HUMAN RIGHTS COMMITTEE CONSIDERS COMBINED SECOND AND THIRD REPORTS OF ARMENIA
17 July 2012
The Human Rights Committee has concluded its consideration of the second and third periodic report of Armenia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ashot Hovakimian, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, introduced the report and said significant steps had been taken over the past years to bring the legislation of Armenia fully in line with its international obligations. This included the judicial reform package and the adoption of the Council of Europe Action Plan with priority actions in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law, to bring the country further in line with European standards. Several laws were promulgated, including the Judicial Code, the Electoral Code and the law on the Office of Public Prosecutor. The draft law on equal rights of women and men had been submitted to the Parliament, while the draft law against domestic violence had been submitted to the Government’s approval. One of the risks Armenia faced was the violation of the right to self-determination; the will of the people of Nagorno Karabakh to fully exercise that fundamental human right was fully supported by the Government.
In the ensuing discussion, Committee Members took note of the legal initiatives in Armenia, but were concerned about the four year delay in passing a law on gender-based violence and specifically about discrimination based on sexual orientation and violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. The delegation was also asked about corporal punishment at home and institutions, the National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons, results of the referral mechanism for victims of trafficking, juvenile justice system and support provided to refugees and internally displaced persons from the Nagorno Karabakh conflict. The Committee expressed its concern about prevailing corruption in the judiciary, prison overcrowding and the lack of a juvenile justice system.
In his closing remarks, Mr. Hovakimian said noted that Armenia was changing and had achieved much since 1998. The right to self-determination was a very important issue for Armenia and since it was the issue of Nagorno Karabakh, the participation of its authorities in all hearings and procedures should be considered.
Zonke Zanele Majodina, Committee Chairperson, in preliminary closing observations, said that the March 2008 events had widespread negative effect and that the lack of proper investigation and credible reports were regrettable. The Committee remained concerned about the prevailing corruption, lack of investigation of alleged cases of torture and the long time it was taking to present to the Parliament the draft law on domestic violence and gender-based violence.
The delegation of Armenia included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Justice, Police-Force of Armenia, General Prosecutor’s Office, National Assembly of Armenia and the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 3 p.m. today, 17th July, when the Committee will consider the third periodic report of Kenya (CCPR/C/KEN/3).
The combined second and third periodic report of Armenia can be read here: (CCPR/C/ARM/2-3).
Presentation of the Report
ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said significant steps had been taken in recent years to bring Armenia’s legislation fully in line with its international obligations. The judicial reform package aimed to implement the principle of the independence of the judiciary, adoption of enabling legislation, institutional transformation and measures to prepare and train staff. In July 2012 the Council of Europe launched the Action Plan for Armenia which provided a package of priority actions in the areas of democracy, human rights and the rule of law to bring the country further in line with European standards. In 2007 the Judicial Code of Armenia was adopted, which clarified the mandate of the Council of Justice and stipulated a basic code of ethic for judges. A further law regulating the Office of Public Prosecutor introduced a new concept which eliminated centralization in the prosecution system, prohibited case investigations by the Office of Public Prosecutor and authorized the Office to solely oversee the lawfulness of inquests and preliminary investigations. The draft Criminal Procedure Code was currently under review. Elsewhere, the police force was undergoing reform and a Human Rights Defender was recognized as an Independent Preventive Mechanism as defined by the Convention against Torture. The Electoral Code was amended in 2011 in order to advance electoral processes: the first elections conducted under the Electoral Code were the May 2012 parliamentary elections which were held in an open and transparent manner. To strengthen the protection of women’s rights and gender equality and to improve the status of women in society several legal and institutional measures had been implemented. A draft law on the equal rights of women and men had been submitted to the Parliament, while a draft law against domestic violence had been submitted for the Government’s approval. The National Action Plan on Combating Trafficking in Human Beings was being implemented.
However, despite much progress challenges remained. Key challenges included ensuring an independent and accountable justice system, reducing corruption and ensuring access to justice, its effectiveness and transparency. A risk Armenia faced was the violation of the right to self-determination; Armenia fully supported the will of the people of Nagorny Karabakh to fully exercise that fundamental human right. By rejecting the acceptance of the right to self-determination for the peoples of Nagorny Karabakh, Azerbaijan continued to violate the fundamental rights enshrined in the United Nations Charter and the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Deputy Minister concluded by saying it was unfortunate that the Committee had become a target for Azerbaijani falsifications via placing of fabricated information by non-governmental organizations in the so called ‘Shadow Report’. It was important that the Committee considered safeguards against any abuse of its procedures.
