a parliamentary majority thanks to the backing of the “Stability” group of 21 independent MPs. A table showing the current political composition of Parliament appears in appendix 2.
17. On 27 October 1999 Mr V. Sarksian, Prime Minister, Mr K. Demirchian, Speaker of the Parliament, and six other leading figures in Armenian politics were killed in a criminal operation staged in the Armenian Parliament. Hostages were also taken, which nearly resulted in further deaths.
18. Despite the scale of the tragedy, in which the two strongest political formations that had emerged from the elections last May lost their leaders, both highly popular and widely respected personalities, the country remained calm and composed. All political forces showed exceptional democratic maturity, unanimously condemned these acts and asserted their intention of maintaining the political equilibrium established by the last election.
19. Instead of the destabilisation perhaps sought by its perpetrators, this crime has demonstrated the solid foundations of Armenian democracy, which has abided by the Constitution. I have already met Mr A. Khachatryan, the new Speaker of the Parliament, and Mr A. Sarksian, the new Prime Minister. Both assured me of their intention to pursue their predecessors’ policies in all areas, especially as regards further democratic reforms and the priority assigned to membership of the European organisations and the Council of Europe. The new government was appointed on 13 November, the main changes being replacement of the Ministers of the Interior and National Security, who resigned after the tragedy of 27 October.
b. Political pluralism
20. After many meetings with representatives of all the political groups in Parliament and political forces not represented in Parliament, I take the view that at present there is no obstacle to the democratic functioning of political parties in Armenia. This is a distinct improvement on the problems pointed out in the 1995-1997 period, including the highly controversial suspension of the “Dashnak” party.
21. Before the latest parliamentary elections in 1998, while the opposition parties acknowledged that a multi-party system existed, they also stated that the political forces in power used undemocratic methods of combating the opposition, including limited access to the state television channel and attempts to mount political trials (such as the recent lifting of the former Interior Minister’s parliamentary immunity). No such criticisms were made during my last visit in November 1999, after the elections.
22. As regards fair opposition access to the media, there is a weekly (Sunday) programme on the state channel on which all parliamentary groups are able to express their views. There is also a large number of private channels (though with limited geographical range) to which the opposition, in principle, has unrestricted access. Members of parliament are likewise allowed to hold press conferences in the Parliament building whenever they want.
c. Functioning of democratic institutions; separation of powers
23. Armenia is a newly democratic republic, in which the President has considerable constitutional powers. In addition, the current President has the support of the parliamentary majority. This makes the separation of powers and independence of the legislature and judiciary are extremely important.
24. In my view, progress has been made in the functioning of Parliament. All the political groups now take part in parliamentary work. Political debate takes place in Parliament, not in the street, in accordance with democratic standards. Times such as autumn 1996, when the opposition refused to take part in parliamentary work and violent clashes occurred in the Parliament building itself, are definitely in the past.
25. Hard work by Parliament enabled an impressive number of laws to be enacted last year (1998), thus establishing the legislative basis for an independent judicial system (see section IV).
d. General elections
26. There have been four general elections in Armenia since 1995: parliamentary elections in 1995 and 1999 and presidential ones in 1996 and 1998.
27. During the July 1995 parliamentary elections, the ad hoc Assembly committee which monitored them noted various irregularities and inadequacies but came to the conclusion that “the electoral process could be regarded as a free one”
28. The Assembly did not observe the September 1996 presidential elections, but the OSCE/ODIHR observer mission severely criticised the electoral process, concluding that the irregularities observed placed a question mark on the validity of the elections. The previous Rapporteur, Mr Woltjer, visited Armenia after those elections and found, in the light of the political situation in the country, that many of the results were questionable.
29. In March 1998 the ad hoc Assembly committee which observed the first and the second rounds of the presidential elections was, overall, positive in its assessment. Even though there had been many irregularities which gave great cause for concern and deplorable incidents had occurred in some areas, the ad hoc committee did not feel they affected the results. Its finding was that the elections “marked a significant advance over those of 1996 and testified to the overall democratic progress in the country”.
30. During his visit in February 1999 the Rapporteur stressed the importance of the parliamentary elections of 30 May 1999 in confirming the consolidation of democracy in Armenia. A new electoral law was adopted on 5 February 1999 after lengthy and hard-fought parliamentary debate. I consider that fair compromises have been struck on the four main controversial points - the ratio of members elected under the majority system to those elected under the proportional system; the composition of election committees; the list of voters; and voting arrangements for the armed forces. The shortcomings of the law may involve some risks for the conduct of elections, but I believe they do not necessarily entail irregularities.
