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Belarus: Leading Rights Defender Detained

06.08.2011


(Moscow) – Belarusian authorities should immediately free a leading human rights activist, Ales Belyatsky, whom police detained on August 4, 2011, in Minsk on politically motivated allegations of tax evasion, Human Rights Watch said today. The investigation against Belyatsky, who is head of the Belarusian human rights group Viasna and vice-president of the International Federation of Human Rights in Minsk, is a thinly veiled tactic to imprison a prominent human rights defender and should be discontinued, Human Rights Watch said.

At approximately 5:20 p.m. on August 4, financial police dressed in civilian clothing detained Belyatsky on Minsk’s Freedom Square. They told him that he was being detained as part of an investigation into financial crimes and that they had a warrant to search his apartment.

“Belyatsky’s arrest is a clear case of retaliation against him and Viasna for their human rights work,” said Hugh Williamson, Europe and Central Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s the latest in a long series of efforts by the government to crush Belarus’s civil society.”

Viasna is one of the leading human rights organizations in Belarus that provided legal and financial assistance to support political prisoners and their families following the 2011 pro-democracy protests in Belarus. The authorities withdrew Viasna’s registration after it monitored the 2001 presidential elections, and have routinely denied it registration since. Under Belarusian law, participation in the work of a non-registered association constitutes a criminal offense.

A Viasna staff member told Human Rights Watch that Belyatsky is being held in relation to article 243 part 2 of the Belarusian Criminal Code, “tax evasion on a particularly large scale,” which is subject to penalties of up to seven years in prison and confiscation of all property.

Belyatsky’s arrest appears to stem from the use of his personal bank account in Lithuania to support human rights work in Belarus. Belarusian authorities have refused to register on a national level all but one of the independent human rights organizations in the country. As a result, an unregistered group cannot open a bank account in the organization’s name in Belarus or meet the terms set out in financial regulations.

“In reality what the Belarus authorities are doing to civil society and Belyatsky in particular, amounts to entrapment,” Williamson said. “First they push human rights defenders to work in the margins of the law, deny them capacity to function, then when they seek to continue to work in the only way they can, the authorities use criminal law, pretending that it has nothing to do with their human rights work. Any intelligent observer knows different.”

On August 5, Viasna issued a public statement expressing regret about the role that Lithuanian authorities may have unwittingly played in spurring the investigation against Belyatsky. Media reports said Lithuanian authorities had released bank account information for a large number of Belarusian nationals, including Belyatsky, in response to an official request from Minsk.
Later on August 5, the Lithuanian deputy justice minister issued a statement confirming these reports. The deputy minister said that under a bilateral agreement on legal assistance on family, civil and criminal matters, such information must be shared upon request from the government that is a party to the agreement. According to the statement, Lithuania has shared with Belarusian authorities the bank account information for as many as 400 Belarusian nationals during 2011.

But the deputy minister also said that because the Belarusian government has used the information against the political opposition, Lithuania is suspending further legal assistance to Belarus.

“The Belarusian government’s abuse of information provided by Lithuanian should serve as a warning to all governments about legal cooperation with states that so blatantly flout the rule of law,” Williamson said. “Other governments should follow Lithuania’s lead and stop sharing information that may result in persecution of the civil society by Aleksandr Lukashenka's government.”

After the financial police detained Belyatsky, they took him to his apartment, where in the presence of his wife and adult son, they conducted a two-hour search. Police confiscated materials related to Belyatsky’s work, as well as his and his son’s computers.

Police then briefly took Belyatsky to Viasna’s office, then to the Department of Financial Investigations for questioning. They took his wife and son to the family’s summer house, conducted a search there, and confiscated another computer.

Police also searched the Viasna office in absence of staff members, who were not allowed into the office, a Viasna staff member told Human Rights Watch.

“They didn’t confiscate any of our office computers simply because they were already confiscated months ago, during the authorities’ raids on human rights groups,” a Viasna staff member told Human Rights Watch. Police also sealed Viasna office equipment and furniture.

On August 4 and 5, Belyatsky was being held at the Department of Financial Investigations and, Viasna reported, was being questioned. His case investigator allowed Belyatsky to meet briefly with his wife.

On the evening of August 5, the investigators said Belyatsky will remain in detention until he is formally charged. Under Belarusian law, the authorities can keep Belyatsky in custody for 10 days, before formally charging him or releasing him.

The prosecutor’s office summoned Belyatsky in February and issued him an official warning that his human rights work was “in contradiction with the Belarusian law.” Belyatsky lodged a complaint against the warning seeking to have it dismissed as unlawful but on June 20, the Central District Court of Minsk declared the warning lawful. An appeal hearing on the complaint is scheduled for August 11 before the Minsk City Court.

“Belyatsky’s arrest is yet another sign that the Belarusian government is going back to the darkest days of repression,” Williamson said.


Youth in South Caucasus: Agents of Peace or Future Soldiers?