KARINE SOUDJIAN, Head of Human Rights and Humanitarian Issues Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, provided an overview of Armenia’s responses to the Committee’s list of issues, which included topics such as gender equality, the results of investigation into alleged cases of torture, the right to liberty, the situation of prisoners and detainees and violence against women, including domestic violence.
Questions by Experts
IULIA ANTOANELLA MOTOC, Committee Rapporteur for the Report of Armenia, began by explaining how the process of submission of reports by non-governmental organizations was included on the Committee’s webpage. She then asked the delegation to provide more information about the incorporation of the Covenant in domestic legislation. How many cases were considered by the Office of the Ombudsmen and could the delegation explain how the Ombudsman was resourced and financed?
An Expert noted that there was a comprehensive clause on non-discrimination in Armenia’s Constitution, but it lacked a comprehensive legal framework and it was unclear how cases of discrimination were sanctioned. The Committee took note of the legal initiatives, but expressed concern that the legal initiative on gender-based violence had been underway for four years now. It was important that those provisions be adopted, especially on a criminal level. The delegation was asked to provide information about discrimination based on sexual orientation, which was lacking from the report, and comment on legislation concerning hate speech and incitement to hatred.
Little progress had been made by the Government in its investigation into the events of March 2008, in which law enforcement officers used heavy weapons to quell public demonstrations, resulting in a large number of civilian casualties. The Expert raising the issue asked for comment on court proceedings undertaken so far, the chain of command within law enforcement agencies, whether senior officials responsible had been prosecuted, and finally what lessons had been learnt from the March 2008 events? Another Expert whether the rules of use of firearms by the police were modified with those events in mind. To what extent was the mechanism handling complaints about the police independent?
The climate in Armenia seemed conducive to violence and incitement to hatred against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including by the police. How were complaints by detainees or prisoners handled?
Could the delegation provide more information about cases of human trafficking, its National Action Plan to Combat Trafficking in Persons and the results of the national referral mechanism for victims of trafficking?
The delegation was also asked about measures, including legal and criminal, to deal with hazing in the armed forces, corporal punishment at home and in institutions, and sanctions for the use of corporal punishment.
Response by Delegation
The international treaties were constituent parts of Armenian legislation and prevailed over domestic laws; any court or person could refer to international treaties Armenia had ratified. Armenia condemned discrimination in all forms. Internal legislation was directed to ensure equality of all citizens. Government policy was based on prohibition of discrimination and aimed to fully implement the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Armenia did not have a separate law on non-discrimination, but the issue was covered by several other different pieces of legislation. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsmen – the Human Rights Defender - had been established in October 2003 and had been accredited A status national human rights institution in accordance with the Paris Principles. It had opened six regional offices to be closer to the people and to be able to provide assistance when rights were violated. Armenia was the first country in the Caucasus which had included human rights education in the school curriculum.
In 2003 Armenia decriminalized homosexuality. Since then relevant legislative changes had been made. The Office of the Ombudsmen had an explicit mandate to investigate human rights violations of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Armenia had also joined many international and European instruments which confirmed the principle of equality and prohibited discrimination, including the European Statement issued on the International Day against Homophobia in May 2012. Nevertheless there had been isolated cases of discrimination and violence against sexual minorities, which the Government condemned.
Armenia reassured the Committee of its commitment to investigate the events of March 2008 and prosecute those responsible, and said that appropriate steps had already been taken. A comprehensive assessment of the March 2008 events had been undertaken in the investigation, but it had been impossible to identify who had fired and who had brought about ten fatalities. However the investigation continued, and already more than 150 persons had been charged in relation to and participating and organizing the mass disorders, causing destruction of property and inflicting bodily injuries. The policemen and soldiers concerned had been interrogated, had their weapons confiscated and sent to ballistic services for examination. The courts had charged the Government to further investigate the events: the operative investigation group had been reinforced and the Government reiterated its openness to cooperation with all law enforcement in the matter.
The March 2008 events had been exceptional in a sense that they did not conform to the mentality of the country. A number of policemen had been convicted and later released under the Amnesty Act. The delegation said that lessons had been learned from March 2008 events, a number of laws had been adopted which guaranteed freedom of assembly, criminalized murder committed by participants in mass disorders and would modernize the police through the reform programme, which included changes in how the police used weapons.
Reforms to the police-force were based around structural and organizational reform and included transition to a special civil service and the establishment of local municipal and district police. A new police section had been established to maintain public order during mass demonstrations; it was staffed with professional policemen and it was hoped they would set a positive example for the rest of the police-force. The police sought to protect freedom of citizens and reforms had been undertaken to guarantee that. Armenia had studied other police-forces and was guided by international treaties in adopting new laws, including the weapons that could be used to protect police officers, which, for the first time in history of Armenian police, had been adopted with a non-secret Government Act. The law on Discipline within the Police Force defined procedures for sanctions and penalties of offences committed by the officers. In 2010, four police officers were sanctioned for the careless handling of citizens, and a further 23 police officers were sanctioned for other offences.
