ARMENIAN FREEDOMS OF CONSCIENCE, RELIGION AND THE CRIMINAL CODE

OPINION ON FREEDOMS OF CONSCIENCE AND RELIGION, AMENDMENTS TO THE CRIMINAL CODE, AND THE LAW ON THE RELATIONS BETWEEN THE REPUBLIC OF ARMENIA AND THE HOLY ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC CHURCH


Venice Commission Opinion By Richard Clayton QC

Introduction

By letter dated 23 August 2011, the authorities of Armenia have requested the assessment
by the European Commission for Democracy Through Law (hereinafter, the “Venice
Commission”), of the draft Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedoms of Conscience and
Religion, as well as draft amendments and supplements to the Criminal Code, Administrative
Offences Code, and the Law on the Relations Between the Republic of Armenia and the Holy
Armenian Apostolic Church. Subsequently, with the agreement of the Minister of Justice of
Armenia, the Venice Commission turned to the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and
Human Rights (hereinafter, the “OSCE/ODIHR”) with an invitation to issue a Joint Opinion, in
particular in view of previous Joint Opinions issued on this matter, described below.

On 23 June 2009, the Venice Commission, together with the OSCE/ODIHR, adopted a Joint
Opinion (hereinafter, the “2009 Joint Opinion”) on the Law on Making Amendments and
Addenda to the Law on Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organisations and on the
Law Amending the Criminal Code of the Republic of Armenia (hereinafter the “2009 Draft
Law”).1 This 2009 Draft Law examined in the 2009 Joint Opinion was, however, never enacted.

In 2010, the Armenian authorities tabled a further draft Law on Making Amendments and
Supplements to the Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedom of Conscience and Religious
Organisations. The 2010 draft Law, which was the subject of an Interim Joint Opinion by the
Venice Commission and the OSCE/ODIHR dated 22 December 2010 (hereinafter, the “2010
Joint Opinion”),2 was also never adopted. Instead, in 2011, the Armenian authorities drafted an
entirely new “Draft Law of the Republic of Armenia on Freedoms of Conscience and Religion”
(hereinafter, the “Draft Law”), which is the subject of the present Joint Opinion.

This Joint Opinion was drafted by the Legislative Support Unit of the OSCE/ODIHR together
with the OSCE/ODHIR Advisory Council on Freedom of Religion and Belief, and Ms Finola
Flanagan and Ms Herdis Thorgeirsdottir, who acted as rapporteurs on behalf of the Venice
Commission.

This Opinion examines the Draft Law as well as draft amendments to three other laws,
namely:

  • the Draft Law of RA on making an amendment and a supplement to the Criminal Code
    of RA;
  • the Draft Law of RA on making amendments and a supplement to the Administrative
    Offences Code of RA; and
  • the Draft Law of RA on making a supplement to the Law of RA on the Relations
    Between RA and the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church.

This opinion, which was prepared on the basis of the comments submitted by the experts
above, was adopted by the Venice Commission at its 88th Plenary Session (Venice, 14-15
October 2011).


A copy of the full opinion is here.  

17 October 2011

Richard Clayton QC