02.03.2011

by Jale Sultanli
The year 2010 was a troublesome year for the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. With the public on both sides increasingly seeing war as the only way out of the stalemate, the South Caucasus is starting to feel like a time bomb waiting to explode. The youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan stand to inherit the conflict and possibly be the determinants of the direction the conflict will take. They have a potential to become catalysts for peace and reconciliation or continue the cycle of hatred, blame, and intolerance that prevails in the region. Whatever the direction, young people are the ones who will determine and implement it. Yet today, they sit on the sidelines without a voice and watch their governments and “elders” make decisions that will determine their future.
Youth make up a significant portion of the population, accounting for approximately 30% in Armenia (“In Armenia,” 2010) [1] and 35.6% in Azerbaijan (“State of Youth,” 2007, p. 1). Furthermore, one out of every three persons in these countries is under the age of 35. Having such a sizable population of youth constitutes both enormous potential as well as a challenge for the region in the context of social, economic, and political development as well as when considering implications for the existing conflicts.
The growing population of youth in the developing world has motivated researchers to study various factors surrounding youth participation in violence. While not one factor was found to be a single determinant of youth violence, some studies found that a combination of factors such as large youth cohorts, autocratic environments, economic stagnation, unemployment and others create fertile ground for the youth’s engagement in conflict and violence (Sommer, 2006, p. 6). Research shows that youth who are rebellious and ideological by nature when unemployed are more likely to engage in violent activity. Employed young people on the other hand are less likely to engage in violent conflict due to the risk and costs at stake (considering the cost of job and income loss, etc.) (Urdal, 2004, p. 4). Interestingly, education does not necessarily alleviate the risk of violent conflict as youth with higher levels of education also have high expectations for employment (Collier, 2000). Two other factors, strong collective identity (Huntington, 1996, p. 117) (e.g., ethnic identity) and lack of peaceful avenues to express frustrations and grievances, were also found to be preconditions for young people to act violently (Goldstone, 2001, p. 95).
This scenario concerning the youth is not foreign to the South Caucasus. Youth in Armenia and Azerbaijan are facing many challenges in all areas of life, among which are access to quality education, transitioning to the job market, and finding employment and opportunities in becoming active and engaged citizens in the society and community. Attitudinal surveys show that young people are not satisfied with life in their countries with 76.8% of Armenians (as cited in Navasardyan, 2010) and 66% of Azerbaijani youth saying they want to go abroad in search of better opportunities (as cited in Qarışqa, 2010). A high unemployment rate is a contributing factor with 51% of youth unemployed in Armenia (World Bank, 2007) and 69% of those under 35 unemployed in Azerbaijan (UNESCO, 2007, p. 15). Many among the unemployed youth have higher education, which points to the long-term unemployment problems stemming from flawed educational and labor policies. Youth unemployment alone does not warrant a new war, but the environment of economic stagnation and dissatisfaction among youth will decrease the cost of violent conflict for youth who will have less to lose. Cohorts of idle youth especially in the current environment of hostility are more likely to support war or at least resist it.
Two other factors mentioned in current youth and conflict research must also be considered in the Armenia-Azerbaijan context. First, in both countries strong ethnic identities exist in relation to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and negative attitudes prevail as a result of the fruitless peace process, propaganda, and lack of communication between societies. Second, both countries are ruled by undemocratic regimes and lack free avenues for engagement of youth and expression of grievances. The latter continues to enforce the negative attitudes.
Many experts have noted the predominance of negative attitudes and an enemy image between Azerbaijani and Armenian people, not only as a factor that continuously fuels the conflict but also one that will become a roadblock once the peace settlement is reached. Youth opinions are not only easier to influence but they are also being targeted doubly in two countries. Youth are not only routinely exposed to propaganda pumped through media, but they are also recipients of information in schools and universities that further reinforces the enemy image through history classes and discourse on ethnic cleansing. A recent attitudinal study conducted by the Caucasus Resource and Research Center showed the level of intolerance that exists in the societies. One question revealed that 70% of Armenians and 97% of Azerbaijanis surveyed disapprove of friendships with the “other” (Sonya, 2009). Recent video interviews done by a project of the Imagine Center for Conflict Transformation showed that young people in Armenia and Azerbaijan have either no knowledge about each other’s culture and literature or consider it false and stolen (from their own). Perhaps the most disturbing fact is that hostile discourse in the two countries has created a belief among young people that the conflict can only be solved through resuming war as peaceful options are no longer viable.