31. A Parliamentary Assembly delegation observed those elections and found that they “constituted major progress in implementing the Council of Europe’s standards. They confirmed the country’s commitment to democracy and its determination to become a full member of the Organisation” (see appendix 3).
32. The delegation also found that freedom of association and expression, including fair access to the media, had been respected. The new electoral law had established an adequate framework for organising the elections, despite some omissions which would have to be remedied without delay, particularly regarding the procedure governing the work of the electoral committees and the authorities responsible for drawing up electoral registers.
33. In January 1998 Mr Woltjer concluded that Armenia should join the Council of Europe only when new electoral laws had been adopted by Parliament and a new parliament had been formed as a result of free, democratic elections. Following the May 1999 elections, I consider that these two requirements have been met.
34. In response to criticism that electoral fraud in 1995, 1996 and 1998 went unpunished, it is proposed that electoral fraud now be treated as a criminal offence. I fully support this proposal, which should be included in the second part of the Criminal Code (special part) soon to be adopted.
e. Local democracy
35. The CLRAE delegations observed the local elections in 1996 and 1999. In 1996 the delegation concluded that despite the irregularities observed, the elections had been well organised and the voting and vote count had complied with the law. It therefore considered that the local elections had been free and fair.
36. In 1999 the observer delegation also described the local elections as free and fair. The observers noted a few minor irregularities and, in particular, a low turnout (between 22 and 25%). However, they found that there had been a significant improvement over the 1996 local elections.
37. On 29 February 2000 the Bureau of the CLRAE had adopted a report by Mr Kolumban and Mr Casagrande on local democracy in Armenia. Having heard this report, the Bureau of the CLRAE had considered that since 1996 the Armenian authorities had demonstrated their will to progress along the road towards establishing local institutions in conformity with the standards of the European Charter of Local Self-Government. The Bureau had felt that Armenian legislation complied with the main requirements of the Charter. However, in order to remedy certain defects or shortcomings noted by the CLRAE in the current functioning of local administration, Armenia should honour a number of obligations in this field, a list of which had been approved by the Bureau of the CLRAE (see appendix 4).
38. As in the parliamentary elections, irregularities were observed where electoral registers were concerned. This is a serious problem, especially in view of the large-scale population movements in Armenia. I therefore suggest that the relevant Council of Europe bodies offer the Armenian authorities their assistance in the matter.
39. The authorities attribute the low turnout to the fact that local and regional authorities do not have substantial powers or budgetary resources, since the emphasis is on centralised administration. Likewise, the 11 regions and the city of Yerevan are administered by government-appointed governors. Although this state of affairs is also a feature of some Council of Europe member states, I consider that the local authorities’ powers must be increased and that the Armenian authorities should look into the possibility of amending the relevant legislation accordingly.
40. The refugee vote is another major problem. There are about 350,000 refugees, most of whom are not Armenian citizens and therefore do not take part in elections. Yet they now account for 10% of the population and in some municipalities, more than 50%.
41. On the eve of the local elections the Constitutional Court declared the ban on refugees’ voting unconstitutional. The President of the Republic subsequently declared a moratorium on refugees’ voting in municipalities where they accounted for more than 50% of the population, pending settlement of the issue by legislation.
42. I consider that Parliament should tackles this issue as a matter of urgency to allow the refugees, most of whom have been living in Armenia since at least 1992 or 1993 and intend to remain there, to take part in the running of local affairs.
43. By and large, the matter would of course be settled by naturalising the refugees. The naturalisation procedure established by law is comparatively simple, but refugees refuse naturalisation for fear of losing various benefits associated with refugee status. I therefore welcomed the authorities’ stated intention of amending the legislation to allow naturalised refugees to keep some of those benefits, and I take the view that this reform should be introduced without delay.
44. In asking the Assembly for an opinion on the application for membership, the Committee of Ministers pointed out that a closer relationship between the Caucasian countries and the Council of Europe would demand not only the implementation of substantial democratic reforms, but also their commitment to resolve conflicts by peaceful means.
a. Historical background
45. Situated at the intersection of the Ottoman, Persian and Russian Empires, the Nagorno-Karabakh region has seen very many changes over the centuries, in terms of both its legal status and the make-up of its population.
46. Nagorno-Karabakh was ceded by the Persian Empire to Russia under the Treaty of Golestan in 181, when it became part of the “Guberniya” (an administrative unit, or province, of the Russian Empire) of Yelizavetopol. In 1923 the Soviet Union conferred on Nagorno-Karabakh the status of an autonomous republic within the Soviet Socialist Republic of Azerbaijan.
47. According to the 1989 census, Nagorno-Karabakh had a population of 188 000, of whom 145 000 were Armenians, 40 000 Azerbaijanis and 3 000 Russians. It had a total area of 4 400 km². The current population is estimated at between 100 000 and 160 000, all of whom are Armenian (with minimal exceptions).
