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Recommendations for Improving the Human Rights Situation in Armenia

I would like to thank you for the written response by your government to our January 15 letter regarding human rights violations in Armenia, and to convey our appreciation for the time and effort you have devoted to this dialogue with Human Rights Watch. I would like to take this opportunity to respectfully clarify several issues in the context of this exchange.

Publish all laws, administrative rulings and codes of conduct that govern infractions by conscripts, officers and other Ministry of Defense personnel and that govern conditions and grounds for detention in Ministry of Defense holding facilities and disciplinary battalions.

The government letter, dated March 19, noted in response:

"The assertion made by HRW that such laws and codes are not readily available to the public is false. According to Article 6 of the Constitution, ‘laws shall take effect only after official publication. Unpublished juridical acts pertaining to human rights, freedoms and duties shall have no juridical force.' This law is executed by officially printing and publishing all laws and codes in order for them to become public, and to that end, by printing them in Armenian newspapers. The official versions of all laws and codes are readily available in bookstores and libraries.

"The code, which details appropriate conduct for military personnel, disciplinary infractions and punishments, and due process during investigations, is readily available to those serving in the Armenian Army and in public libraries and bookstores."

We welcome this pledge to make all codes and laws publicly available, and respectfully request that you make available to us a copy of the internal service code, cited in your letter, that details disciplinary breaches in the Armenian army. Throughout our research on human rights conditions in the army, we encountered serious difficulty obtaining this code, as have defense lawyers, nongovernmental organizations, and others in Armenia concerned with the well-being of those performing military service. We recently sought, to no avail, a copy of the internal service code at major libraries and bookshops in Yerevan. These included:

Armenian National Library, 72 Terian Street
Khango Aper Library, Terian Street
Avetik Isahakian Central Library, Amirian Street
Library No. 29, 6 Komitas Street
Byron Library, 2 Zorian Street
Ani Bookstore, Republic Square
Noyan Tapan Bookstore, Republic Square
Avasa Bookstore, 25 Abovian Street
Bukinist Bookstore, 20 Mashtots Prospect
Kievian Street Bookstore, 17 Kievian Street

During the course of our research, Human Rights Watch investigators interviewed numerous conscripts who had recently completed military service. When asked specifically about the code, none said that they had access. We wish to reiterate our belief that the code's inaccessibility fosters a climate of lawlessness in which abuses against conscripts occur in the army, and hinders the process of accountability. In connection with abuse in the army, we were encouraged to learn in the March 19 letter of your meeting with the mothers of conscripts who died while serving. We intend to publish our findings in a report, which we will present to you and other officials of your government, and to the public.

Allow regular and routine access to places of detention to Armenian nongovernmental organizations involved in monitoring and humanitarian assistance to pre-trial detainees and prisoners.

The March 19 letter noted in response:

"All places of detention and labor centers are open to all nongovernmental and international organizations for monitoring purposes. Their representatives regularly visit these facilities. On January 1, 1996, an agreement was signed between the ICRC and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and National Security and the Prosecutor General's office according to which the ICRC, within its framework of humanitarian activities, is authorized to visit all facilities under the Ministry and the inmates.

"Regarding Michael Danielyan of the Helsinki Association of Armenia, no formal requests have been submitted by him to the Ministry to visit the above mentioned facilities."

We greatly appreciate this commitment to transparency in detention centers. However, we continue to be concerned about the limits on access for nongovernmental organizations to carry out monitoring visits, especially given the reports we have received of ill-treatment and poor conditions in these facilities. Please allow us to clarify that on February 6, 1998, Mr. Danielyan submitted a written request to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and National Security to be allowed to carry out monitoring visits. We have attached a copy of this letter, which requests that the Armenian Helsinki Association, in cooperation with the Polish Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, be allowed to conduct joint monitoring visits of Armenian detention facilities. We are concerned that despite this letter and Mr. Danielyan's two subsequent contacts with Ministry staff to discuss the request, to date he has not received a response.

Investigate and prosecute instances of harassment of religious minorities by police and other government officials.

The government letter responded:

"There have been no registered complaints of harassment of religious minorities by police or other government officials since the new administration has come into power. In fact, during a recent visit by Mr. Jon Huntsman, a prominent member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints specifically made a point of thanking the President and the government for the positive treatment they have received by the State Committee on Religion, pointing out that previously they had faced many problems in registering in Armenia.

"While HRW's accusation that there is harassment of religious minorities was correct in the past, it is no longer true today. In fact, the government has taken many measures to ensure that such violations do not occur in the future by strengthening democratic institutions and creating nongovernmental monitoring and review committees and institutions to buttress his policy. The only group that has not been registered is that of Jehovah's Witnesses, which has not filed any such complaints of harassment other than registration because of their opposition to serve in the military, which is obligatory by law in Armenia.

"Armenia's commitment to freedom of religion is irreversible and all necessary legal measures are being instituted in order to reflect this policy."