In the environment where the enemy image and inevitability of war is reinforced, there are limited opportunities for internal dialogue within each society and scarce mechanisms for engagement in cross-border and solution-oriented initiatives. This has a two-fold impact: first, lack of dialogue about different ways to resolve the conflict prevents exposure to diverse opinions and reinforces the idea that war is the only way out of the conflict. Second, it prevents young people from engaging in finding peaceful solutions to the problem. Some who do face the stigma of a “traitor” befriending the enemy receive pressure from their parents, friends, universities, and jobs to stop. With low levels of social and political participation (for example, in Azerbaijan only 5% of youth are enrolled in civic or youth organizations), youth are not likely to have opportunities to shape their own opinions about the conflict and will blindly inherit the opinions of current politicians and opinion-makers (As cited by OSIAF, 2010).
An examination of factors linked to youth violence in the South Caucasus illustrates that preconditions exist for youth in Azerbaijan and Armenia to view war as the only “solution” to the conflict. The current economic environment and high unemployment rates among the youth show that young people do not, and in the near future will not, be living in economic prosperity that might serve as a motivation to shy away from disruptions a war may cause. If the current situation of hostilities and negative attitudes continues, the youth, who live in undemocratic environment, are not likely to engage in peace-oriented pursuits but will choose military intervention as a way out of current deadlock. At the very least, they will stay passive in the face of the status quo that is hindering progress and security in the region.
Despite the challenges facing the youth, it is important to note the enormous potential and resilience youth have to become the generation that could find a peaceful solution to the conflict. Studies done on youth all over the world show that early investments in youth in the areas of education, employment, life skills, and civil participation pay off by enabling them to grow and fulfill their full potentials, turning them into productive and active citizens (World Bank, 2006, p. 1). As recent events in Egypt have shown us, youth can become a powerful force for change. In the South Caucasus, young people have been among the few groups of citizens engaging in cross-border projects and dialogues, embracing technology and new media to contribute to change both on human rights and conflict-related issues. Even with the decreased number of public diplomacy projects in the last five years, young people including students, professionals, and NGO activists continued meeting and working across the conflict line and have formed a cross-border group of individuals committed to dialogue, communication, and a peaceful solution to the conflict. Smaller groups of youth have also become active in human rights and political life by staging demonstrations in Armenia, holding protests, and mobilizing with the use of social media, which lead to the arrests of bloggers in Azerbaijan.
The current situation affecting youth and youth demographics must be carefully considered by policy-makers, international development agencies, and local and international civil society organizations. The governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia have already recognized the importance of addressing youth issues by developing youth policies and, in the case of Azerbaijan, carefully monitoring and “managing” youth activism through controlled structures in universities. Projects organized by international and local organizations are beneficial, but their limited resources and outreach are not enough for significant and large-scale impact on youth. If the deliberate targeting of youth with messages of intolerance, hatred, and war is not stopped, Azerbaijan and Armenia might find themselves dealing with a powerful force, but one that is calling for violence, not peace.
References
Collier, P. (2000). Doing well out of war: an economic perspective. In M. Berdal & D. M.
Malone, eds., Greed and Grievance: Economic Agendas in Civil Wars (91–111). Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner.
Equip 3/Youth Trust. (2006). Youth and conflict: A Brief Review of Available Literature. Washington, DC:Sommer.
Goldstone, J. A. (2001). Demography, environment, and security. In P. F. Diehl & N. P. Gleditsch, eds.,Environmental Conflict (84–108). Boulder, CO: Westview.
Huntington, S. P. (1996). The clash of civilizations and the remaking of world order. New York:
Simon & Schuster.
Navasardyan, A. (2010, December 17). Why do so many Armenians leave Armenia? Social science in the Caucasus. Retrieved from http://crrc-caucasus.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-do-so-many-armenians-leave-armenia.html
Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation. (2010, October 18). Public Opinion survey on moral and social stance of Azerbaijani youth. Retrieved from http://www.osi.az/index2.php?option=com_content&do_pdf=1&id=2155
Sonya. (2010, October 11). Will you be my friend? Gauging perceptions of interethnic friendship in the South Caucasus. Social science in the Caucasus. Retrieved from http://crrc-caucasus.blogspot.com/2010/10/will-you-be-my-friend-gauging.html
The neutral zone – blog of Caucasus Edition. (2011, January 1). Video Survey: What do you Know about Azerbaijani/Armenian literature and music? Retrieved from http://caucasuseditionblog.wordpress.com/2011/01/01/241/#comment-18
UNESCO. (2007). The state of youth in Azerbaijan, summary of analytical report, Baku. Khatt Research Center. Baku,
Urdal, H. (2004). Devil in the demographics: The effect of youth bulges on domestic armed conflict, 1950-2000. Social Development Department. World Bank, Washington, DC.
World Bank. (2007). Armenia labor market dynamics: Volume I, overview. Human Development Sector Unit, Europe and Central Asia Region.
World Bank. (2006). World development report 2007: Development and the next generation. World Bank, Washington, DC.
YerevanReporter. (2010, November 10). In Armenia, home to around 900 thousand young people. AllVoices. Retrieved from http://www.allvoices.com/contributed-news/7289947-in-armenia-home-to-around-900-thousand-young-people
________________________________________
[1] Deputy Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Arsen Karamian said in a November 10, 2010 statement that there are 900,000 young people aged 18-30 years (percentage of approximately 30% was calculated by the author based on ratio of youth to total population of 2,966,802 (July 2010 est) by the CIA Factbook – see