The draft law to prevent Violence Against Women had been drafted by the Working Group in close cooperation with all non-governmental organizations working in the field and had been submitted to the Government for approval. The National Action Plan on gender-based violence aimed to improve legal protection of victims, introduce referral mechanisms and shelters for victims and establish a hotline. Those services were currently provided by non-governmental organizations. Crimes against women were recorded by the police and the officers working in the field were undergoing training and awareness-raising. In 2011, total of 528 cases of domestic violence were recorded.
According to the law, people could be held in custody with dignity and in line with the Constitution, Criminal Procedures Code and international standards, and on the basis of a court decision. It was prohibited to detain anyone without such process being in place. The security and the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms of detainees held in custody were guaranteed. Courts never refused to receive complaints about ill treatment and torture and were obliged to request the Office of the Prosecutor to open criminal investigation into any allegations.
There was a problem of overcrowded prison facilities. To reduce the prison population the Government had taken a number of steps which included the 2010 amnesty in which significant number of prisoners were released. New legislation now under consideration by the Government encouraged judges to consider imprisonment as a last resort and to give special consideration to long-term measures. A new separate probation service was planned which would properly apply alternative sentences and thus reduce overcrowding. Meanwhile work had started on building a new prison with capacity of 1,000 prisoners, which was expected to resolve the problem of overcrowding. There were several ways inmates could submit a complaint, which were guaranteed by law. Furthermore a public monitoring group was created in 2003 which had unlimited access to all prison facilities and could meet with inmates in private.
The structural approach of Armenia to combating human trafficking was marked by a developing collaboration between all relevant ministries and agencies. Armenia had adopted all relevant international and regional documents on human trafficking, abolition of forced labour and of the worst forms of child labour. In 2010, the National Action Plan had been approved and aimed at establishing appropriate structural organization to combat trafficking in persons. The national referral procedure had been created to assist victims; victims were assisted by non-governmental organizations and by the Government and included legal, medical and social aid and assistance.
The Criminal Code had recently been amended to bring it in line with the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The draft bill was going through Parliament now and it was hoped it would be adopted in its next session. The amended Criminal Code would allow acts of torture to be punished by imprisonment of up to 12 years. Corporal punishment against children was already prohibited by law but Armenia intended to promulgate a specialist law on corporal punishment.
Questions by Experts
Alternative sentences to detention could be a way to resolve the problem of overpopulation in prisons, and were recommended by the Covenant. The Committee encouraged Armenia to move in that direction. The Committee asked the delegation to explain the facts concerning the report by the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, which stated that irregular migrants were held in special room and could be held longer than 72 hours.
The Committee recommended the adoption of a specific law on discrimination and noted the need to specifically protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Experts asked about the discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and how it was tackled and the number of discrimination cases received by the Office of the Ombudsmen and how they were dealt with.
The delegation was further asked about the state of emergency declared in 2008, the current ratio between women and men in the Parliament and about disciplinary measures against senior officers for acts of ill treatment of lower ranked colleagues.
How was the State addressing the phenomenon state of violence against women? What rights did women in Armenia who were not mothers have?
Could the delegation comment on the report adopted last year by the Council of Europe on sex-selective abortions in Armenia?
Response by Delegation
An inter-ministerial Working Group monitored the implementation of recommendations of different United Nations treaty bodies and the Universal Periodic Review process. The delegation took note of the Committee’s recommendations to elaborate a law on discrimination.
The Office of the Human Rights Defender had been established by law and was an independent office which had free access to any State institution, could require and receive information and documentation from any State organ and local unit and had guaranteed confidential and private communication with persons in military units or in detention and penitentiary facilities.
The new Electoral Code had increased the number of seats in the Parliament and today there were 14 women members of Parliament, one of whom was its Vice-President. There were no official statistics on sex-selective abortions, but the issue was being examined by the Government.
The Government was implementing the recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and was in the process of launching a National Action Plan to combat domestic violence and gender-based violence. Armenia would discuss the possibility to establish a separate law on corporal punishment and on domestic violence as soon as possible.
Questions by Experts
Experts expressed concern about the executive’s high degree of dependence on the judiciary, a bias among judges concerning criminal cases and the prevailing corruption in the judicial system. The Committee asked about the measures to address corruption in the judiciary, about the content of the recently adopted second phase of the judicial reform programme, and the length of different phases of trial and what happened if that maximum limit was not followed.