We welcome your government's promise to allow citizens to practice their religion free of discrimination and in a climate of tolerance, in accordance with Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees individuals the right "...to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religious or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

As the March 19 letter noted, some religious organizations that were subject to violent attacks in 1995 have been allowed to register; however, other organizations have not, among them, as the letter pointed out, the Jehovah's Witnesses. Adherents of two other non-apostolic faiths who were also attacked in 1995 continue to practice in Armenia, but reportedly so greatly fear the current climate of government-sponsored religious intolerance and persecution of religious minorities that they remain in hiding. We stand by our view that amending Armenia's 1991 law on religion and freedom of conscience—to conform with Article 18 of the ICCPR— is an essential step toward complying with Armenia's international obligations and to promoting religious tolerance.

Further, discrimination and violence against adherents of non-apostolic religious faiths in Armenia persist in the context of conscientious objection to compulsory military service by adherents of the Jehovah's Witnesses faith. For instance, attached is a copy of a written complaint submitted by Mrs. Avleta Garayan to procuracy officials, the Ministries of Justice, Defense, and Internal Affairs and National Security. Mrs. Garayan's complaint details two searches of her home on October 29, 1998, by Soviet District Conscription Commission officials who did not have a warrant. During the first visit, officials threatened and insulted her; during the second, they threatened and insulted her guests on account of their religious beliefs.

We are particularly concerned about this incident because it took place three days after Mrs. Garayan's son, Tigran Petrossyan, was released from prison. Mr. Petrossyan declared himself a conscientious objector and was sentenced to one and half years in prison for his unwillingness to perform military service. Amnesty International designated him a prisoner of conscience after his conviction. Rather than prosecute the officials involved in the incident reported by Mrs. Garayan, officials responded to the complaint by writing to Mrs. Garayan that her son is again liable for military service, and that they intend to prosecute Mr. Petrossiyan, despite the fact that he has already served a prison term for this offense. These threats had forced Mr. Petrossiyan into hiding.

We have also attached a copy of our January 29 letter to you detailing allegations of other prosecutions, beatings, warrantless searches, and harassment of conscientious objectors. These victims of this abuse also appear to be the targets of discriminatory treatment after they declare themselves conscientious objectors and request the right to perform alternative military service. In response to our recommendation on the adoption of a law on alternative military service, the March 19 letter stated:

"The Ministry of Defense has made alternative military service available for those who are conscientious objectors to military service where conscripts are exempted from bearing arms. Currently, practical measures are being taken in order to draft a law for alternative military service."

We would welcome the adoption of a law to provide an alternative to military service for conscientious objectors and the application of such a law in an even-handed, non-arbitrary manner. We kindly request clarification of the government's current standards for making available alternative military service to those who request it, as this would shed light on why some conscientious objectors—such as those who are exempted only from bearing arms— have been allowed to perform alternative service, while others, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, are prosecuted.

The persistent violence against and prosecution of conscientious objectors who are Jehovah's Witnesses therefore appears attributable not to their incapacity to perform military service, but to their religious affiliation. Statements by government officials about Jehovah's Witnesses cited in our January letter, together with the government's failure to prosecute or discipline those involved in the 1995 attacks on non-apostolic faiths, contribute to a climate of hostility in which this discrimination and violence is perpetrated.

Those who have been prosecuted subsequent to our January 15 letter include Artur Martirosyan, sentenced on March 16 to two years in a corrective labor colony for failure to report for duty (article 75 of the criminal code); Armen Asoyan, sentenced on January 9 to three years at Artig Corrective Labor Colony for desertion (article 255), and Rusulan Oganjanyan, sentenced on April 23 to one year in a corrective labor colony for failure to report for duty. Gagik Ohanyan is a conscientious objector in custody undergoing criminal prosecution in Vaik for failure to perform military service, and Grigor Dayan is awaiting trial at Nubarshen Investigative Isolator for failure to report for duty. Three conscientious objectors noted in our January 15 letter — Samvel Manukyan, Artur Stepaniyan and Karen Voskanyan— remain in post- conviction facilities and have been designated prisoners of conscientious by Amnesty International.

Publish statistics on complaints against abusive police officers, the results of investigations into complaints, and prosecution of such cases, including the nature of charges and lengths of sentences.

The government letter responded:

"Statistics on complaints against abusive police officers and the results of investigations into complaints and their prosecution is readily available for all those who request it, including nongovernmental organizations and private citizens. There is no policy of concealing this information."

Human Rights Watch requested such statistics—on three occasions last year during meetings with procuracy officials and once in writing and again in writing on May 4 this year—due to reports we received of rampant physical abuse of detainees in police custody. For instance, in our November 13, 1998, letter to Chief Procurator Agvan Hovsepyan, we requested information on the number of police officers investigated and convicted, the offenses for which these police officers were charged, the sentences they received and the facilities where they are currently serving their sentences. The public prosecutor's office subsequently wrote in response to this request that, "As concerning statistics regarding criminal prosecutions taken against officials of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and National Security, please be advised that figures are the following: for 1996, 20; for 1997, 20; for half-year 1998, 0. We have no additional information."