48. The current conflict began in February 1988 when the Regional Soviet (Assembly) of Nagorno-Karabakh submitted an official request to the Supreme Soviet of the USSR for incorporation into Armenia. This request, which was rejected by the Soviet of Azerbaijan but supported by the Soviet of Armenia, was turned down by the Supreme Soviet in accordance with the principle that the territory of a republic cannot be modified without its consent.
49. In December 1989, citing many violations of the rights of the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Soviet of Armenia adopted a resolution requesting the reunification of Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan declared independence on 30 August 1991, and four days later the Soviet of Nagorno-Karabakh declared the independence of the “Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh”, confirmed by referendum in December 1991. Subsequently, in January 1992, it organised “parliamentary elections” and requested international recognition.
50. In the ensuing war from 1992 to 1994 between Azerbaijan and the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, some 20 000 persons were killed, including many civilians. Between 1988 and 1993, 300 000 to 350 000 Armenians fled Azerbaijan and some 150 000 Azerbaijanis left Armenia.
51. After the fighting the Armenian forces were left in control of most of the territory of Nagorno-Karabakh within the Soviet administrative boundaries, as well as the whole of six Azerbaijani regions and part of two others.
52. A cease-fire agreement was concluded in May 1994. The cease-fire has held ever since, despite the sporadic clashes along the front line. The Azeri-Armenian and Turco-Armenian borders are closed.
b. Efforts to resolve the conflict
53. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh has been debated several times by the United Nations Security Council, which in 1993 adopted Resolutions 822, 853, 874 and 884 on this subject. These resolutions reaffirm the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan and the other States in the region, demand the withdrawal of occupying forces from territories “recently occupied” in Azerbaijan and appeal to Armenia to use its influence to ensure that the Armenian population of Nagorno-Karabakh comply with these resolutions.
54. The efforts to negotiate a peaceful settlement of this conflict are currently being conducted by the co-presidents of the OSCE “Minsk Group” (comprising the United States, France and Russia) set up in 1992.
55. Armenia has accepted the latest plan to resolve the conflict drawn up by the Minsk Group, based on the concept of a “common State” shared by Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh as a basis for talks. Azerbaijan has so far rejected this proposal.
56. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that it was Armenia which rejected the previous stage-by-stage settlement plan, accepted by the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan at the second Council of Europe Summit in October 1997. As a consequence of this rejection, Mr Ter Petrossian resigned. Similarly, Armenia rejected the principles proposed around the same time by the then President of OSCE, Mr Flavio Cotti, Swiss Minister of Foreign Affairs, as a basis for settling the conflict. These principles had been approved by the participants at the OSCE Summit in Lisbon in December 1996.
57. The Presidents of the two countries have been meeting more and more regularly (they have met six times this year, including once at the Azeri-Armenian border). The Final Declaration of the Istanbul Summit held in November 1999 welcomed these contacts as opportunities for securing a lasting, comprehensive solution to the conflict and encouraging dialogue. The Declaration also confirmed that OSCE and the Minsk Group provided the optimum framework in which to settle the conflict.
c. Position of the Armenian authorities
58. All the political forces in Armenia are in favour of a political settlement to the conflict. The Armenian authorities stress the following principles, which they see as a basis for a settlement:
- rejection of all use of force;
- a comprehensive settlement of the conflict;
- acceptance of the Minsk Group’s latest conflict settlement plan, including the concept of an Azerbaijan-Nagorno-Karabakh “common State” as a basis for negotiations;
- recognition of the Nagorno-Karabakh “administration” as a party to the conflict and the need for direct negotiations between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
59. The Armenian authorities acknowledge that they wield major influence over Nagorno-Karabakh. In the extreme case of border closures, this region could probably only survive for a couple of months. However, the Armenian authorities claim that they can only use their influence to a limited extent because of the massive support for the Nagorno-Karabakh cause among the Armenian public and diaspora. The most Armenia could do would be to vouch for an agreement negotiated between Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.
60. The Armenian authorities also deny having any regular army units in Nagorno-Karabakh or the occupied territories. Armenian citizens are serving in the Nagorno-Karabakh army, but they are doing so on the basis of their own individual decisions.
