24 November 2016
The Committee against Torture completed this afternoon its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Armenia on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture.
Introducing the report, Artak Asatryan, Deputy Minister of Justice of Armenia and Deputy Government Agent of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights, said that in the framework of its judicial reforms, Armenia had adopted in June 2015 a package of laws which harmonized the national legislation on torture with best international standards and introduced in the Criminal Code the definition of torture in full conformity with Article 1 of the Convention. Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure ensured that all cases of torture, including those committed by private actors, were subject to public criminal prosecution. An important step in the reforms concerned the improvement of the penitentiary system legislation to bring it in compliance with international standards. The new Penitentiary Code, currently being drafted, focused on safeguards and human rights protection during the execution of sentences, the creation of individual risk assessment mechanisms, and the revision of existing regulations on early conditional release. The Department for Investigation of Torture, a new unit made up of eight investigators, had been established in the Special Investigation Service to investigate all plausible allegations of ill-treatment.
In the dialogue that followed, Committee Experts welcomed the criminalization of torture in 2015, but noted that the draft Code of Criminal Procedure had been under discussion for six years, while the June 2015 legal reforms did not fully integrate the principle of non-applicability of statutory limitations, amnesty and pardon for acts of torture and ill-treatment. Experts were concerned about numerous acts of torture and cruel and inhumane treatment during arrest, detention and interrogation, and asked about measures to address the excessive use of force by the police, including in the context of peaceful manifestations in June 2015 and July 2016. Concerns were raised about corruption in the judiciary which could explain the very high number of refusals to investigate alleged or reported cases of torture. The delegation was asked about measures taken to protect human rights defenders from threats, violence and reprisals, to immediately investigate all cases of violence, and to ensure victims had access to compensation and redress. Other concerns raised in the discussion included the absence of a juvenile justice system and the application of the common law on minors which eroded the protection of the rights of children in conflict with the law; the grave problem of domestic violence; and the serious problem of prison overcrowding and poor material conditions of detention.
In concluding remarks, Mr. Asatryan thanked the Committee for the opportunity to discuss pertinent issues on the implementation of the Convention.
The delegation of Armenia included representatives of the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Police of Armenia, Special Investigation Service, Prosecutor General’s Office, Investigative Committee of Armenia, and the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will reconvene in public on Tuesday, 29 November, at 3 p.m., to discuss follow-up to Article 19 and reprisals.
The fourth periodic report of Armenia can be read here: CAT/C/ARM/4.
Presentation of the Report
ARTAK ASATRYAN, Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Government Agent of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights, started by confirming that justice reform was a priority in Armenia, and it aimed to amend legislation and practice and put it in conformity with international standards. In that sense, Armenia had adopted a package of laws in June 2015, which harmonized national legislation criminalizing torture with the best international standards, and introduced in the Criminal Code the definition of torture in full conformity with Article 1 of the Convention. The amendments also introduced a guarantee that all public officials engaged in conduct of torture were charged accordingly and that the penalty should reflect the gravity of the crime. Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure ensured that all cases of torture – including those committed by private actors - were subject to public criminal prosecution. Armenia had drafted a comprehensive Criminal Procedure Code which sought to promote the observance of human rights in the course of criminal proceedings, and establish mechanisms and procedures through which investigations could be initiated and perpetrators of ill-treatment punished. A broad list of alternative preventive measures, such as house arrest, administrative supervision, bail, and others, were included to decrease the resort to pre-trial detention.
An important step in the reforms concerned the improvement of the penitentiary system legislation and bringing it in compliance with international standards. The new Penitentiary Code was being drafted and it focused on safeguards and human rights protection during the execution of the sentence, the creation of individual risk assessment mechanisms, and the revision of existing regulations on early conditional release. The Law on Holding Arrested and Detained Persons had been amended in cooperation with the Human Rights Defender’s Office, with the aim of improving the practice of the application of safeguards for all persons deprived of liberty. The Department for Investigation of Torture, a new unit made up of eight investigators, had been established in the Special Investigation Service to investigate all plausible allegations of ill-treatment. During its visit to Armenia in 2015, the European Commission on the Prevention of Torture had formed a positive view of the professionalism in which the Special Investigation Service investigators carried out their tasks.