We respectfully repeat our request for full information in order to assess specifically how the Armenian criminal justice system prosecutes cases of physical abuse by police officers. In particular, we are concerned about current practice, whereby abusive police are charged under articles of the criminal code that are inappropriate to the serious offenses of which they have been accused. In some cases, they have been charged with "abuse of office"; in cases when such abuse has resulted in the death of a detainee, on charges of "assisting a suicide." Convicted officers appear to be released from serving their full sentences by amnesty.

Taking advantage of the commitment to openness and transparency expressed in the March 19 letter regarding the results of such investigations, we kindly request any information you may have on the case of Anahid Tumaniyan, about whom we wrote to you on February 5. We have attached a copy of our letter, and we were concerned to learn that as of the end of April no official had contacted Ms. Tumaniyan or her family members as part of an investigation into her complaint. As the attached letter details, Mrs.Tumaniyan told Human Rights Watch that police at the Erebuni District Police Station severely beat her, her two children, sixteen-year-old Aram and twenty-two-year-old Varduhi Tumaniyan, and her twenty-year-old sister-in-law, Christina Torosiyan, in an effort to coerce them into signing false testimony and confessions.

Finally, the government's response noted:

"The HRW report inaccurately states that, the Yerkrapah organization has ... been responsible for ... attacks such as the ransacking of a human rights center library in Vanadzor on July 29, 1997. No such action has taken place by the Yerkrapahs."

We have attached for your information a copy of the statement describing this incident issued on August 20, 1997 by the Armenian Constitutional Rights Protection Center of Vanadzor, that names some of the approximately ten people who participated in the ransacking of the library, including members of the Yerkrapah organization in Vanadzor. We have also attached a copy of the Armenian State Arbitrage court's decision, dated April 18, ordering the city of Vanadzor to pay 149,700 drams in damages to the center because it was unable to inhabit the premises it had previously rented from the city as a result of "the intercession of a third party." The U.S. government has also implicated the Yekrapahs in this incident, which was cited in the 1998 U.S. State Department Armenia Country Report on Human Rights Practices. The report stated, "Promised new quarters by the mayor after the site originally offered (two rooms in a children's library) had been forcibly reclaimed in July 1997 by local Yerkrapah officials at the behest of the children's librarian, a human rights library in Vanadzor was still seeking resources at year's end to make the replacement quarters usable. No charges were ever filed against the persons who forced the lock on the human rights library."

As we previously noted, we remain concerned that there have been no criminal prosecutions of those responsible, despite that fact that the state arbitrage court has acknowledged that the incident took place and the names of some of the participants are known.

Furthermore, Yekrapah appears to enjoy continued impunity for such attacks. The State Department report noted that members of the Yerkrapah have been implicated in other incidents, including an attack on members of an opposition political party on last year: "On March 8, persons alleged to be associated with the Yerkrapah faction violently broke up an election rally in Ararat by the National Democratic Union (NDU). Eight NDU members were hospitalized as a result of the attack, including Filaret Berikyan, the NDU representative to the Central Election Committee. The police chief of Ararat was fired for failure to maintain order. Four of the alleged attackers were arrested, convicted, and sentenced in June by the Ararat court to 2 years in prison for interfering in the electoral process. The sentence was suspended and the four were placed on probation."

Human Rights Watch interviewed Mr. Berikyan regarding this incident after it occurred, and he stated that as many as fifty individuals took part in the attack. We are therefore surprised that only four people were held accountable for it, and that their sentences were suspended.

As we noted in our earlier correspondence, we believe that Armenia's accession to the Council of Europe is premature until the government takes concrete and significant steps to improve human rights, in law and in practice. We intend to reiterate our recommendation to the Parliamentary Assembly that it take no further action on Armenia's membership application until the government addresses these and other issues. In this connection, we will be forwarding you shortly a number concerns regarding recently adopted legislation on the independence of the judiciary and protection for those in custody while under investigation for criminal offenses.

Please accept my thanks again for the attention with which your government has considered our concerns. I look forward to further dialogue with you and members of your government regarding human rights practices in Armenia.

Sincerely,

/s/

Holly Cartner
Director
Europe and Central Asia Division
Human Rights Watch

cc:
Mr. Vasgen Sakisyan, Minister of Defense
Mr. Sergik Sarkisyan, Minister of Internal Affairs and National Security
Chief Procurator Agvan Hovsepiyan
Mr. Barur Harikiyan, Chair, Presidential Commission on Human Rights
Mme. Mary Robinson, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights
Mr. Nigel Rodley, U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture
Mr. Jan Kleijssen, Co-Secretary, Council of Europe
Mr. Guy DuFour, Co-Secretary, Council of Europe
Mme. Danielle Coin, Co-Secretary, Council of Europe
Mr. Petr Sich, Co-Secretary, Council of Europe
Amb. Gerard Stoudmann, Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
Amb. John Mitchiner, UK Embassy Yerevan
Amb. Michel Legras, French Embassy Yerevan
Amb. Carola Muller-Holtkemper, German Embassy Yerevan
Amb. Michael Lemmon, U.S. Embassy Yerevan

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