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/am.html

http://caucasusedition.net/analysis...


Armenian authorities place restrictions on freedom of assembly – Human Rights Watch

25.01.2011


Human Rights Watch has published its annual report on Armenia, reflecting the human rights situation in the country in 2010.

The full text of the report is below.

Armenian authorities have yet to ensure meaningful investigations into excessive police force during March 2008 clashes in Yerevan, the capital, when opposition supporters protested alleged fraud in the previous month's presidential election. Twelve opposition supporters remain imprisoned following the events.

Torture and ill-treatment in police custody remains a serious problem. Amendments to the Law on Television and Radio threaten to limit media pluralism. Authorities continue to restrict freedom of assembly.

Armenia's international partners did not fully use their leverage to influence the human rights situation. The European Union and Armenia launched negotiations on an association agreement to strengthen ties.

Lack of Accountability for Excessive Use of Force

Authorities have yet to ensure a meaningful investigation into, and full accountability for, excessive use of force by security forces during clashes with protestors in March 2008. Ten people were killed, including two security officials and eight protestors. Only four police officers have been convicted of excessive use of force, in December 2009. They were sentenced to three years, but were amnestied immediately, and are only barred from working in law enforcement.

More than 50 civilians were prosecuted in relation to the March 2008 violence, with some sentenced to lengthy prison terms. Although a June 2009 presidential pardon released many of them, local human rights groups maintain that 11 opposition supporters remain imprisoned on politically motivated charges.

On January 19, a court sentenced Nikol Pashinyan, opposition leader and editor-in-chief of the Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper, to seven years imprisonment for allegedly organizing "mass disorders" during the March 2008 events. An appeals court upheld the decision but halved his sentence. In November 2010 Pashinyan claimed two masked men attacked and beat him in Kosh prison; the government denied the allegation.

In April 2010, relatives of nine victims killed in the March 2008 violence, the eight protestors and one of the soldiers, appealed unsuccessfully to court for a thorough investigation into the deaths.

In a March 2010 report analyzing the post-March 2008 trials, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) called on authorities to, among other things, comprehensively investigate allegations of ill-treatment and ban in court evidence obtained through ill-treatment.

Torture and Ill-Treatment

Local human rights groups report continued ill-treatment in police custody. For example, on April 13, 2010, police detained 24-year-old Vahan Khalafyan and four others in Charentsavan, north of Yerevan, on suspicion of robbery. Khalafyan died of knife wounds some hours later. Police say he stabbed himself with a knife obtained in the station, and deny allegations of ill-treatment.
On April 23, investigators charged the head of Charentsavan's Criminal Intelligence Department and three others with abuse of authority. The trial is ongoing at this writing. Khalafyan's relatives and human rights groups want additional murder and torture charges. An internal police investigation led to the dismissal of Charentsavan's police chief and three officers. The Helsinki Citizens' Assembly (HCA) Vanadzor Office reported that police ill-treated two other men detained with Khalafyan. Police failed to conclusively investigate these incidents.

On August 27 a court ordered the investigation into the death in custody of Levon Gulyan be reopened. In May 2007, Gulyan was found dead following a police interrogation. Authorities say he jumped from the second-story of a police station trying to escape. Gulyan's relatives deny this, insisting he was tortured.

During a September 2010 visit the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention interviewed numerous detainees and prisoners who alleged beatings, other ill-treatment in police custody, and refusal by prosecutors and judges to admit evidence of the ill-treatment into court.

In September a YouTube video showed Army Major Sasun Galstyan beating and humiliating two conscripts. An investigation into abuse of power is ongoing.

In June the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found Armenia had twice violated the prohibition against inhuman or degrading treatment in the case of Ashot Harutyunyan. Convicted of fraud and tax evasion in 2004, Harutyunyan died of a heart attack in prison in January 2009. The court determined authorities had denied him necessary medical care for his multiple chronic health problems, including heart disease, an ulcer, and diabetes. The court also found the government's public restraint of Harutyunyan in a metal cage during his appeal hearings amounted to degrading treatment.

On July 26, 14 human rights groups issued a statement citing a 20 percent rise in the national prison population, which is leading to overcrowding, health problems, and conflicts among detainees.

Media Freedom

In early 2010, as part of the transition to mandatory digital broadcasting, parliament convened a working group to revise the Law on Television and Radio that included NGOs and opposition parliamentarians. Parliament adopted the legislation in a June 10 emergency session before thorough discussion of the draft.

The amendments reduced the number of available television stations, and stipulate that existing broadcasters or those with at least three years experience receive preference in future licensing competitions, creating a barrier for new broadcasters.

In March the Gyumri-based television station GALA reported advertisers withdrew business under pressure from local officials. 26 companies pulled their ads in one month alone. Since 2007, GALA has been subject to apparently politically motivated court cases and harassment by state agencies, seemingly in retaliation for the station's regular coverage of opposition party activities.

The independent television station A1+ remained off the air for an eighth year, despite a June 2008 ECTHR judgment that Armenia had violated freedom of expression due to repeatedly arbitrarily denying the station a broadcast license.

Freedom of Assembly

Authorities continue to restrict freedom of assembly by frequently denying requests to hold demonstrations. Opposition parties and some NGOs allege particular difficulties securing indoor events venues.

On May 31, riot police forcibly prevented opposition demonstrators from entering Yerevan's Liberty Square. They detained 15 demonstrators following clashes with riot police, holding them for several hours and denying them access to lawyers.