61. Armenia considers itself the victim of a border blockade imposed by Azerbaijan and Turkey.
62. Lastly, the Armenian authorities do not think the Nagorno-Karabakh issue should stand in the way of Armenian and Azerbaijani membership of the Council of Europe, and consider that the two countries should be admitted as soon as possible. They argue that acceptance of the commitments vis-à-vis the Organisation, the corresponding monitoring procedure and the countries’ participation in the work of the Council of Europe would help establish the requisite climate of trust for settling the conflict.
d. Initiatives taken by the Political Affairs Committee
63. The Political Affairs Committee has held many debates on this matter, stressing that Nagorno-Karabakh is a very important element in examination of Armenia’s (and Azerbaijan’s) application for membership. The rapporteurs on the accession of these two countries together visited Baku, Yerevan and Stepanakert (Nagorno-Karabakh) in June 1998 (AS/Pol (1998) 19).
64. After that visit the committee suggested that the President of the Assembly arrange for the Presidents of Armenia and Azerbaijan to meet in Strasbourg as a contribution to dialogue between the two countries. It also decided to organise an exchange of views on Nagorno-Karabakh, which took place in Paris on 16 December 1998. This was attended by a delegation from the Armenian Parliament led by its Speaker, Mr Harutunian, and by a delegation from the Nagorno-Karabakh “administration” led by Mr Ghukassian, “President of Nagorno-Karabakh”. The Speaker of the Azerbaijani Parliament addressed the Committee separately at a meeting in May 1999.
65. The exchange of views held on 16 December 1998 yielded useful information for the committee members, who appreciated the constructive attitude of the Armenian delegation. The Speaker of the Armenian Parliament stressed that parliamentary diplomacy should be playing a more important part in settling the conflict and suggested a meeting of the Speakers of the Armenian, Azerbaijani and Georgian Parliaments sponsored by the President of the Parliamentary Assembly.
66. Thanks to the constructive attitude adopted by the Speakers of the Parliaments of these countries, this meeting was held in Strasbourg on 15 March 1999, when the Speakers decided to set up a parliamentary co-operation structure for the three Caucasian countries (see Chapter VII).
e. Rapporteur’s conclusion
67. I firmly believe that if the current situation is allowed to persist in Nagorno-Karabakh it will threaten stability in the whole Transcaucasian area. Furthermore, the persistence of this situation would be unacceptable from the humanitarian angle, in view of the appalling conditions in which refugees and displaced persons are living. By the same token, the conflict is standing in the way of the region’s economic development, thereby jeopardising prospects for improving the living standards of its populations.
68. It is neither for me nor for the Council of Europe in general to suggest solutions to the parties to the conflict. The OSCE Minsk Group provides the optimum framework for such negotiations.
69. However, it should be stressed that even though no conflict-settlement agreement has been reached, the cease-fire is basically holding, in the absence of an international peacekeeping force. The Presidents of both countries are stepping up their contacts and have on many occasions declared their desire for a peaceful solution to the conflict. Regional co-operation is emerging, for instance at parliamentary level. Moreover, the idea of creating a system of regional security is gaining ground.
70. I consider that Armenia’s accession to the Council of Europe could be a positive element in settling the conflict, provided it is accompanied by a top-level formal written undertaking to proscribe the use of force and to spare no effort to resolve this conflict by peaceful, negotiated means. In this connection the President of Armenia had sent a letter on 18 February 2000 to the Secretary General of the Council of Europe and the President of the Parliamentary Assembly undertaking to respect the cease-fire agreement until a final solution was found to the conflict and to continue the efforts to reach a peaceful negotiated settlement on the basis of compromises acceptable to all parties concerned. (see appendix 5).
V. Rule of law
a. Setting up of the legal system
71. Intensive legislative work saw some one hundred laws enacted in 1998 and 1999, including the Code of Criminal Procedure (September 1998), the Code of Civil Procedure (August 1998), the law on the judicial system (July 1998), the law on the office of public prosecutor (August 1998), the law on lawyers’ services (July 1998), the Criminal Code - general part (February 1999), the Civil Code (August 1998) and the law on judges’ rights and obligations (July 1998).
72. I consequently take the view that the legislative basis for the rule of law is in place. The legislation enacted draws extensively on the experience of democratic countries and the expertise of the international organisations, including the Council of Europe.
73. Other laws remain to be adopted, such as the second (specific) part of the Criminal Code (Parliament has now given it a third reading, and it is to be finally adopted by March 2000), the law on the Ombudsman (the Parliamentary bill is to be enacted by February 2000), the new law on the media (which is being drafted), the law on political parties, the law on non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the law on the prison system, the law on the civil service, etc.
74. However, a legal framework is not sufficient to guarantee independence of the judiciary and proper functioning of the courts. Some sections of the opposition and a number of NGOs have openly objected to certain practices that prevent proper implementation of legislation and compromise judicial independence. Particular criticism has been levelled at the influence exerted on the courts by public prosecutors and the executive.
75. The authorities accept that there are problems with implementation of the legislation, but take the view that improvements are bound to be gradual since it is attitudes that need changing. Problems with implementation of legislation are unfortunately common to many of the Council of Europe’s new member States.
