United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Armenia, 30 January 1996, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa3130.html [accessed 19 May 2013]
This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
ARMENIA Armenia has a constitutional government in which the President, who won a multicandidate election in 1991, appoints and dismisses the Prime Minister, all cabinet ministers, the Prosecutor General, regional governors, and the mayor of Yerevan. The new Constitution severely circumscribes the powers of the legislature relative to the executive branch. The 190-member National Assembly was chosen in July in the first postindependence parliamentary elections. Local and international observers characterized them as "generally free, but not fair," and cited deficiencies in the electoral process, including a lack of transparency in vote counting, the suspension of a leading opposition party, and the prevention of 5 opposition parties and over 500 opposition candidates from registering. Manipulation of election procedures by the largely progovernment Central Election Commission (CEC) contributed to the ruling coalition's 80-percent majority in the new Assembly. The President may disband the legislature and call for new elections, except during his last 6 months in office. The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary; in practice, however, judges are subject to political pressure from both the executive and legislature. The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the national police force, which is responsible for maintaining order throughout the country. The Prime Minister oversees the Ministry for National Security, which is responsible for combating both external and internal threats to the State. The civilian authorities do not maintain effective control of all the security forces. Some members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. The Government is committed to a transition to a market economy, despite the economic constraints imposed by its conflict with neighboring Azerbaijan. The economy continues to experience critical shortages of fuel, electricity, and raw materials, which severely restrict industrial production and cause widespread unemployment. The economy, nevertheless, registered the first increment of positive growth since independence. The Government made some progress toward market reform with moves to liberalize bread prices and plans to privatize state structures, including large enterprises. Inflation was brought under control and the local currency, the dram, was stable. The per capita gross national product is $467 annually. Starting with the suspension of a major opposition party, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF) or Dashnak party, and its newspapers in December 1994, there was a noticeable decline in Armenia's observance of human rights. The Government hampered the ability of opposition parties and media organs to function freely, including before and during the elections. The Government's manipulation of the elections and the constitutional referendum, primarily through the CEC, restricted citizens' ability to change their government. Police brutality goes largely unreported, but evidence indicates that police frequently beat detainees. Lawyers for those accused of crimes in connection with the alleged terrorist cell "Dro" claim that the defendants were subjected to beatings to extract confessions and were denied visits from relatives and lawyers. In March the Prosecutor General issued a ruling that denied defense lawyers access to their clients for most of the investigation phase of a case. In March and April, defense lawyers were physically attacked. In May, a Dro detainee died in a prison hospital while awaiting trial. The Government repeatedly denied requests by international organizations and foreign embasssy officials to visit the Dro and other detainees and prisoners unescorted. Prison conditions are poor. The Government places some restrictions on freedom of the press, assembly, and association. The Armenian law restricts freedom of religion, and societal violence against religious minorities is a problem. Armed paramilitary groups carried out a wave of attacks on religious minority groups in April and May. The authorities have not brought to justice the perpetrators of the attacks, despite government assurances to the contrary. Discrimination against women and minorities is a problem. In an effort to move forward on confidence building measures between the parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, the Government released all of its prisoners of war and civilian detainees held as a result of the dispute.
Respect for Human Rights
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Political and other Extrajudicial Killings
A detainee in the case of the alleged Dro terrorist cell, Artavazd Manukhyan, died in custody on May 15, while awaiting trial. There were allegations that he died due to extensive loss of blood and inadequate medical attention; the State claims that Manukhyan died of natural causes (see Section 1.c.). In the January 1994 case of eight dead Azerbaijani, some international organizations have decided that the cause of death was suicide and the Government considers the case closed.
No abductions by Government or other forces are known to have been committed.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The Constitution and the law prohibit torture. The authorities charged members of the security forces with police brutality in five cases; however, none of the defendents has yet gone to trial. Two of the policemen accused of brutality in 1994 were administratively disciplined, and the third is still awaiting trial for murder. The number of eyewitness accounts of police brutality far outstrips the number of cases filed, indicating that most cases of police brutality go unreported. The office of the Prosecutor General (Attorney General) investigates allegations of mistreatment. If the investigation reveals evidence to support the allegations and if there is a serious violation of the law, the prosecutor's office files criminal charges. Less serious cases are referred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for administrative action. The Government has not improved the prison system, which still uses Soviet-era "Kartser," which are outdoor, cement cells where prisoners are often incarcerated for weeks at a time, receiving food once every 3 days. The Government has not facilitated independent monitoring of prison conditions. It has denied requests by foreign embassy officials, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), and others to conduct unescorted visits with detainees accused of crimes, and, in some cases, has denied permission for visits altogether. The Government has repeatedly denied permission for the ICRC to visit the Dro defendants, including Artavazd Manukhyan, who was arrested in December 1994 and died in prison in May awaiting trial (see Section 1.a.). Manukhyan did not see his lawyer for several days before his death nor his family after his arrest. He reportedly had requested medical treatment for his declining health since March, but apparently did not receive any until May. He allegedly died from extensive blood loss. The government-appointed panel of physicians that investigated Manukhyan's death claimed that he was not tortured and died of heart failure brought on by advanced pneumonia. Manukhyan was reportedly healthy at the time of his arrest.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