During the operation police detained Ani Gevorgian, a correspondent for the opposition Haykakan Zhamanak newspaper, and two opposition activists, Gevorgyan's brother, Sargis, and Davit Kiramijyan. Amid local media outrage, police did not press charges against Ani Gevorgyan. Authorities charged Kiramijyan with hooliganism and Sargis Gevorgyan with using force against a police officer. Their joint trial is ongoing.

On November 9, police briefly detained four youth opposition activists protesting outside a Yerevan hotel at the start of an EU-organized human rights seminar. The activists claimed police punched and kicked them in the police station.

Human Rights Defenders

Police closed the investigation into the May 2008 attack on Armenian Helsinki Association Chairman Mikael Danielyan, who was wounded when an assailant shot him with a pneumatic gun after an argument. The investigation was allegedly closed due to lack of criminal intent. A court rejected Danielyan's appeal against the decision.

Mariam Sukhudyan, primarily an environmental activist, publicized on national television in November 2008 the case of two girls who alleged sexual harassment at a Yerevan school. Police charged Sukhudyan with falsely reporting a crime. On March 10, 2010, the United States Embassy awarded Sukhudyan its first ever Woman of Courage Award. A day later, the criminal case against her was dropped.

Key International Actors

Armenia's international partners did not make full use of their leverage to press Armenia to fulfill its human rights commitments.
The EU's annual assessment of Armenia-published in May to report on its progress in meeting benchmarks in the European Neighbourhood Policy Action Plan- commended Armenia for certain progress, but urged the government to try harder to ensure that there is a comprehensive investigation into the March 2008 events. On July 19 the EU launched negotiations on an Association Agreement with Armenia to strengthen political and economic ties.

The May 2010 Universal Periodic Review of Armenia at the UN Human Rights Council raised concerns about investigations and prosecutions related to the March 2008 violence; torture and ill-treatment by police; judicial independence; and freedom of assembly and expression. Armenia said it would "examine all recommendations and implement them."

Following his May visit to Armenia, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) President Mevlüt Çavusoglu called on the authorities to adopt a new electoral code; reform police; and ensure judicial independence, freedom of assembly, and media independence and pluralism. In June the PACE rapporteurs on Armenia welcomed the government's "roadmap" of reforms following the March 2008 election violence, but expressed concerns about the new electoral code and amendments to the broadcasting laws. The rapporteurs acknowledged progress on police and judicial reforms.

In March the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture published a report on its ad hoc visit to Armenia in March 2008, finding that practically all people detained on March 1, 2008, alleged physical ill-treatment during arrest, and some alleged ill-treatment during police questioning.

During a July 4-5 visit to Yerevan, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met President Serzh Sargsyan, and separately with civil society leaders. Secretary Clinton discussed the US government's concerns that recent changes to the Law on Television and Radio could hinder freedom of expression.

On August 20 Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and President Sargsyan agreed to extend Moscow's lease of a military base in Armenia until 2044, and Russia committed to updating Armenia's military hardware.

In April 2010 Armenia suspended the ratification process for two protocols it signed with Turkey in 2009 to establish bilateral relations. The unresolved conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in Nagorno-Karabakh continues to impede normalization of Armenian-Turkish relations. The EU commended Armenia's commitment to pursuing normalization of relations, but expressed concern about loss of momentum.


Statement on the overcrowding of the penitentiary institutions

26.07.2010

During the last years increase of the number of the people deprived of liberty was observed; during the last one year the number of the people deprived of liberty was increased by more than 20%. Penitentiary Institutions are overcrowded. In particular, as of July 1, 2010, 4850 people deprived of liberty are kept in the penitentiary institutions designated for 4396 people. For instance, in "Nubarashen" penitentiary institution in the cell designated for 8 people, twice more even up to 20 people are kept. The beds are not enough, as a result the people deprived of liberty sleep by turns, some of them at night, some of them in the afternoon. Less than 2sq.m area is allocated to every person deprived of liberty, whereas according to RA legislation, as well as international standards at least 4sq.m should be afforded. Overcrowding causes health and physiological problems, lack of air, deterioration of the health, physiological tension and conflicts. These keeping conditions are interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and in certain cases also as torture.

The reasons of the overcrowding are the following; increase of the number of crimes, wide usage of the detention as a measure of restraint by the courts. Whereas when interpreting article 5 of the European Convention of Human Rights as well as article 9 of the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (right to freedom) European Court of Human rights and Human Rights Committee have pointed out that detention is the most severe measure of restraint and should be used as a measure of last resort and only if less restrictive measures cannot ensure the proper conduct of the defendant and due administration of justice.

The other reasons are limited usage of alternative punishments and conditional release on parole. According to the data of 2009 only 14% of the prisoners who had opportunity to be released on parole were approved for the release. This is conditioned by the factor that there are no relevant criteria on which the committees on conditional release can make their decisions. Besides, the members of the independent committees on the conditional release on parole represent state bodies, including law enforcement bodies, are led by the interest of their departments and subjective factors.

In order to terminate human rights mass violations in the penitentiary institutions we find that decision on amnesty should be made.
We, the undersigned, express our deep concern about the current situation and call upon the competent authorities to take actions aimed at the solution of the overcrowding of penitentiary institutions.