76. My latest visit convinced me that the authorities are working very seriously on reinforcing the independence of the courts. For instance, investigatory measures affecting fundamental human freedoms (such as police custody, house searches and phone tapping) now require authorisation from a judge.
b. Functioning of the judicial system
77. The reform of the judicial system came into force on 12 January 1999 and introduced three tiers of courts. The Constitutional Court has been in operation since 1996.
78. In addition to introducing structural reorganisation, the laws on which the reform is based seek to strengthen judicial independence. To that end a Judicial Council, on which judges are in the majority, has been set up and given important responsibilities, such as selection of candidates for posts as judges and removing judges from their posts. This Council’s independence is to be further reinforced by reforming it so that only judges can sit on it.
79. With the same object a Council of Presiding Judges has been established as an administrative body. As a result the powers of the Ministry of Justice are substantially reduced.
80. In order to guarantee maximum judicial independence, judges are appointed for life and their salaries have been tripled. To be appointed they have to take a written examination. Since Armenian independence, around 50% of judges have been replaced.
81. A similar reform of the public prosecutor system came into force on 12 January 1999. The extensive powers which public prosecutors enjoyed in the Soviet era have been abolished and public prosecutors’ duties are now the same as those in democratic societies.
VI. Observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms
82. The death penalty remains available in criminal law, although for only a very few offences. A moratorium has been in force since 1991. The authorities say that the death penalty will be removed from the criminal code with adoption of the second part, currently under consideration in the Armenian Parliament.
Rights of military servicemen
83. Some human rights associations (Human Rights Watch has provided extremely detailed information) allege that assault, torture and homicide of military servicemen occur in the Armenian army. They are critical of a climate of impunity in the armed forces and state that, although some officers, mostly of junior rank, have been tried and convicted, they were subsequently pardoned. Human Rights Watch likewise reports ill-treatment in Ministry of Defence prisons and objects to the fact that the code of conduct for the military is not available to the public.
84. The Minister of Defence has admitted that some problems exist but says that any such offences are prosecuted in accordance with the law. A list of officers found guilty of various abuses was given to the rapporteur (80 persons in 1998 and about ten this year). He also says that there are officials in each of the public-prosecutor regional offices who are responsible for prosecuting offences in the military. The military code of conduct is available in all army units as well as in the bookshops. It should also be pointed out that there are no military courts in Armenia, military personnel coming under the ordinary courts.
85. Regarding the question of deaths among conscripts, the President of the Republic has stated publicly that these cases must be made public to avoid a climate of impunity being created in the army. The Prosecutor General informed the rapporteur of the names of the officers who have been sentenced or dismissed following the re-opening of past cases concerning deaths which had been earlier been dropped.
86. A committee has been created to study the preparation of a law on alternatives to military service. However, the authorities state that this will be a long process, in particular because of fear that such a law would be abused. A model law was prepared by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Community of Independent States (which is of course not binding) and the Armenian delegation voted in favour of this model.
87. While awaiting the adoption of this law steps should be taken to allow conscientious objectors to perform military service in non-armed units under the existing legislation.
Prisoners and the prison system
88. The prison system is currently under the Ministry for Internal Affairs. The Minister of Justice informed the rapporteurs that measures to transfer prisons, including detention centres and labour camps, to the Ministry of Justice are being prepared as part of a general reform of the prison system. The reform should also take in the system of penalties, with the aim of reducing the number of crimes punishable by a prison sentence and bringing in non-custodial alternatives. This should reduce the size of the prison population.
89. International organisations and NGOs have access to all places of detention and visit them regularly. In 1996 an agreement was signed with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) concerning the access of this organisation to all prisoners.
90. As regards living conditions in the prisons, the government claims to be doing the maximum to improve them. However, the country’s very difficult economic situation has to be taken into consideration (part of Yerevan will not be heated this winter) as this imposes material limits to what the authorities can do.
Freedom of expression
91. The authorities state that there were 906 media entities on 29 January 1999 (178 television programmes, 47 radio programmes, 24 press agencies, 134 magazines and reviews and 528 newspapers). Nevertheless, it should be specified that the average number of copies printed of a large daily newspaper is around 6 000. At the time of the rapporteur’s last visit these figures had fallen, mainly because of the country’s difficult economic situation. At present, of the 33 television companies, 23 are operating and only one belongs to the state. Of the 13 radio companies, 11 are operating, one of which belongs to the state.
92. The rapporteur met a large number of press, radio and television representatives. As a rule, even though they complained of financial shortages, they said that freedom of expression was guaranteed in Armenia.
