“What we are seeing in Armenia is a worrying pattern of increasing human rights violations, particularly regarding freedom of assembly. This means an ever-shrinking space for democracy and less opportunity for citizens to make their voices heard.”
This was the view of Vardine Grigoryan of the Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly on the current state of democracy in Armenia. She was speaking during a lively panel discussion organised by the International Partnership for Human Rights (IPHR) in cooperation with the European Endowment for Democracy in Brussels on 13 September.
According to Grigoryan, violations of human rights have become ever more prevalent since Armenia’s accession to the Eurasian Economic Union. This followed the country’s decision to abandon plans for an Association Agreement with the EU in 2013.
Her outlook was borne out by a new IPHR report: “Beaten, Burnt and Betrayed: Armenians awaiting accountability for police violence” presented during the event. It details chilling accounts of human rights violations during protests which took place in the capital, Yerevan, in July. The victims of this violence include a 16-year-old boy who lost an eye and dozens of people who sustained broken bones or serious burns.
The report highlights the findings of a fact-finding mission to study allegations of the use of disproportionate and excessive force, arbitrary detentions and other rights violations. It describes dozens of cases of beatings of journalists, detention of peaceful protesters, and harassment of civic and opposition leaders by government officials.
“Our findings show first-hand evidence of human rights abuse and excessive and unjustified use of police force. Scores of people suffered multiple injuries. We also noted multiple violations of international standards on police detention,” said Nataliya Novakova of the IPHR.
The Head of the European Affairs office of the International Rehabilitation Council of Torture Victims, Mushegh Yekmalyan, stated that ill-treatment of suspects by the Armenian police is a long-standing issue and called on the international community to exert greater pressure on the authorities:
"We see the same criticisms year after year from the Council of Europe’s anti-torture Committee. It is crucial that the OSCE and other organisations providing funding for police and justice sector reforms don’t shy away. Every donor should be vigilant as to what happens with the funding they provide. But without repercussions, there is no political will to implement reforms and respect human rights commitments.”
In its report, the IPHR outlines recommendations to the Armenian government on the steps required to ensure accountability and restore justice. These include calls for thorough and independent investigations into all unlawful conduct by law enforcement officials, and for all officials suspected of committing rights violations to be brought to justice in fair proceedings.