Armenia: Venice Commission says draft amendments to alternative service law insufficient

The Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's "European Commission for Democracy through Law" was asked by the Armenian government to comment on its draft law to amend the Alternative Service Law of the country.

The European Commission for Democracy through Law, better known as the Venice Commission, is the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional matters.

Regarding Armenia's law on conscientious objection, the Venice Commission noted that the "amendments and additions to the Law, if adopted, will be a step in the right direction and can, to some extent, enhance the Law’s conformity with international standards relating to conscientious objection to military service. However, the Venice Commission deemed it necessary to draw the attention of the authorities to the fact that further clarifications and modifications of the other provisions of the Law in force will still be needed before the Law on Alternative Service can be said to be fully in line with international standards."
And: "It became apparent during the meetings held on 15-16 November 2011 in Yerevan, that the amendments had been drafted long before the Grand Chamber Judgment in the case of Bayatyan v. Armenia of 7 July 2011 (Application n° 3459/03), and that further amendments must be made to address specifically the implications of the judgment."

The Venice Commission expressed its concern that the draft law does not recognise the right to conscientious objection sufficiently, and recommends to amend it to comply with Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The Commission also states that "alternative labour service" lasts 42 months, compared to 24 months of military service, which "appears to be too long".

The Venice Commission is also concerned about the composition of the so-called "Republican Commission", whose task it is to determine applications for conscientious objection. This "Republican Commission" is not defined in the law, and the Venice Commission also stressed that it needs to be "under the control of civilian authorities".

In addition, there were concerns about the conditions of substitute service, which is not clearly under civilian control. The Venice Commission also demanded that conscripts have a right to conscientious objection and any time - before, during, and after military service - and complained about the lack of a provision for serving conscripts to claim conscientious objector status (while conscientious objectors serving their substitute service can apply to be reassigned to military service).

An important critical remark has to be made on the opinion of the Venice Commission. The Commission consistently confuses the right to conscientious objection with the duty to perform substitute service. This is also a fundamental flaw in the Armenian Alternative Service Law, which is not addressed by the Venice Commission. According to the Armenian law, an application is for "alternative labour service", but not for recognition as conscientious objector.

The Venice Commission also fails to understand that issuing conscientious objectors with a military certificate/military booklet might not be consistent with their conscientious objection. Or how else can its recommendation be understood that "the military booklet state that its holder had been exempted from performing military service, but that no explicit mention be made of the reason for which this exemption had been granted".

Sources: European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission): DRAFT LAW ON AMENDMENTS AND ADDITIONS TO THE LAW ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE OF THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA, 14 September 2011; European Commission for Democracy through Law (Venice Commission): OPINION ON THE DRAFT LAW ON AMENDMENTS AND ADDITIONS TO THE LAW ON ALTERNATIVE SERVICE OF ARMENIA, Adopted by the Venice Commission at its 89th Plenary Session (Venice, 16-17 December 2011)