Dáil Éireann - Volume 649 - 11 March, 2008

Written Answers. - Human Rights Issues.

Deputy Ruairí Quinn asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs his views on the declaration of a state of emergency in Armenia, in view of expressions of concern at the position as pertains there by the Council of Europe; the action that will be taken by Ireland as a member of the EU and the international community to offer aid and assistance; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10294/08]

  Deputy Dermot Ahern: Following the 19 February Presidential elections in Armenia, won by the government candidate Serzh Sarkisyan, the International Election Observation Mission noted that the vote was conducted mostly in line with OSCE and Council of Europe commitments and standards but that further improvements were necessary to address remaining challenges. The EU statement of 25 February congratulated the Armenian people on the conduct of the election but called attention to the problems highlighted by the observers.

Supporters of the main opposition candidate, Levon Ter-Petrossian, held a series of peaceful demonstrations in Yerevan to dispute the result and call for new elections. However, on 1 March there were clashes with security forces which left at least eight people dead and many injured. A 20-day state of emergency was declared. In the immediate aftermath of the violence, both the Council of Europe and the OSCE expressed concern about the possibly excessive use of force and called for calm. They also expressed the hope that the state of emergency would be lifted quickly and that dialogue would begin between the two sides.

[863] On 4 March the EU issued a statement expressing its concern about the situation, condemning the violence, and calling on the Armenian authorities to release those arrested. The EU also called for the lifting of the state of emergency and recommended an independent investigation of the events of 1 March. It urged all sides to engage in dialogue for the consolidation of peace and stability in the country. In an effort to ensure the situation does not escalate, the EU is keeping in close touch with all sides, in particular through its Special Representative for the South Caucasus Peter Semneby.

I condemn the violence of 1 March, which resulted in loss of life and numerous injuries. I fully support the efforts of the EU, and of the OSCE and Council of Europe, to calm the situation in the country. The state of emergency should be lifted as soon as possible. The rule of law and a free media are essential elements in any democracy and these must be restored fully if Armenia is to deal with what has happened. It is important that an independent enquiry take place into the events of 1 March. Ireland, through the EU, will provide what assistance it can to support a process of dialogue between the government and opposition. The EU will also continue its support for the reform process in the country through the EU-Armenia ENP Action Plan.