Human Rights Review: Advocates say 2013 saw decline

Human Rights Review: Advocates say 2013 saw decline

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Human rights advocates in Armenia assessing the departing 2013 say that the year has been worse in terms of human rights defense than previous years.

“If we look through the annual reports of international human rights watchdogs on Armenia, we’ll see the following: the year has not manifested a positive shift in terms of human rights. Some of the reports have suggestions on what should be changed and clearly state improving the given field requires a political will, which our authorities lack whatsoever,” says Helsinki Committee chairman Avetik Ishkhanyan.

According to him, there is no differentiation of power in Armenia – courts are the continuation of the executive power and are subordinate to it. It is impossible to seek justice in court, because there are no courts as such, and under these circumstances what human rights can be talked about at all?

Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Vandazor office leader Artur Sakunts believes that it is, in fact, pointless talking about human rights in the country.

“The thing now is not about a political will, but rather political cynicism. Never before have we witnessed the kind of neglect that Serzh Sargsyan’s administration is demonstrating towards the citizens of Armenia. The suspension of criminal prosecution against Syunik’s former governor Suren Khachatryan’s son and his bodyguard is indicative of the authorities’ attitude to its citizens.” (The governor’s son was allegedly responsible for the killing of a man in a shootout near the governor’s home.)

He says also that even people’s hope for any possible improvement has been taken away, they are driven to despair, from the legal field to personal revenge. As an example he brings Shant Harutyunyan and the other 13 people detained after they had resorted to a political rebellion as an act of desperation, having become Armenia’s “new group of political prisoners”. (Harutyunyan was held for his participation in civil protests against the government.)

Human rights activists also reflect on major violations of human rights in the armed forces of Armenia, the targets of which are regular conscripts. They claim this year 31 non-combat deaths have been registered in the army, only five of which were results of the ceasefire regime violation; eight have been qualified as suicide by the investigative bodies, while in all other cases the soldiers were either killed by their fellow soldiers, or died as a result of accidents or other reasons. In 2012, the number of deaths in the army was 50.

“Defendants who get convicted for murder in the army are regular soldiers, privates, rather than officers, while officers in such cases are commonly transferred to a different military unit. Witnesses are kept in confinement at the military police for months. When a witness testifies at court that there have been pressures used against him, the prosecution can issue threats right in the courtroom. We have such a case. The court does not respond to it at all,” says Reporters for Human Rights NGO leader Zhanna Alexanyan.

Freedom of Speech Protection Committee chairman Ashot Melikyan says the year has been tense both for reporters and media representatives, mostly conditioned by the presidential and municipal elections.

“In 2013, by the data for only the first nine months the number of cases of violence against reporters grew by seven as compared to 2012’s four. During the given period there were 49 cases of pressure against reporters versus the 37 cases in 2012,” says Melikyan.

Martin Tadevosyan, expert in NA Standing Committee on Human Rights and Public Issues, says the provisions of the Criminal Code and the Criminal Procedure Code are among the most violated. He says the committee has received 210 complaints in 2013.

As an achievement in 2013 Ishkhanyan points out the amendments in the law on Alternative Service, as a result of which there are no longer prisoners of conscience [on religious grounds] in Armenia. Sakunts also points out the acquittal and release of the convicts in the Mataghis (army) case after nine years of relentless struggle, as well as the active involvement of civil society in a number of issues.