ArmInfo. Human Rights Watch presents its vision of the state of human rights in Armenia.
Thus, the World Report 2020, presented yesterday by the organization's Executive Director Kenneth Roth, notes that Armenia's Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan swept to office in 2018 after popular protests, further consolidated his power following the December 2018 snap parliamentary elections, which international observers found genuinely competitive and in line with international standards.
Having secured a parliamentary majority, the government embarked on an ambitious reform agenda, including tackling corruption and reforming the economic and justice sectors.
"However, investigations into past violence and excessive use of force by law enforcement remained limited. Violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, discrimination against and segregation of people with disabilities, and domestic violence persisted'', the report reads.
Human Rights Watch notes that the authorities revived an investigation into the 2008 deadly clashes between protesters and security forces, and in June 2019, charged a high-ranking official with murdering a protester while security forces were breaking up a demonstration. However, investigations into two episodes of excessive police force against largely peaceful demonstrators and journalists in 2016 and 2015 remained suspended. Authorities claimed they were unable to identify the alleged perpetrators.
The report points to omissions in the field of nature protection, citing examples related to protests around the development of the Amulsar gold deposit.
The authors of the report consider that domestic violence persisted as a serious problem. According to official data, during the first half of 2019, authorities investigated 331 criminal domestic violence cases, including 176 that were newly initiated. They brought charges in 209 cases and sent 45 cases to courts. But in most cases, authorities do not protect women and child survivors of domestic violence, jeopardizing their lives and well-being. The 2017 family violence law requires police to urgently intervene "when there is a reasonable assumption of an immediate threat of repetition or the continuation of violence" in the family. But in practice, law enforcement bodies lack awareness and training on protection mechanisms envisaged by the law, such as protection orders, and do not adequately use them. The authors also indicate as an omission the fact that the Council of Europe Convention on Preventing and Combating Violence against Women and Domestic Violence (Istanbul Convention) had not been sent to parliament for ratification.
Touching upon the rights of people with disabilities the authors of the report noted that Armenia made progress in transforming some residential institutions for children into community centers and supporting family-based care. Armenia aims to have fully inclusive education by 2025, whereby children with and without disabilities study together in community schools. Despite progress, many children with disabilities remain segregated in separate special schools or classrooms, or isolated in home education.
According to the report lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people often face harassment, discrimination, and violence. The criminal code does not recognize homophobia and transphobia as aggravating criminal circumstances. Discussions around the ratification of the Istanbul Convention descended to hateful and derogatory speech by some public officials against LGBT people, suggesting that the convention has a hidden agenda of "LGBT propaganda" and legitimizing same-sex marriage. The government-proposed bill on equality, intended as comprehensive anti- discrimination legislation, does not include sexual orientation and gender identity as grounds for protection from discrimination.
Human Rights Watch specialists in their report also touched upon the visit of the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and the report published on his country visit, welcoming Armenia's democratic transition and calling on the authorities to undertake profound reforms "to strengthen the judiciary, the independent investigative bodies and police."
The organization recalls that in May, the European Union published the EU-Armenia partnership implementation report, welcoming steps to implement economic, justice sector, and political reforms, but also acknowledging the early stage of the reform process. It also highlighted the need to address discrimination against LGBT people and people with disabilities.
In his July meeting with Pashinyan, European Union Council President Donald Tusk stressed the importance of rule of law and an independent judiciary. In April, the EU delegation and member states' embassies in Yerevan and the UN Armenia Office expressed concerns about the hate speech directed at the transgender activist, Lilit Martirosyan.
In June, the Council of Europe launched the Action Plan for Armenia 2019-2022 to support the government's efforts to "reinforce human rights, ensure justice, combat threats to the rule of law, and promote democratic governance."
In her January report, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic called on Armenia to improve women's rights, protect vulnerable groups, and ensure accountability for past human rights abuses.
In October, the Venice Commission, a Council of Europe advisory body, issued an expert opinion countering harmful myths about the Istanbul Convention, and concluding that Armenia's ratification of the treaty would not contradict its constitution", the authors of the report concluded.