Domestic violence was not a separate crime, although all acts of psychological, physical and sexual violence were criminalized in the existing Criminal Code. A separate law on domestic violence had been drafted and submitted to the Government on 30 September 2016, which aimed to strengthen the protection mechanisms for the victims through the establishment of State funded shelters and support centres to guarantee free medical, psychological and legal assistance. A Council for the Prevention of Domestic Violence at the Prime Minister’s Office would be set up to coordinate preventive measures. Special attention was being paid to strengthening the juvenile justice system and the draft Criminal Procedure Code would reinforce the procedural guarantees applicable in the course of criminal proceedings. Measures had been taken to address overcrowding and improve the material conditions of detention, including through the opening of another four units of Armavir prison in December 2015, the adoption of the law on probation in June 2016, and the establishment of the Probation State Service which would be in charge of alternative punishments, alternative measures of restraint, conditional release, and rehabilitation.
Questions by the Country Co-Rapporteurs
SEBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Armenia, took positive note of the improvements made in the legislation in Armenia, including the amendments to the Criminal Code and the criminalization of torture in 2015, and stressed that the focus of the Committee would be on very practical steps to ensure they were applied in practice.
Turning to issues of criminalization of torture and necessary legislative amendments, Mr. Touzé inquired about the observed effect of the implementation of the reforms to the Criminal Code, including the number of cases of torture and the prosecutions in which the reformed Criminal Code had been applied. The draft Criminal Procedure Code had been under discussion for six years – when would it be adopted and put in force? The delay in the adoption of this new piece of legislation was particularly worrying in the light of the upcoming elections in Armenia in 2017.
The criminal reform adopted in June 2015 was limited in a sense that it did not fully integrate in the legislation the principle of the non-applicability of statutory limitations, amnesty and pardon for acts of torture and ill-treatment.
What was the possibility of the extra-territorial application of the prohibition of torture, particularly in relation to Nagorny Karabakh where Armenia exercised effective control as decreed by the European Court of Human Rights in the Chiragov verdict?
What were the intended reforms concerning obtaining confession under duress and what mechanism was in place for the automatic investigation of all known cases? How many confessions obtained under torture had been rejected by courts, and how many verdicts had been revised on those grounds? How many State officials had been indicted and prosecuted for using torture to obtain confession or evidence?
Domestic violence was a grave problem in Armenia, said Mr. Touzé, noting the obligation of authorities to prevent the suffering of all, including in the private sphere, including the criminalization of domestic violence in domestic law, and the prosecution of perpetrators of domestic violence. Sexual stereotypes were ingrained, leading to frequent abuse of women and children. Which effective legal measures were being taken to correct this situation, including to enable victims to denounce such acts without any fear of reprisal?
Selective abortion was considered by a number of institutions as a form of violence against women. After India and China, Armenia had the third-highest rate of sex selective abortion - what was being done to counter this practice?
Civil society organizations reported numerous acts of torture, and cruel, inhumane and degrading ill-treatment, including in the context of arrest, detention and interrogation.
The delegation was asked to explain the use of excessive and disproportionate force to repress peaceful manifestations in June 2015 and July 2016, to inform on investigative and prosecutorial measures taken against offenders, and to comment on the violent arrest of 729 persons in July 2016. What was being done to address the excessive use of force and mass arrests by the police, and to investigate all cases of ill-treatment, illegal and prolonged detention, and refusal to grant access to lawyers and doctors?
Armenia lacked a juvenile justice system and applied common law on minors, which raised a number of concerns about the lack of the effective protection of rights of children in conflict with the law, for example the use of prolonged pre-trial detention and isolation of children. What was being done to modify the law and ensure that children were protected in all situations? What measures were being taken to supervise the situation of children in closed and partially closed establishments, for example the care centre in Vanadzor, and ensure they were not subjected to cruel and inhuman ill-treatment?
