Human Rights Developments
On December 28, 1994, President Levon Ter-Petrossian suspended the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a major opposition party, and ordered the closure of twelve newspapers and news agencies allegedly associated with the ARF. The decree claimed that the party had become a mere cover for "Dro," a secret organization within it allegedly responsible for terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal arms trade. Within hours of the decree, which the president broadcast on television, Interior Ministry troops sealed off the ARF headquarters and the offices of the twelve newspapers and news agencies allegedly linked to the ARF. Police confiscated archives, computers and other office equipment.
On January 13, 1995, the Supreme Court of Armenia upheld the ARF's suspension for a six-month period citing not threats to national security, but the presence of foreigners in the party's ruling board. The government claimed that it was by mere coincidence that the six-month suspension was to lapse just after the July 5 elections. Several weeks after the elections, police arrested the ARF's leader, Vahan Hovanesian, on terrorism charges.
The government allowed individual ARF members to run for parliament, but the party's absence paved the way for a resounding victory of the Armenian National Movement, the pro- government party. To its credit, the government allowed weekly mass demonstrations by the political opposition.
Due process violations marred the trial of "Dro" defendants, which began on August 7. Investigators frequently and arbitrarily denied defense attorneys access to their clients; on March 13 the attorney general's office issued new rules reinstating the old Soviet practice of allowing a defendant access to an attorney only after an investigation's completion. The prosecution allowed defense attorneys only fifteen days to peruse eighteen tomes of prosecution materials. A well known paramilitary group attacked a "Dro" defense attorney on March 21, leaving him severely injured. Investigators failed to resolve the case and dropped it after twelve days. Unknown assailants attacked another "Dro" defense lawyer on April 28 in broad daylight in downtown Yerevan. Two "Dro" defendants were reportedly beaten during their investigation.
At least two individuals died in custody in 1995. On May 17, Artavast Manukian, a "Dro" defendant, died of pneumonia_clearly the result of inadequate medical attention_in a prison hospital. The republic prosecutor had denied three separate requests by Manukian's attorney to transfer his client to a civilian hospital.
Romik Grigorian was beaten to death on May 9 in police custody. Police in the Kamo district had arrested him without a warrant on May 8, and family members reported that Grigorian's corpse bore several bruises, including one on the nape of his neck. As of this writing, no police officer has been held responsible. Similarly, police officers from the Spandaryansky district station in Yerevan, who beat to death Rudik Vartanyan in 1993, had not been brought to justice by November 1995.
The Armenian constitution, adopted on June 7, provides for individual rights, clearly a positive development, but allows most of these rights to be limited or suspended in times of emergency, which in most cases are determined by the president. The president now appoints judges nominated by the Justice Council, whose members have, in turn, been appointed by the president, thus removing judges from any public vetting process. The constitution also reduced to six the number of parliamentary committees, thereby abolishing the human rights committee.
Newspapers expressing a variety of views continued to publish in Armenia, but the government exerted indirect pressure on the press mainly by rigidly controlling the purchase of newsprint. According to reliable sources, the government was directly involved in the temporary eviction in May of Golos Armenii, a Russian-language opposition daily with no ties to the ARF, from its offices in the press building. The government denied any involvement, and President Ter-Petrossian personally intervened to reinstate the newspaper.
On April 18, paramilitary gangs attacked religious groups, rounding up nine members of the Jehovah's Witness, Pentacostalist, Hare Krishna, and other churches, beating several Krishnas, stealing property, and tossing the nine men into a military police prison, where they languished for two weeks. No government agency claimed to be involved, yet the military police told detainees that they were merely following orders.
The Right to Monitor
The Role of the International Community
The European Union
Armenia received $41 million in U.S. assistance in 1995 (mostly in energy credits), far more per capita than any other state of the CIS. The Clinton administration did not use this assistance as a lever for improving the Armenian government's human rights record, but did criticize the closure of the ARF. A State Department spokesperson declared in January that "the suspension of a major political party . . . runs counter to the established principles of democracy and free speech. This is all the more important given that Armenia will be holding parliamentary elections," and urged the government to open a dialogue with the ARF. Commenting on July 18 on parliamentary elections, a State Department spokesman pointed to their "inherent unfairness" but praised them as "an important step in Armenia's democratic development." In a speech delivered to Armenian-Americans prior to the elections, senior presidential advisor George Stephanopoulos sharply criticized the ARF's suspension and restrictions on the media and stated that "our relationship will rest in large part on Armenia's commitment to democratic principles and human rights."
The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan was well informed on human rights issues, but generally chose to raise such issues with Armenian officials behind closed doors. In a welcome departure from this pattern, it sent an observer to the "Dro" trial.
The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki