Unchanged Status: Human rights organizations see no progress in Armenia

This week three human rights watchdogs, including two international organizations, have released their annual reports, showing lack of progress in terms of human rights protection in Armenia.

United States-based international human rights organization Freedom House on Wednesday released its annual “Freedom in the World 2016” survey, which assesses the level of human rights and freedoms in 195 countries and 14 territories around the world, classifying them as “free”, “partly free” and “not free”.

Armenia retained its “partly free” ranking, scoring 5 for “political rights” and 4 for “civil liberties” on a 7-point scale, with 1 representing the most free and 7 the least free.

Nagorno-Karabakh, presented as a “disputed territory” in the report, was also ranked as “partly free” unlike Azerbaijan that is included in the category of “not free” countries.

Armenia’s neighbors Turkey and Georgia are “partly free”, while Russia and Iran are “not free”.

Arch Puddington, Vice President for Research at Freedom House, told VOA that Armenia’s unchanging “partly free” status in recent years is primarily due to the Russian pressure and its negative impact, which also has made Armenia prefer the Eurasian - and not the European - Union.

“Armenia is in a very difficult region in terms of human rights,” said the Freedom House representative. He specified that Armenia is surrounded by countries such as Azerbaijan and Russia, which have a very rigid authoritarian system, adding that “it is very difficult for democrats to function in such surroundings.”

Meanwhile, according to the Human Rights Watch organization, the human rights situation in Armenia in 2015 remained uneven.

In a report released on Wednesday, the HRW raised serious concerns about the government’s interference with freedom of assembly in Armenia. Besides, the watchdog also presented concerns regarding media freedom, poor prison conditions, including overcrowding and mistreatment, as well as discrimination against LGBT people.

Human rights activists also express their concerns over the legality of the referendum on constitutional amendments, citing allegations of widespread vote buying, ballot stuffing, as well as intimidation and violence against observers.
The annual report of the Helsinki Committee of Armenia published on January 26 also raises the issue of violence, political persecution, repression of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as well as torture.

In 2015, according to the report, instances of pressure against media representatives increased by 24 as compared to the previous year, and violence continued against a number of civic activists.

Both the Human Rights Watch and the Helsinki Committee of Armenia singled out in their reports the police break-up of a peaceful protest against the rise in electricity violence on June 23, 2015. More than 200 demonstrators were detained then, a number of journalists also suffered police brutality during the events.

Ruling Republican Party of Armenia (RPA) representatives, however, dismiss the criticism. Senior RPA lawmaker Hovhannes Sahakyan describes the latest reports of international human rights organizations as “not objective”. In particular, regarding the Freedom House assessments, he told RFE/RL’s Armenian Service that he didn’t think that “connecting a country’s freedom and democracy to one geopolitical entity or another is right and fair.”