We call upon the investigative bodies, and the judiciary to use the detention as a measure of restraint only as a last resort, preferring alternative measures of restraints.

We call upon the RA Court of Cassation to follow the usage as a precedent by other courts of its interpretations given about the detention as a measure of restraint (the case of Aslan Avetisyan)

We call upon the judiciary to enhance the usage of alternative punishments. We call upon RA President, RA National Assembly, RA Ministry of Justice to reform the system of the conditional release on parole.

We call upon RA President and RA National Assembly to make a decision on amnesty.

Arman Danielyan
Civil Society Institute NGO

Mikayel Baghdasaryan
Collaboration for democracy centre NGO

Lusine Harutyunyan
"S. Sandukht Virgin Union of Women" NGO

Edmon Marukyan
Youth Center for Democratic Initiatives NGO

Levon Nersisyan
"The A.D.Sakharov Armenian Human Rights Protection Center" NGO

Avetik Ishkhanyan
Helsinki Committee of Armenia NGO

Laura Gasparyan
G. Magistros Medical Centre NGO

Arthur Sakunts
Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor Office NGO

Gayane Shahnazaryan
"Huso Aragast" NGO

Marat Dadunts
Rights Information Center NGO

Suren Iskandaryan
Human Rights Yerevan Center NGO

Araik Harutyunyan
Rights Protection International Department NGO

Grigor Arustamyan
Law and Human Rights Defense NGO

Temik Khalapyan
"Trtu" NGO


STATEMENT

04.06.2010

On May 10, 2010, the EU General Affairs Council approved the negotiating directives for the future Association Agreements between the EU and Armenia. It is stated that deepening of the relationship between the EU and the countries of the South Caucasus are to progress on the basis of shared values and principles, including democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights.

We acknowledge the policy of European integration as the most advantageous for Armenia’s prospects to become a truly democratic and prosperous country and for its people to live in an open and just society. For this we welcome this development as the Association Agreement can provide an expedient route for comprehensive integration.

However, we believe that the radical improvement of the current state of human rights and fundamental freedoms, the rule of law, good governance and justice in Armenia as a condition for deepening of the relationship that is based on values and principles. For the relations to strengthen and lead eventually to value-based integration, urgent and concrete steps should be taken as preconditions and guarantees of sufficient level of honoring the values themselves. We also urge that the concrete benchmarks be set and made public for the progress to be measured against.

For us the Armenian civil society working in diverse areas of democratic institution strengthening, rule of law, human rights and good governance, who have closely observed and studied current trends and mounting problems, the immediate and priority actions that the government should undertake to be able to engage in a meaningful and advantageous integration process benefiting Armenia’s economy, democracy and social makeup are the following:


1. Restore justice and the right to fair trial by conducting effective and full investigation of March 1 killings and releasing political prisoners.
2. Tackle the oligarchic structure and merge of politics and economy by constituting minimal necessary mechanisms for a competitive economy. Put in place functioning mechanisms for fighting the conflict of interests at all levels of government, most urgently at the higher echelons of governance.
3. Carry out immediate measures to lift control of broadcast media. Ensure diversity in the media market through ensuring transparency of tenders on licensing of broadcasting. Improve broadcast legislation to ensure independence of regulatory bodies. Involve the media community and civil society in the process of legislation reform and policy development reflecting the switchover from analogue to digital broadcasting
4. Ensure true independence of judiciary by making changes in the appointment and management of judges, increase transparency and impartiality of judicial processes and keep the judges accountable for unlawful and unethical behavior.
5. Put an end to the atmosphere of impunity for police brutality and torture in police custody investigating and prosecuting police brutality and opening the police detention to public monitoring.
6. Ensure a competitive political process prior to parliamentary elections in 2012 by curbing abuse of administrative, media and human resources. Exclude intimidation and other violations during the election campaign, voting and counting.

Armenian Helsinki Committee
“Asparez” Journalists’ Club
Committee to Protect Freedom of Expression
Helsinki Citizens Assembly Vanadzor Branch
Open Society Institute Assistance Foundation - Armenia
Transparency International Anti-corruption Center
Yerevan Press Club


Human Rights Watch letter addressed to RA Prosecutor General

28.04.2010

Agvan G. Hovsepian,
Prosecutor General, Republic of Armenia
Via Facsimile: +374 10 58 44 22, +374 10 511 646

