THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA APPLIED TO JOIN THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE (CE) ON MARCH 7–1996–AND IN GAINING MEMBERSHIP ON JANUARY 25–2001–THE COUNTRY PLEDGED TO FULFILL SEVERAL COMMITMENTS BEFORE THE CE–INCLUDING HUMAN RIGHTS AND DOMESTIC LAW REFORMS. ONE OF THE GREATEST CHALLENGES FACING ARMENIA–AND ONE OF ITS GREATEST COMMITMENTS BEFORE THE CE–WAS TO CATEGORICALLY ABOLISH OF THE DEATH PENALTY.
IN A HISTORIC MOVE ON TUESDAY–ARMENIA’S PARLIAMENT VOTED TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY AND TO RATIFY PROTOCOL NO. 6 TO THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS. THERE HAS BEEN A GREAT DEAL OF TALK ABOUT PROTOCOL 6 AND ARMENIA LATELY. ARMENIA’S ADOPTION OF THE PROTOCOL IS INVALUABLE. THE HISTORY OF PROTOCOL 6–HOWEVER–REVEALS HOW THIS PRINCIPLE HAS SUCCEEDED IN REFORMING ALL OF EUROPE:
"The death penalty shall be abolished. No-one shall be condemned to such penalty or executed." Thus reads Article 1 of Protocol No 6 to the European Human Rights Convention. In two sentences the Council of Europe put capital punishment beyond the pale of democratic nations and set an example to the whole of the international community. As a result–no execution has taken place in the Council’s member states since 1997.
Protocol No 6 to the European Human Rights Convention–which prohibits recourse to the death penalty in peacetime–and which came into force on 1 March 1985–was the outcome of over twenty years’ efforts by the Council of Europe. As early as 1962–a Council of Europe report noted that the general trend has always been towards the abolition and alleviation of penalties – an observation which has since been confirmed by developmen’s all over the world. One abolished–the death penalty has very rarely been re-introduced.
The Protocol was a radically new departure in that hitherto–according to Article 2 of the European Human Rights Convention–the Council of Europe accepted capital punishment insofar as it was provided for by law or made necessary by the use of force. Article 2–paragraph 2–of the Convention–entitled "Right to life" stipulates that "Deprivation of life shall not be regarded as inflicted in contravention of this article when it results from the use of force which is no more than absolutely necessary". This justification reflects the attitude of governmen’s and public opinion at the time the Convention was adopted–in 1950.
With Protocol No 6–Europe completely changed tack from tolerating to prohibiting statutory killing. Better still–it made prohibition one of its cardinal values on a par with democratic pluralism and the rule of law. Rejection of the death penalty was thus made one of the cornerstones of European identity and one of the continent’s universal values.