Armenia: Law On Preserving Order Criticized For Creating Potential P

Marianna Grigoryan
March 29 2012

A recently adopted law that opens the way for the army’s potential
intervention in public political disputes is fostering worries about
the fairness of upcoming parliamentary elections in May.

The bill, passed by parliament on March 21, would allow President
Serzh Sargsyan, a former defence minister, to call in the army under
a state of emergency to fulfil certain law-enforcement functions,
provided the police and “state-authorized national security forces”
were deemed incapable of doing so. Among those functions would
be: protecting the government and “special guarded facilities;”
securing transportation routes; preventing “emergency situations;”
and quelling the “activities of illegal armed groups.” In addition,
the law specifies that the army’s “functions” in such situations would
be governed by “regulations for [Ministry of Internal Affairs] troops.”

Given that memories are still fresh of the deadly clashes that
followed Armenia’s controversial presidential election in 2008,
government critics fear the law creates an uneven political playing
field during the present electoral season. The parliamentary vote is
scheduled for May 6.

The international community harshly criticized the excessive use of
police troops and armed forces during the 2008 crackdown.

International rights groups have not yet commented on the 2012
state-of-emergency law.

Arthur Sakunts, a leading human rights activist in Armenia, argues
that the law’s danger lies in its “vague” wording, which gives
“authorities a certain flexibility.” As the post-election clashes in
2008 demonstrated, the government and opposition are unlikely to agree
on what constitutes a threat to public order, and what defines an
“armed” individual.

“The concerns voiced are really to the point,” said Sakunts, head
of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly’s office in the northern town
of Vanadzor. “The law does have many gaps which are worth being

Gagik Jhangirian, a former military prosecutor under former President
Robert Kocharian, contends that the bill violates Article 55 of the
Constitution, which states that the armed forces may only be used to
repel “an armed attack on the republic, an imminent danger thereof,
or declaration of war,” or when martial law is declared, or troops
are mobilized.

In passing the law, the government is sending “sort of a message
addressed to the people,” said Jhangirian, a member of the opposition
Armenian National Congress, the coalition that bore the brunt of
the arrests that followed the 2008 bloodshed. “They want to say,
‘See, we have a law already, so you should behave yourselves.'”

Under the constitution, the president can declare a state of emergency
after consulting with just the prime minister and parliamentary
speaker. Currently, both the prime minister and parliament speaker
are members of the Republican Party of Armenia, which is headed by
President Sargsyan. Some leading politicians contend that checks on
presidential authority need to be strengthened.

“The law gives the authority to decide whether or not there is a
threat to the constitutional order to a single person and his immediate
supporters,” noted Vahan Hovhannisian, head of the nationalist Armenian
Revolutionary Federation-Dashnaktsutiun’s parliamentary faction. A
special task force, Hovhannisian asserted, would be better suited to
decide on whether or not a state of emergency should be declared. “Our
army, which is under the authority of the Defense Ministry, must not
be involved in politics,” he stated in parliament.

Defense Ministry officials did not respond to questions from about the law in time for publication.

Government representatives dismiss contentions that the governing
Republican Party of Armenia harbored a hidden agenda when it pushed
the state-of-emergency law though the legislature. Responding to
opposition concerns expressed during a February 29 parliamentary floor
debate, Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasian gave “my name as a pledge”
and stressed “that the government is not thinking up any plots with
regard to this law.”

In an apparent bid to underline that message, the chief of Armenia’s
police, Lt. Gen. Vladimir Gasparian, on March 23 “reminded” police
that law-enforcement officers “serve all the people.” At the same
time, Gasparian said that security agencies should act “as a cold
shower for all those seeking adventures,” news outlets reported.

Editor’s note: Marianna Grigoryan is a freelance reporter based
in Yerevan.

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