Dear Mr. Hovsepian,
Human Rights Watch is writing to express its profound concern about the death of 24-year old Vahan Khalafian, who sustained a fatal injury while in the custody of the Charentsavan police station on April 13, and to urge you to conduct a thorough, independent, and transparent investigation into
circumstances of his death in accordance with Armenia’s international obligations.
Khalafian and four other men were detained on April 13 in Charentsavan, a town about 40 kilometers north of Yerevan, on suspicion of stealing 1.5 million drams worth of goods from a fellow resident. Police publicly reported that while at the station, Khalafian grabbed a knife from a police major’s office while a policeman was not paying attention, and stabbed himself in the stomach. He died hours later in a hospital.
There is some concern that Khalafian may have been ill-treated prior to his
death. Arthur Sakunts, leader of the Vanadzor branch of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly (HCA), spoke to two other detainees who were interrogated in neighboring rooms to Khalafian while he was being interrogated. The two men, who have been released, alleged that they could hear noises indicating that Khalafian was ill-treated during interrogation. Khalafian’s mother also told the local media that in addition to lacerations on his chest and two puncture wounds in his abdomen, Khalafian also had multiple bruises on his legs. While it is impossible for Human Rights Watch to ascertain how and where Khalafian sustained these bruises, this raises concerns about possible ill-treatment of Khalafian in police custody.
In an interview with local media on April 14, Republic of Armenia Police Chief Alik Sargsian flatly denied allegations that Khalafian was ill-treated in custody and stated that “there were no traces of violence on Khalafian’s body and no policemen used force against him.” He acknowledged that the policemen were not vigilant with regard to the knife, and stated that the incident could have happened anywhere else, as Khalafian suffered a mental disorder and was exempted from military service for that reason in 2005. Sargsian also stated that Khalafian was one of the ringleaders of the theft.
We are aware that Armenia’s Special Investigative Service (SIS) is conducting a preliminary investigation into Khalafian’s death. SIS took over the criminal case launched by the Armenian police investigative department in accordance with article 110, part 1 of the Criminal Code of Armenia (causing somebody to commit suicide).
We welcome the initiation of a criminal investigation. But we are concerned that statements by the Police Chief commenting on the state of Khalafian’s body—before the forensic report could be made public—and branding Khalafian as the ringleader in the theft may jeopardize the investigation’s impartiality and independence.
We urge you to ensure that your office conducts an impartial, thorough, and transparent investigation into the circumstance surrounding Mr. Khalafian’s death. Such an investigation should not exclude the possibility that Khalafian could have been ill-treated in custody. The investigation should be capable of identifying and leading to the punishment of those found to be responsible to the full extent of the law, as required by the Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) to which Armenia is a party. Armenian authorities have an obligation to provide a complete and plausible explanation for and account of any death in custody, based on a thorough and independent investigation which establishes the extent of the liability of the authorities in whose custody the deceased was when he died.
Failure to carry out such an investigation and to pursue any appropriate prosecutions of those responsible would bring Armenia in violation of its obligations under the ECHR. The investigation should also look into the efficiency of the medical assistance provided to Khalafian and whether it met the requirement to provide the highest possible standard of treatment.
We also encourage you to take the necessary steps to ensure the rights of Mr. Khalafian’s family are respected. They have a right to participate in and have access to the investigation and to be represented to ensure that their interests are safeguarded. In this regard we welcome the presence of Khalafian’s family member during the forensic examination.
Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of ill-treatment in custody in Armenia for which no one was held responsible. We are also aware that no one has been held accountable for the 2007 death in custody of Levon Gulyan. It is of paramount importance to break the cycle of impunity in such abuses through rigorous investigation and prosecution of abusive law enforcement officials.
Thank you for your attention to this serious matter.

Sincerely,
Holly Cartner
Executive Director, Europe and Central Asia Division

cc:
Alik Sargsian, Chief of Police, Armenia
Andranik Mirzoyan, Chief of Special Investigation Service, Armenia



Acquittal of human rights defender Arshaluys Hakobian

22.02.2010

JOINT PRESS RELEASE
Paris-Geneva-Yerevan, February 16, 2010. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), along with the Civil Society Institute, Helsinki Citizen's Assembly Vanadzor Office, the Helsinki Committee of Armenia, the Collaboration for Democracy Centre, Transparency International Anti-Corruption Centre, as well as the Foundation Against Violation of Law, welcome the acquittal of human rights defender Arshaluys Hakobian.
On February 5, 2010, the Court of General Jurisdiction Kentron and Nork Marash Administrative Districts of Yerevan acquitted, in the absence of evidence, Mr. Arshaluys Hakobian, a member of the Armenian Helsinki Association and press photographer of the official website of the organisation (www.hahr.am).
Our organisations recall that on June 6, 2009, the Court of First Instance for Kentron and Nork Marash Districts had placed Mr. Hakobian in pre-trial detention. His arrest followed his attempt to monitor the elections for the Mayor of Yerevan together with a group of observers. After he had filed a complaint to challenge denial to accede a polling station, the police summoned him and eventually arrested him. Mr. Hakobian was charged with "violence against a Government representative" pursuant to Article 316 of the Criminal Code and his trial started on September 16, 2009.
On October 16, 2009, the Court of First instance of Kentron and Nork Marash Districts of Yerevan decided to release on bail Mr. Arshaluys Hakobian, who had been in pre-trial detention for four months. Immediately after the hearing, Mr. Hakobian had to sign a document by which he committed not to leave the area. He eventually walked out of the court room free and the trial was postponed pending complementary investigation.
Our organisations welcome Mr. Arshaluys Hakobian's acquittal, and thank all the persons, institutions and organisations who have intervened in his favour.