Turning to investigations and the prosecution of allegations of torture, the Co-Rapporteur raised concerns about a delay in the adoption of the draft Code of Criminal Procedure and asked about cases in which the police exerted pressure on persons deprived of liberty to state that their injuries – suffered while in detention – were in fact due to an accident that occurred before detention. The delegation was asked to provide detailed statistics concerning all allegations and complaints of acts of torture and ill-treatment, investigations undertaken, and criminal or disciplinary sanctions delivered. How many defendants in cases involving ill-treatment or torture had received amnesty? What was the result of the investigation into the death of 10 persons who had died during the confrontations with the law enforcement officers in the demonstrations following the February 2008 elections?
Mr. Touzé expressed concern about corruption in the judiciary which could explain the very troubling fact of the high number of refusals to investigate alleged or reported cases of torture, and asked whether the Special Investigation Service - specialized in the carrying out of preliminary investigations of all cases possibly involving abuse by public officials – could undertake investigations into the independence and impartiality of judges in all cases involving torture and ill-treatment?
Armenia had welcomed a large number of refugees from Syria – since the beginning of the conflict, more than 20,000 had requested asylum, and by mid-2016, more than 15,000 had been accepted, most of them of Armenian origin. Armenia had also received more than 100 refugees from eastern Ukraine. Why had the asylum procedure been changed and why had it become stricter, particularly as applied to asylum seekers from Iraq?
Mr. Touzé noted with concern that during the first 10 months of 2016, eight per cent of the prison population was made of persons in pre-trial detention, and 19 per cent of persons awaiting sentencing. This was a chronic problem in Armenia, where pre-trial detention was used to put pressure on people and push them to criminalize themselves, and in some cases was three years long. Which specific measures were being taken to reduce the phenomenon of pre-trial detention?
What measures were being taken to protect human rights defenders from threat, violence and reprisals, to immediately investigate all cases of violence, and to ensure that victims had access to compensation and redress?
Could a victim of torture request compensation even if the guilt of the perpetrator was not established?
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Armenia, commended the positive initiative on training of judges, prosecutors, law enforcement officers, and prison officials, and asked whether all the provisions of the Convention, and in particular the absolute prohibition of torture, was a part of the curricula. How many judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers had been trained in prevention and combatting torture and ill-treatment, including the European Court of Human Rights in this field? How was the effectiveness of training initiatives assessed?
Did the police receive training on the Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials and on the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials? Did Armenia have in place a Code of Ethics or Behaviour for police and prison officers?
Ms. Racu noted positively the draft amendment to the law on Human Rights Defenders which would increase its financial resources and ensure that the experts of the national preventive mechanism would receive remuneration. When would this draft be approved? Welcoming the establishment of the new Expert Council on the Prevention of Torture in September 2016, the Co-Rapporteur asked about its priorities, and guidelines and methodology in carrying out its monitoring activities.
Most prisoners in Armenia were held in poorly-equipped Soviet-era facilities, so-called Gulag type dormitories, where they slept in bunk beds in large rooms. Prisons were overcrowded, mainly because the courts applied custody as a measure of prevention, without any justification provided as to why detention was chosen rather than any other non-custodial measure such as bail. What was the status of the draft regulation on the establishing of the Probation Service, and which other measures were being taken to reduce overcrowding?
The Committee was concerned about material conditions of detention: overcrowding, poor sanitation, lack of medical care, and corruption in prisons. Taking positive note of the political will to address the situation, as attested by the opening of the newly-constructed Armavir prison, Ms. Racu asked about the State budget for the prisons’ needs, and additional financial allocations made for the improvement of conditions of detention.
What was being done to prevent violent incidents among prisoners, including self-harm; to investigate all deaths in custody and establish possible involvement of prison officials; and how many violent clashes between inmates and prison officials had been registered during the reporting period?
Could the delegation provide data on health care in prisons, in particular concerning prisoners with tuberculosis? What were the policies and measures aimed at preventing the transmission of tuberculosis and HIV in prisons?
