Time in Yerevan: 11:07:36,   16 February

Venice Commission and OSCE ODIHR positively assess Armenia’s new draft “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organisations

YEREVAN, MARCH 19, ARMENPRESS. A new draft law amending the Law of the Republic of Armenia “On Freedom of Conscience and on Religious Organisations” is a welcome improvement of the existing legal framework in terms of compliance with international standards on freedom of religion or belief; it is well-structured and addresses most issues such legislation should regulate, ARMENPRESS reports the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and the OSCE/ODIHR said in the joint opinion published today.

The opinion welcomes improvements proposed in comparison to the existing Law, in particular, the inclusion of the provisions guaranteeing the right of conscience and religion for every person, and not only for Armenian citizens; as well as references to the freedom to change one’s religion, faith or belief, to manifest it and to act according to it in daily life. The document also implies that religious/belief communities may exercise their rights without state registration.

One of the key recommendations of the opinion is to refer systematically not only to “religion”, but also to “belief”, in order to eliminate the differential treatment between “religious” and “belief organisations” where the latter may not benefit from the same rights and guarantees.

The opinion noted that the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church is conferred “the exceptional mission “ by the Constitution and is subject to a special legislation prevailing over the Draft Law in question. The Council of Europe and OSCE/ODIHR experts recommend ensuring that privileges enjoyed by the Holy Armenian Apostolic Church are objectively justified and are not thus discriminatory.

The limitations on the manifestation of freedom of religion or belief should be narrowed down and qualified more strictly. Notably, the reference to “state security” should be replaced with the term “public safety”, or at least this term should be given the narrow interpretation compatible with the European standards.

The report was adopted at the Venice Commission’s plenary session on 17 March.

English –translator/editor: Tigran Sirekanyan

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