93. The rapporteur learned of some allegations of state financial pressure (through the tax system) on the independent media, abuse of the state’s quasi-monopoly of distribution and printing, refusals to register media entities and even cases of violence towards journalists. At the meetings referred to above there was no confirmation that such practices exist.
94. As regards criticism about access to the national television channel, a recommendation should be made that it be turned into a public channel managed by an independent administrative board.
Freedom of association and assembly
95. The authorities state that, at 29 January 1999, there were 79 political parties and 1,961 public organisations. On the basis of the information available (also see section II), I take the view that freedom of association and assembly are now guaranteed in Armenia.
Freedom of religion
96. The 1991 act on religion, amended in September 1997, is criticised by human rights organisations as discriminating against religions other than the Armenian Church.
97. Apparently it is the activities of “non-traditional” churches, mostly coming from Eastern Asia, described as “sects”, that are causing a problem. The “sects” (for example, Jehovah’s Witnesses) are accused of exploiting the toughness of life in Armenia and destroying traditional social institutions.
98. No problems concerning the traditional churches have been reported. The sect issue is an extremely sensitive one even in other European countries. To date all religious groups who have made an application have been registered in Armenia, with the exception of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, whose request is being examined. The authorities state that certain activities of this group are contrary to the constitution and the law, but they can appeal through the courts.
99. In conclusion, the rapporteur believes that freedom of religion is in principle guaranteed in Armenia.
Rights of minorities
100. The rapporteur met representatives of the German, Kurdish, Jewish, Polish, Georgian, Ukrainian, Belarusian, Greek, Assyrian and Russian minorities. During the exchange of views there were no reports of discrimination against or infringement of the rights of minorities.
101. Minorities’ representatives did, however, request a minorities act, financial support for their educational and cultural institutions and establishment of a government body to be responsible for minorities questions.
102. The rapporteur considers that although progress still needs to be made, the Armenian authorities have demonstrated their firm commitment to ensure the respect of human rights at Council of Europe standard. Similarly, they have shown themselves to be receptive to the criticisms made by both the Council of Europe and the NGOs. In this connection mention should be made of their willingness to co-operate, for example, with Human Rights Watch, whom the authorities even asked to act as consultant to help find solutions to the outstanding problems. Again, the creation by presidential decree of a human rights committee to advise the authorities on this subject, and the preparation of a law on the ombudsman are further steps in the right direction.
VII. Regional parliamentary co-operation
103. Meeting on the initiative of the President of the Parliamentary Assembly on 15 March 1999 in Strasbourg, the Speakers of the Parliaments of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia decided to institute regional parliamentary co-operation, consisting in particular of meetings of the Speakers of the Parliaments and parliamentary seminars to be held in turn in the capitals of these three countries.
104. The first of this series of seminars was held in Tbilissi on the invitation of the Georgian Parliament. Delegations of the three countries concerned took part, led by the respective Speakers of the Parliaments, together with the members of the ad hoc Committee set up by the Bureau for this purpose.
105. The discussions at this Seminar were franc and constructive and the general atmosphere was very good. It should be pointed out that this was the first inter-parliamentary meeting in the region, hence also a measure of trust and of the considerable détente in relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
106. A joint declaration by the three Speakers was signed at the end of the Seminar, in which they undertook to continue the co-operation between their Parliaments (see appendix 6).
107. It was also decided to create working groups on prisoners of war and on the implementation of human rights legislation. The first meetings of these working groups have already taken place. As a result of the conclusion of the meeting of the working group on prisoners-of-war, held in Paris on 17 December 1999, the Parliament of Armenia adopted a declaration on the matter (see appendix 7).
108. The rapporteur considers that these initiatives, although not directly connected with the accession procedure, bear witness to Armenia’s will, and that of the other two countries, to discuss their problems in a democratic way and try to find the solutions together in the respect of the Council of Europe’s standards and traditions.
109. Since the beginning of the accession procedure Armenia has made very considerable progress, whether in setting up a pluralist political system, establishing the rule of law, or observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms.
110. Parliament has become a genuine tool for building Armenian democracy, as well as its custodian. It has succeeded in involving all its political tendencies in its work in an impressive legislative effort.
111. Thanks to that effort, 1998 saw the foundations of the genuine rule of law laid down. Judicial reform, which came into force in January of this year, met the requirements for a truly independent judiciary.
112. Major progress has also been made in human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rapporteur considers that human rights are now respected in Armenia.
113. In all fields, however, there remains room for further improvements. The legislative and judicial reforms need putting to the test of everyday application. Even more needs doing to prevent abuses and arbitrary decisions by state bodies, in particular the executive. Certain reforms which have already been embarked upon need to be completed.