Addressing the complaint mechanism on ill-treatment, torture or abuse of power under the competence of the Special Investigation Service, Ms. Racu recognized that it had the exclusive power to carry out pre-trial criminal investigations of all the allegations of criminal offences committed by police officers, and that it was independent of any other administrative authorities. In practice however, the Special Investigation Service was not automatically involved after allegations of ill-treatment by the police were made; instead, the Service delegated the collection of further evidence to the police – often to the unit of the alleged perpetrator - and only got involved after a formal criminal investigation was opened. Another concern was that although the Special Investigation Service publicly reported on instituted cases, it failed to report regularly on the outcome of investigations.
The Committee was worried about the lack of a comprehensive juvenile justice system: there were no specialized juvenile courts, or specially appointed judges to deal only with juvenile cases. The gap existed in the prosecution system too, which lacked a specialized unit for the investigation and criminal prosecution of juvenile cases. The Co-Rapporteur welcomed the new legislative amendments to develop special standards of interrogation for juvenile witnesses or victims of a crime, and the adoption of the law on probation which, on paper, contained important legal safeguards for juveniles, but the concern persisted about their application in practice. Until then, Armenia should ensure that the rights of children in conflict with the law were protected, particularly those in remand or sentenced.
How many minors were in detention, both on remand and convicted, were they subjected to solitary confinement and for how long, and what alternative disciplinary measures were considered?
Reports indicated that there were some 4,000 children from socially vulnerable families in residential care institutions, where psychological violence and ill-treatment, including shouting, beating, isolating, denying meeting with parents and family, as well as sexual violence, were still systematic. What was the situation of children in Vanadzor Children’s Home and Vanadzor Care and Protection Centre? What was being done to establish referral and protection mechanisms and the deinstitutionalization of children? Did non-governmental organizations have access to residential care centres and why was the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly denied permission to monitor the special school under the Ministry of Education?
Ms. Racu also raised concern about the lack of preventive measures targeting women at risk of trafficking and discrimination, violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, as well as violence against journalists and human rights defenders and lack of effective investigations of such cases.
Questions by the Experts
A Committee Expert took note of the intention to establish an “e-penitentiary system” as one of the measures to address the corruption in the penitentiary, and asked what it entailed.
Another Expert welcomed the introduction of the draft law on domestic violence and asked about the timetable for its adoption.
What was the status of investigations into the March 2008 killings and what would explain the lack of progress in this regard? Were victims compensated?
The number of criminal cases had doubled between 2014 and 2015, from 76 to 115 criminal cases – what would explain this increase?
The Partnership for Open Society and Human Rights Defenders had issued findings of studies into hazing in the army and death of conscripts – could the delegation comment?
What steps were being taken to develop a comprehensive mechanism to ensure the rights of individuals in the penitentiary system who were in need of international protection?
In connection to corruption in the penitentiary system, the Committee Chairperson asked whether the basic salaries of prison guards were sufficient to ensure a decent living for a family. Noting the reports of suicide in prisons, Mr. Modvig asked about outcomes of investigations into those cases, and if any criminal charges had been raised.
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to questions concerning the timetable for the adoption of the Draft Code of Criminal Procedure, the delegation said that the draft incorporated some 300 proposals made by the Standing Committee on State and Legal Affairs, as well as the recommendations resulting from two consultative meetings held within the framework of the Council of Europe and the European Union Joint Project Supporting the Criminal Justice Reform and Combatting Ill-Treatment and Impunity in Armenia. The draft had been harmonized with the Constitution amended in December 2015, and submitted to the National Assembly in October 2016, where the first reading was pending.
The proposal to consider excluding the pardon, amnesty and statute of limitation for acts of torture had been made to the Working Group of the new Criminal Code.
With regard to extraterritorial jurisdiction of Armenia, the delegation explained that the Nagorno Karabakh Republic had developed its policies and adopted the legislation which was applied throughout the territory; elections were being held in the Republic, which also had a court and law enforcement system which operated independently. Askerov and Guliyev had been arrested by Nagorno Karabakh law enforcement agencies, charged with relevant articles of the Republic’s Criminal Code for particularly grave crimes, and found guilty by the Stepanakert First Instance Court.