Nevertheless, our organisations denounce that, in the course of his detention, Mr. Arshaluys Hakobian was subjected to acts of ill-treatment. We therefore urge the Armenian authorities to order a thorough, immediate, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned facts, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the sanctions provided by the law, in conformity with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders as well as international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Armenia.

Source: http://hra.am/en/point-of-view/2010/02/16/statement


URGENT APPEAL To the members of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe

23.01.2010

We are appealing to you in regards to recent changes in the composition of the Armenian delegation to the PACE imposed by the chairman of the Armenian Parliament. Those changes are in clear and blatant violation of the principles set out in Rule 6.2 of the PACE Rules of Procedure, according to which national parliamentary delegations must be composed of membership that ensures a fair representation of the political parties or groups represented in their respective parliaments.

The ultimate aim of this hypocritically formulated reshuffle is to deprive the representative of the only real opposition party represented in the Armenian parliament, the unequivocally opposition “Heritage” party, which has consistently condemning the ongoing violations by the Armenian authorities of basic human rights and fundamental freedoms and further weakening of the principles of democracy and the rule of law in the Republic of Armenia, of the right to voice in the PACE the genuine concerns of the Armenian people, to deprive “Heritage” party of the possibility to reveal to you the truth about the real situation in Armenia. The basic cause of this reshuffle is the fact that the active participation of the representative of “Heritage” party in the sessions of the PACE, in the sittings of the Bureau of the Group of the European People's Party and, particularly, in the meetings of the Monitoring Committee of the Assembly, was becoming dangerous for Armenian authorities.

The possible ratification by the Assembly of the credentials of the recently reconstituted Armenian delegation will only contribute to the further deterioration of the internal human rights situation in Armenia, and will only encourage and deepen the sense of impunity among the Armenian authorities. The first signs of this are already evident, as one of the more blatant cases of falsified elections, marred by unprovoked violence against journalists, observers and proxies, occurred on January 10, and has been only followed by the unjust conviction of prominent independent journalist and opposition political figure Nikol Pashinyan on January 19, 2010.

Sixty years ago, the founding states endowed the Council of Europe with the task of achieving a greater unity between its members for the purpose of safeguarding and realising the ideals and principles of personal and political freedoms and the rule of law, which are our common heritage and on which true democracy is founded.

Today we call upon you to challenge the still unratified credentials of the parliamentary delegation of Armenia and to send a clear message to the Armenian authorities that any such decision to unfairly deny the sole opposition party a voice and fair representation within the official delegation to PACE stands in blatant contradiction of each of our common values and principles, including the principle of separation of powers. Thus, we call on PACE to affirm that the patience of the Council of Europe is limited regarding continued violations by the Armenian authorities and that any further delay in compliance with their commitments and obligations is not acceptable any more and is fraught with severe consequences.


Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor Office
Transparency International Anti-corruption Center NGO
Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Armenian Committee NGO
Zartonk 89
Journalists for human rights
"Asparez" Journalists' Club
Menk plus
"Huys" NGO
Lawyers for human rights
National citizens' initiative
Ecoera NGO
Youth Center For Democratic Initiatives


Statement Of Human Rights Organizations

09.12.2009

On the human rights day we, the representatives of human rights organizations in Armenia, express our deep concern about the issues concerning with law authorities, court system and administration of justice.

Unfortunately we point out that in 2009 human rights activists recorded a number of cases of torture, forcing testimony, fair trial violations.

As an obvious case we would like to mention 1-2 March events of 2008 and the processes followed.

So far the killings of 10 citizens on the evening of March 1, 2008 as a consequence of a force enforced by the authorities have been undisclosed and the responsible people unknown.
This means that 1609, 1620, 1643, 1677 resolutions of the Assembly of the Council of Europe have not been implemented fully.

Today more than ten political prisoners are still in prison.
We, human rights organizations in Armenia, condemn any kind of violence and demand from the Armenian authorities
1) To present the implemented activities aimed at disclosure of the circumstances of the killings of 10 citizens on March 1,
2) To disclose urgently the circumstances of the killings of 10 citizens and bring to justice the responsible people eliminating exacerbation of the atmosphere of impunity,
3) To release all political prisoners creating a country free from pursuits on political grounds.

Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Vanadzor office
Civil Society Institute
Transparency International Anti-corruption centre
Helsinki Committee of Armenia
Armenian Helsinki Association
Collaboration for democracy centre
Helsinki Citizens' Assembly Armenian Committee
Foundation Against Violation of law
Right and Freedom Centre
Youth Center For Democratic Initiatives


OSCE HDIM 2009

10.10.2009

The OSCE Human Dimension Implementation Meeting took place in Warsaw, from 28 September 2009 - 9 October 2009. By the invitation of Freedom House YCDI NGO representative participated in the Meeting and had an intervention on the topic of domestic and international election observation missions. Below is the link to the full text of intervention.

International vs. Domestic Observers
http://www.osce.org/conferences/hdim_2009.html?page=documents&author_id=931

Apart from attending the main plenary sessions YCDI NGO representative also took part in side events organized by Freedom House, NGOs from Belarus and Kazakhstan, as well as had meetings with official delegations of the US, Sweden and Spain.

Please click on thumbnails to view photos.





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