114. The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh needs rapid settlement. As explained in the relevant parts of the rapport, the Council of Europe should be guarantor of the fact that such a solution will be found exclusively through peaceful means.
115. In conclusion, the rapporteur thinks that he is now able to propose to the Political Affairs Committee, and subsequently to the Parliamentary Assembly, to recommend the Committee of Ministers to invite Armenia to become a member of the Council of Europe. However, he expects this country to undertake to fulfil, within the period specified, a series of commitments based on this report, the list of which appears in the draft opinion. In this connection, he welcomed the constructive attitude of the Armenian authorities, who had accepted all these commitments after prior consultation with the Rapporteur. Letters to this effect had been sent to the President of the Parliamentary Assembly by the President of Armenia (see appendix 8), the Speaker of Parliament (see appendix 9), the Prime Minister (see appendix 10) and the Chairmen of the political parties represented in Parliament (see appendix 11).
116. Armenian membership of the Council of Europe would be a natural development. Membership would also reinforce the country’s democratic reforms and would be a consecration of its efforts to join the European family.
Conclusions of the eminent lawyers’ report
on the conformity of the Armenian legal system
with the standards of the Council of Europe
A great deal of progress has already been made in establishing a State governed by the rule of law and respecting human rights. However, the tense climate in the wake of the last Presidential elections is hardly conducive to the proper development of an inchoate Republic, and particularly for building the citizens’ confidence in a system of representative elections. The political crisis in Armenia must be solved in such a way as to enable the various opinions of the population to be represented and to give meaning to the established parliamentary democracy. The State authorities are disappointed that the opposition representatives are taking parliamentary debate into the streets. The latter consider that the elections were rigged, the reins of power were unjustly seized and the only way of normalising relations would be to hold fresh elections and adopt a different Constitution.
Consideration of the Constitution in the light of the European Convention on Human Rights shows that it complies with the basic requirements of international human rights law: fundamental rights and freedoms are placed under the protection of the judicial system, and the Constitutional Court, which holds considerable powers and is structurally independent from the executive, might soon acquire the requisite public confidence.
However, we regret that the Constitutional Court is not yet empowered to adjudicate on all judicial decisions or all obstacles raised by a public authority to the exercise of the fundamental freedoms and rights secured under the Constitution. This means that the ordinary have sole responsibility for implementing the provisions on fundamental freedoms and rights. Yet we have noted that it is currently very difficult, in view of the judges’ very short term of office in the current transitional period, to consider the ordinary courts structurally independent from the executive and therefore able properly to guarantee human rights.
The Constitution lays down that the ratified international human rights treaties are directly binding and override national law. As soon as the European Convention on Human Rights is ratified, everyone will be able to rely on the rights laid down in the Constitution and the Convention before the ordinary courts, which will provide for concrete protection of human rights and supply a solid national basis for protecting individuals in Armenia.
All our discussion partners are keenly aware that the current democratisation is not yet complete, and our visit very obviously prompted a wide variety of reactions: some fear that Armenian membership of the Council of Europe will obscure realities and bestow a certificate of good conduct in the human rights field upon this State, while others consider that it might provide assistance and the requisite support along the road to democracy.
It is our opinion that Armenia is on the right road towards democracy, but that only after completion of the reform of the judicial system which the Constitution provides for and which we have mentioned in this report will we be able to say that Armenia’s domestic legal system is compatible with the Council of Europe’s standards in the human rights field.
COMPOSITION OF THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA
As a result of the parliamentary election held in May 1999 75 parliamentarians by the majority system and 56 parliamentarians by the proportional system were elected.
Factions and Groups
Communist Party of Armenia
Armenian Revolutionary Federation
Law and Unity
National Democratic Union
Rule of Law
Parliamentary election in Armenia: Commitment to democracy confirmed
YEREVAN, 31.05.99 - "The parliamentary election that took place in Armenia on 30 May was an important step towards achieving Council of Europe standards. It confirmed the country's commitment to democracy and its will to become a full member of the Organisation", Hanneke GELDERBLOM-LANKHOUT said today on behalf of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly observers(*).
"The electoral campaign was conducted without major incidents. The freedom of association and expression including fair access to media, was respected. It representes a considerable improvement compared to the 1995 parliamentary election.
The new electoral law provided a satisfactory legislative framework for this election, despite a series of shortcomings which the new Parliament should remedy as soon as possible. Particular attention should be paid to the improvement of the procedure concerning the work of the election committees and of the authorities responsible for establishing the voting lists", Ms Gelderblom-Lankhout said.