The delegation was also asked about the status of the current legislation on freedom of association, the guidelines on defamation applied by lower courts and the details omitted from the definition of defamation in the 2010 law. An Expert noted the distressing instances of threats and attacks on journalists and human rights defenders and asked for further information in this regard. Regarding internally displaced persons from the conflict with Azerbaijan, what were the policies for assisting them in their current locations, what were their entitlements and rights and how were assistance programmes funded? Could the delegation comment on the availability of full rights and benefits to refugees from Azerbaijan?
Concerning the juvenile justice system, an Expert said that sometimes juvenile cases were judged by judges without specialist training in juvenile issues. What proceedings and peculiarities were being contemplated under the new Criminal Procedure Code and would it provide for separate procedures reflective of special needs of juveniles? An Expert noted that the report of Armenia did not provide information about what changes had been introduced in the new Electoral Code and asked about specific measures for detecting and punishing electoral fraud; about specific measures to prevent inappropriate use of administrative resources and what happened with complaints about serious regularities in the local elections in Yerevan.
The issue of Nagorno Karabakh and the right to self-determination of its people was a sensitive issue. There existed in Article 41 of the Covenant a specific procedure for resolving that type of issue, according to which, parties to the conflict needed to accept the jurisdiction of the Human Rights Committee. What measures were in place to identify victims and provide compensation to families? So far compensation had not been provided by either Armenia or Azerbaijan and the most peaceful solution would be for the two Governments to make a declaration for the application of the Article 41, which had never been done before, and allow the Human Rights Committee to examine that extremely sensitive political issue.
Response by Delegation
There was a need to reform procedures for disciplinary procedures against judges with objectivity and transparency of those proceedings in mind. In recent years, judges had not been subjected to disciplinary or court proceedings for corruption. The salaries of judges were provided through the Law on the State Budget and in recent years the salary of the first instant judge was about $1,000 US dollars, that of appellate court judge was about 30 per cent higher and Court of Cassation judge about 50 per cent higher. The Government had adopted anti-corruption programme in 2010, on the basis of which a list of measures to be applied in the police force had been adopted. The forces of law and order were actively combating corruption and last year there two high-ranking police officers were sentenced to four and six years imprisonment respectively. In its 2011 report, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had provided positive assessment of combating corruption in Armenian courts.
The juvenile caseload was not sufficiently large to merit a separate juvenile justice system. There was one judge in each court with specialist training in juvenile offenders and juvenile victims. Special provisions in the Criminal Code regulated conduct of cases involving juveniles, while Penitentiary Code stipulated favourable conditions for juvenile offenders while serving the punishment. Armenia accepted the need for reform in that area and intended to conduct appropriate changes. All threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders had been investigated and offenders had been appropriately punished. Defamation had been decriminalized in 2010 and, following the March 2008 events, Armenia had drafted a new Law on State of Emergency which was adopted in March 2012 and which thoroughly regulated all rights and obligations in state of emergency.
Armenia hosted more than 360,000 refugees from Azerbaijan; their return remained open because of lack of security guarantees by Azerbaijan and that was why the Government had started the policy of their integration into the society. There were 86,000 refugees who had voluntarily decided to take Armenian citizenship. The new Electoral Code was the best mechanism to prevent and punish all electoral violations and fraud. That Code had already proven its effectiveness during the 2012 parliamentary elections. The Criminal Code contained provisions for punishment of severe electoral violations. The Office of the Prosecutor had created an ad hoc Working Group which dealt with complaints concerning electoral fraud and supervised all prosecutorial processes in that regard. There was no separate law regulating discrimination against persons with disabilities, but such provisions were contained in the Constitution and in a number of laws, including the Labour Law.
ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, said Armenia was changing and had achieved much since 1998. There were many plans for the future activities and collaboration. The right to self-determination was a very important issue for Armenia and since it was the issue of Nagorno Karabakh, the participation of its authorities in all hearings and procedures should be considered. The delegation would provide answers to outstanding questions in writing
ZONKE ZANELE MAJODINA, Committee Chairperson, said that since the submission of its initial report, Armenia had made progress in bringing its legislation in line with international standards, but there had been setbacks. The March 2008 events had widespread negative effect, while lack of proper investigation in the death of many people and lack of credible report, were regrettable. The Committee was concerned about the corruption and violations of rights of people in detention, as well as about measures undertaken to investigate alleged cases of torture. It seemed that the violence by the state had permeated other sectors of life in Armenia, as seen in rather high levels of domestic violence. Another concern was the long time it was taking to present to the Parliament the draft law on domestic violence and gender-based violence.
For use of information media; not an official record