Although there was no legal basis for the suspension of court proceedings pending the investigation of claims that a confession was obtained through torture, courts in practice postponed the examination of the case pending the investigation into allegations of torture.
To date, 100 out of 119 measures envisaged by the National Human Rights Action Plan 2014-2016 had been implemented, and it was expected that the remaining 19 measures would be implemented by the end of the year. The Ministry of Justice was currently drafting the National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2019, which all concerned State authorities and civil society had contributed to.
The delegation confirmed that training sessions on the provisions of the Convention and on the absolute prohibition of torture were mandatory for judges, prosecutors, court officials, lawyers, law enforcement officials and prison personnel. The officers of all detention facilities were periodically trained at the Police Educational Complex, and 600 prison staff members received training every year. The professionals of penitentiary institutions involved in the documentation and investigation of torture received systematic training on the Istanbul Protocol at the Law Institute of the Ministry of Justice.
Human rights education and training of the military were taken seriously, particularly after 2010. The Handbook on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms of Armed Forces Personnel, developed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe Guidelines and the Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, was translated to Armenian in 2012.
The draft law on human rights defenders was pending the first reading in the National Assembly. Based on this draft law, Armenia was elaborating guidelines and methodologies for the monitoring of places of detention – once the draft law was adopted, the guidelines would be approved by the Ombudsman, thus effectively extending the mandate to act as a national preventive mechanism.
With regard to measures to reduce and prevent overcrowding and improve material conditions in prisons, it was explained that both the draft Criminal Code and the Penitentiary Code would stress more firmly the principle of imprisonment as a last resort, and would further liberalize the rules governing life imprisonment and early and conditional release. The law on probation had entered into force in June 2016, and the Charter and the Structure of the Probation State Service had been adopted in July 2016. The Probation Service would be in charge of alternative punishments, alternative measures of restraint, conditional release and rehabilitation.
The delegation provided data on all reported deaths in custody: 28 cases in 2012, 19 in 2013, 38 in 2014, 30 in 2015 and 26 to mid-November 2016. A detailed annual breakdown per cause of death was also provided.
Extensive measures were being implemented to address the staff shortage in the penitentiary system, including increasing the salaries of junior penitentiary officers, and promoting junior officers into service positions.
All detained persons underwent an initial medical examination upon admission to a detention facility, including by transfer, which was recorded in the relevant register for the purpose of providing medical assistance and recording bodily injuries or any other complaint about health. All medical examinations were recorded out of the hearing and sight of penitentiary or other prison officials. Medical personnel were obliged to report all bodily injuries resulting from a crime to the administration of detention facility, which promptly informed the relevant authorities. This procedure was approved by the national legislation. The electronic Information Register of Remand Prisoners and Convicts of the Penitentiary System of the Ministry of Justice had been developed, and it included all relevant information about remand prisoners and convicts. Medical histories of all persons held in confinement were inputted in the template of the Istanbul Protocol, which was an internationally recognized guideline in the field of prison medicine.
The National AIDS Prevention Programme had been introduced in the penitentiary system in 2004, while measures aimed at combatting tuberculosis and transmission of HIV/AIDS, as well as methadone substitute treatments, were regularly carried out. In 2012, there had been 54 detainees with tuberculosis, 25 with HIV/AIDS, and 280 drug addicts; in 2013, 34 with tuberculosis, 24 with HIV/AIDS, and 268 drug addicts; in 2014, 35 with tuberculosis, 26 with HIV/AIDS, and 246 drug addicts; in 2015, 24 with tuberculosis, 19 with HIV/AIDS, and 319 drug addicts; and in 2016, 16 with tuberculosis, 19 with HIV/AIDS, and 280 drug addicts.
Responding to questions raised on the juvenile justice system, the delegation reiterated that this was an issue of particular importance in Armenia, and that training public officials had already started with a view to preparing adequately trained professionals. In the context of the Project Supporting the Criminal Justice Reform and Combatting Ill-Treatment and Impunity in Armenia, which was actively developing training materials for judiciary and law enforcement officers, one of the training courses developed and included in the Academy of Justice was on the Investigation of Cases involving Vulnerable Victims/Witnesses and Suspects. All training delivered at the Academy of Justice paid special attention to the United Nations Guidelines on Justice in Matters Involving Child Victims and Witnesses of Crime.