The delegation visited more than 100 polling stations in Yerevan and in the regions of Kotaïk, Armavir, Guegharkounik, Tavouch, Aragotsotn, Chirak and Ararat. The voting was generally carried out in an ordarly manner and in respect for the law. Domestic observers were largely present during the vote, contributing substantially to its transparency. However, the delegation expressed serious concern about inaccuracies in the voting lists in several districts, depriving a number of people of their right to vote, and about the strict military way in which some soldiers had to vote.
During its stay in Armenia, the delegation met the highest State representatives, including the President of the Republic and the President of the Parliament, the Chairman of the Central Election Committee, different political forces of the country, as well as NGOs and media representatives.
Armenia has been a candidate for Council of Europe membership since 1996. A report on the election will be submitted to the Parliamentary Assembly during its June 1999 session. Its conclusions will be taken into account when considering Armenia's request to join the Council of Europe.
A political organisation set up in 1949, the Council of Europe promotes democracy and human rights continent-wide. It also develops common responses to social, cultural and legal challenges in its 41 member states.
(*) The delegation members are:
Hanneke GELDERBLOM-LANKHOUT (Netherlands, Liberal, Democratic and
Reformers Group - LDR). Head of delegation
Carmen CALLEJA (Spain, Socialist Group - SOC)
Björn von der ESCH (Sweden, European People's Party - EPP/CD)
Pilar PULGAR (Spain, EPP/CD)
Olga SEHNALOVA (Czech Republic, SOC)
Leonid STRIZHKO (Ukraine, United European Left - UEL)
Andrzej URBANCZYC (Poland, SOC)
Benno ZIERER (Germany, EPP/CD)
Dumeni COLUMBERG (Switzerland, EPP/CD), Rapporteur on
Armenia's request for Council of Europe
Congrès des Pouvoirs Locaux et Régionaux de l’Europe
Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe
REPORT ON LOCAL DEMOCRACY IN ARMENIA 1
(Rapporteurs : Mr Casagrande (France, L) and Mr Kolumban (Romania, R)
The Armenian legislator has made a commendable effort in defining the system of devolved local government, drawing ample inspiration from the principles embodied in the Charter, but has been compelled to take into account the characteristic circumstances of this newly founded State. The entire system of public administration is affected by weaknesses linked with economic development and slowness in making the transition from a form of government which was highly centralised politically and institutionally to one founded on political pluralism and balance between central and local authorities.
The rapporteurs consider that Armenia's prospective accession to the Council of Europe should carry a list of obligations which the country will undertake to fulfil according to a proposed time schedule. These undertakings follow not only from the rapporteurs' observations during their second visit, but also from their remarks in the report on the last local elections.
Consequently, the Armenian authorities should undertake, where local self-government is concerned:
I) in respect of conventions:
a) to sign and ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government within one year of accession;
b) to sign and ratify the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation and the protocols thereto within one year of accession.
II) in respect of domestic legislation:
a) to intensify preparation and enact within one year of accession a law on the status of elected representatives affording mayors and councillors adequate guarantees in the discharge of their mandates;
b) to intensify preparation and enact within one year of accession a law on the civil service affording the staff of the communities adequate guarantees in the performance of their functions;
c) to intensify work on the amendments to the Electoral Code and adopt with all dispatch a law establishing the rules for refugees' participation in local elections, particularly in communities where their numbers exceed 50% of the local population;
d) to review expeditiously the three-year interval prescribed by the Constitution for local elections, and devise a system for general election of mayors and councillors on one date;
e) to review expeditiously the financial rules of elections, specifically in order to reduce and thus render less prohibitive the deposits payable by candidates;
f) to step up the proceedings of the working party chaired by Mr SADOYAN, one of whose aims is to separate the decentralised State administration and the local authorities, whose respective powers still overlap too much;
g) to clarify without delay the status of Yerevan and its mayors. The future status should also allow better management of the conurbation, as well as greater solidarity and more even distribution of public funds within it.
The rapporteurs recommend that the Parliamentary Assembly consider these remarks when drawing up the list of undertakings which it will ask the Armenian authorities to honour.
The rapporteurs invite the CLRAE to discuss the possibility of organising if appropriate, in conjunction with the ADACS "Local Authorities" Programme, a seminar on the role of associations of local authorities in modern society.
In addition, the rapporteurs invite the Committee of Ministers to support the co-operation and assistance programmes, particularly the ADACS "Local Authorities" Programme aimed at strengthening local self-government in Armenia, and to intensify dialogue with the European Union aimed at finalising a joint programme on local self-government.
They further invite the Committee of Ministers to support any move by the Armenian Government to develop transfrontier co-operation by its communities with the local authorities of adjacent countries. The first step towards such co-operation could consist of Armenia's early accession to the European Outline Convention on Transfrontier Co-operation and the protocols thereto.