Amnesty International criticized the Armenian authorities' human rights record on Friday, singling out what it sees as their failure to combat police brutality and domestic violence and to introduce 'genuine' civilian service.
'Perpetrators of human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity,' the London-based human rights group said in its annual report.
'Following its visit to Armenia in September, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern about ill-treatment and beatings
of detainees and prisoners,' says the report. 'It also expressed concern over detainees being pressured in order to extract confessions.'
Amnesty International pointed to the April 2010 death of a man in the central Armenian town of Charentsavan shortly after his arrest on suspicion of theft. Armenian law-enforcement authorities say Vahan Khalafian committed suicide after being beaten up by local police officers.
One of those officers was sentenced to eight years in prison last November. Another Charentsavan policeman got off with a suspended prison sentence.
Khalafian's family strongly disputes the official version of events, saying that the 24-year-old was beaten to death by his interrogators and that not all of them were prosecuted. The sentenced officer, Ashot Harutiunian, also insisted during his trial that Khalafian did not commit suicide.
The Amnesty report says that no independent investigation has been conducted yet into the March 2008 use of deadly force against opposition protesters in Yerevan. It notes the fact that nobody has been brought to justice in connection with the deaths of eight protesters and two police personnel in those clashes.
Violence against Armenian women and girls is another major highlight of the report. The rights watchdog said that despite setting up an interagency body tasked with combating the practice, the Armenian government made no progress in 2010 on 'enacting legislation specifically addressing violence against women and the setting up of shelters.'
Amnesty International also reiterated its concerns about the continuing imprisonment of Armenian men refusing military service and a civilian alternative to it offered by the state on religious grounds.
'At the end of the year [2010,] 73 men were serving prison sentences for refusing to do military service on grounds of conscience,' it said. 'The alternative service remained under military control.'
The vast majority of those men are members of Jehovah's Witnesses, a non-traditional religious organization based in the United States.
The Amnesty report mentions in that context a November ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that rejected an appeal filed by an Armenian conscientious objector. The Strasbourg court upheld an earlier verdict saying that the European Convention on Human Rights does not guarantee the right of conscientious objection.
Source: RFE/RL Report, 13 May 2011
The report as appeared in the Amnesty International website:
Head of state: Serzh Sargsyan
Head of government: Tigran Sargsyan
Death penalty: abolitionist for all crimes
Population: 3.1 million
Life expectancy: 74.2 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f): 29/25 per 1,000
Adult literacy: 99.5 per cent
Perpetrators of human rights violations continued to enjoy impunity. Protection for women and girls still failed to meet international standards. No genuine civilian alternative to military service was introduced.
Deaths in custody
Following its visit to Armenia in September, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention expressed concern about ill-treatment and beatings of detainees and prisoners. It also expressed concern over detainees being pressured in order to extract confessions.
In April, Vahan Khalafian died in hospital hours after being detained at the police precinct in Charentsavan on charges of theft. The authorities claimed that he had stabbed himself after being ill-treated by police officers but his family disputed the suicide account. In November, two police officers were sentenced for abuse of official authority, which allegedly caused the suicide; one to eight years? imprisonment and his subordinate to two years? suspended sentence.
At the end of the year there had still been no independent inquiry into allegations of excessive use of force against members of the public during post-election protests in 2008; no one had been brought to justice in connection with 10 deaths, including of two police officers, that occurred during the violent demonstrations. The families of nine victims initiated proceedings against the General Prosecutor?s Office for failing to investigate the deaths. The General Jurisdiction Court dismissed their complaints and its decisions were upheld by the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court.
Freedom of expression
In November, Nikol Pashinian, an opposition activist and editor-in-chief of Haikakan Zhamanak, was reportedly assaulted by unidentified men while serving a revised prison sentence of three years and 11 months. He was originally sentenced in January to seven years? imprisonment on charges of organizing mass disorder in 2008. He continued to write articles for his newspaper while in detention. His lawyer reported that Nikol Pashinian had earlier been threatened with harm unless he stopped exposing in his newspaper allegedly corrupt practices in the penitentiary system. Following the assault, the journalist was moved to another prison.
Violence against women and girls
In March, the government set up the State Interagency Committee to Combat Gender-Based Violence following a decree by the Prime Minister. However, no progress had been made by the government on enacting legislation specifically addressing violence against women and the setting up of shelters, contrary to a 2009 CEDAW recommendation. There was currently only one shelter in the country, run by the NGO, Women?s Rights Centre, with foreign donor funding.
In October, 20-year-old Zaruhi Petrosian, a victim of ongoing domestic violence, died, reportedly after being severely beaten by her husband and mother-in-law. According to her sister, Zaruhi Petrosian had approached police on two occasions to report the abuse and seek help but they reportedly dismissed her case as ?unimportant? and ?irrelevant?. Following extensive publicity about the case, the authorities arrested her husband and charged him with ?causing wilfully heavy damage to health?.
Prisoners of conscience
At the end of the year, 73 men were serving prison sentences for refusing to do military service on grounds of conscience. The alternative service remained under military control. In November the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights considered an appeal by the conscientious objector Vahan Bayatyan against the Court?s 2009 ruling that his right to freedom of conscience and religion had not been violated when he was convicted of evading the draft in 2002. In 2009, the Court held that the Convention did not guarantee the right of conscientious objection; a dissenting judge issued an opinion stating that the majority?s finding failed to reflect that the right to conscientious objection is almost universally accepted to be fundamental to the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.