Currently, there were seven juveniles in detention, and in 2016 solitary confinement had been applied in only two cases. The Draft Code of Criminal Procedure did not envisage an obligation to use audio and video recording during interrogation.
The adoption of comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation was a priority. The Eurasia Partnership Foundation had carried out a study on discrimination and intolerance in Armenia, both from a legal and a societal point of view. The legislation was currently being drafted.
Significant reforms had been made to increase the investigation of non-combat deaths in armed forces and incidents of hazing of conscripts, including the separation of the Military Investigative Department from the Armed Forces, which had since investigated 81 incidents of deaths; 37 criminal cases were currently under investigation. There had been two incidents of suicide in prisons in August 2016; criminal cases had been initiated, one was dismissed and another was currently under investigation.
According to the 2002 Law on Police Service, police officers who were under criminal investigation were suspended. The 2005 law on the disciplinary code for the police stated that police officers who were under criminal investigation could not be sent to a different post and could not resign.
As for the large number of statements on domestic violence - over 700 - a delegate said that criminal charges were brought only if the statement was not withdrawn, and the statistics showed that most of the statements were in fact withdrawn because the victims reconciled with the perpetrators. Most cases of domestic violence involved violence against women by husbands.
Follow-up Questions by the Experts
SEBASTIEN TOUZE, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Armenia, in follow-up questions asked the delegation to explain how the obligation of absolute prohibition of torture was implemented, particularly in relation to amnesty, pardon and statute of limitations; the legal framework governing domestic violence, in terms of criminalization of the act and the support provided to victims; and measures taken to address excessive use of force by police during peaceful demonstrations.
What was the level of proof required by the Special Investigation Service – it seemed that a high-level of proof was required which prevented investigations from starting in the first place?
What was being done to prevent violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, and human rights defenders working on those issues? Were lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons excused from military service?
ANA RACU, Committee Expert and Co-Rapporteur for Armenia, recalled that the effectiveness of training programmes on the prevention of torture and ill-treatment should be regularly assessed.
The Committee remained concerned about the denial of access for human rights non-governmental organizations to places of detention and special schools under the Ministry of Education, as these organizations played a crucial role in preventing torture and ill-treatment in those places. What was the situation of children in special schools and residential care centres where ill-treatment seemed to be systematic?
What was being done to ensure access to quality medical care in police stations and places of detention?
There was an anachronistic situation with regard to the judiciary, noted another Expert, expressing concern about the total dependency on the Presidency in the appointment of judges, about corruption in the judiciary, and about the lack of implementation of judicial decisions.
Responses by the Delegation
The adoption of policies and the creation of a gender equality mechanism were included in the National Human Rights Action Plan. Based on the gender policy concept paper the programme against gender-based violence had been approved for 2011-2015, and included prevention, protection and prosecution. As the policy focused on preventing and combatting cases of violence, a separate division on the fight against domestic violence had been established in the police. Each case involving domestic violence or violence against women was duly registered, and followed by data collection.
A draft law on domestic violence had been submitted to Parliament many times, but had been returned for additional changes, while the law on social assistance, which defined domestic violence, had been adopted. The revised draft law on domestic violence had been re-submitted to the Government in September 2016, and it defined domestic violence in accordance with the relevant Council of Europe policy. It envisaged opening up State funded shelters and explored the possibility of providing financial assistance to victims.
An important step to address sex selective abortion was the adoption of the law on reproductive health and rights in 2016, which banned abortion related to gender. Changes to the law on administrative offences established sanctions for medical staff who violated that law.
ARTAK ASATRYAN, Deputy Minister of Justice and Deputy Government Agent of Armenia before the European Court of Human Rights, thanked the Committee for the opportunity to discuss pertinent issues on the implementation of the Convention.
FELICE GAER, Committee Vice-Chairperson, thanked the delegation for their participation.
For use of the information media; not an official record