According to the transitional provisions of the Constitution, the previous procedure for searches and arrests will be maintained until the Criminal Code is brought into line with the Constitution. According to the existing Criminal Code, much of which dates from the Soviet era, suspects may be detained and held without charge for up to 72 hours. A suspect has the right to be represented by a lawyer, and the police must notify the suspect's relatives if requested. The latter provision has been violated regularly, leaving relatives to rely on rumors as to a detainee's whereabouts. After arrest, the suspect may be jailed for up to 6 months pending trial and completion of the investigation, or up to 11 months by special order of the Prosecutor General (these limits were recently extended from 3 months and 9 months, respectively). If no sentence is passed during the period of detention, the suspect must be released. There is no provision for bail. In May the President authorized the release of 47 prisoners of war being held as a result of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. There were no reports of forced exile.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
Although the Constitution provides for an independent judiciary, in practice, courts are not independent from the other branches of government. The provisions of the new Constitution do not appear designed to insulate the courts from political pressure from the executive branch, although enabling legislation is yet to be enacted and implemented. Under the Constitution, the Justice Council appoints and disciplines judges for the new tribunal courts, review courts, and the court of appeals. The President heads the council appoints 14 members in addition to the Prosecutor General and Justice Minister who are ex officio members. This gives the President overwhelming influence in appointing and dismissing judges at all levels. According to the transitional provisions of the Constitution, the existing courts will retain their powers until the new judicial system is established. The existing court system comprises a number of district courts, a supreme court, and a military tribunal. District courts try the overwhelming majority of cases. The Ministry of Internal Affairs continues to conduct preliminary investigations of criminal cases. The Soviet-era procedures remain in effect. The judicial structure set out under the new Constitution does not provide for a supreme court. The Constitution's transition provisions extend the powers of members of the current supreme court until the formation of the Court of Appeals, up to a maximum of 3 years. The Constitutional Court's range of activity is limited by the Constitution. Only the President, one-third of Parliament, and candidates for the office of president may appeal to the court. The latter may do so only to challenge the results of an election. The Constitution provides for jury trials in cases stipulated by law. Implementing regulations for this provision have not yet been adopted. Once criminal or civil charges have been filed, the case should by law go to trial within one month. In practice, due to court backlogs and other resource problems, the deadline is often not met. The military tribunal operates essentially as it did in the Soviet era. A military prosecutor performs the same functions as his civilian counterpart, operating in accordance with the Soviet-era legal code. Trials are public except when government secrets are at issue. Defendants are required to attend their trials unless they have been accused of a minor crime not punishable by imprisonment. Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence. The court appoints an attorney for any defendant who needs one. Defendants have the right of appeal. There were no reports of political prisoners. The 1994 case of former National Security Advisor Vahan Avakyan was closed. Some human rights organizations had called Avakyan the first political prisoner in Armenia. He was sentenced in the fall of 1994 to 4 years in prison, charged with attempting to steal state secrets. On September 11, the President granted Avakyan amnesty and released him from prison. The Dro trials began on August 7. Eleven defendants are accused of being members of the so-called Dro clandestine organization, and are accused of terrorism, illegal economic activities, drug trafficking, homicide, and the recruitment and training of new Dro members. The first stage, the testimony of the defendants, ran until November 20. Seven of the accused claimed that their testimony was coerced through psychological pressure and torture. Four of the defendants refused to testify in court. The second stage, examining of the witnesses, ran through the first week of December. There were 21 witnesses to be questioned, but 10 witnesses could not be located. The third stage, the presentation of evidence by the prosecution, including police reports, arrest warrants, letters, official documents, and fingerprints ran until December 25. The only evidence not presented was an analysis of controversial computer diskettes confiscated from the apartment and office of Gagik Artsrouni, one of the key defendants. Local human rights groups have accused the court of not being balanced. They say the judge has ignored protests from the defense attorneys that evidence was collected illegally and tampered with by the police and the prosecutor's office. Observers of the proceedings point to numerous procedural oddities. Thus, the view of most observers is that the court places more emphasis on the government's political objectives in the trial than due process consideration for the accused. The trial of Vahan Hovhanissyan, a member of the Dashnaks party leadership council, is scheduled to begin in March 1996. He was detained on July 29 for "routine questioning," but was denied access to a defense lawyer until August 10. Hovhanissyan has been charged with high treason, terrorism, conspiring to overthrow the Government, and illegal possession of arms. His defense team has alleged numerous infractions of the law during the investigation period. His attorneys claim that they were given only 2 days to investigate evidence. They also claim that his place of detention was kept a secret from them for 2 weeks.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The Constitution provides for the right to privacy for citizens, their residences, their communications, and their correspondence. Procedurally, the security ministries must petition the prosecutor's office for permission to tap a telephone or intercept correspondence. The prosecutor's office purportedly must find a compelling need for the wiretap before it will grant the agency permission to proceed. There were many violations of the right to privacy during waves of army conscription in 1995. Military recruiters appeared at houses where draft-age men were reported to live, and either threatened the occupants or inflicted material damage. Recruiters seized draft-age men in public at markets and on the subway. There are credible reports that Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh officials forcibly conscripted refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan. The draft board also sent recruiters to Krasnodar Kray in Russia to retrieve draft-age males who had fled the country.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The Constitution provides for freedom of the press. In practice, however, the Government has, on occasion, shown intolerance of newspapers critical of government policies. Freedom of the press was partially restricted in December 1994, when the Government shut down four Dashnak-affiliated newspapers, as well as eight other media outlets with Dashnak party members in key positions. Ten of these remain closed. Independent and opposition newspapers, most of which have extremely few resources, are dependent on the Government for newsprint and publication facilities--an arrangement that has continued intact from the Soviet period. Newsprint is sold at various prices depending on the purchaser, and, at times, is completely unavailable to opposition papers. Golos Armeni and a few other independent newspapers have stopped publishing because of paper shortages and financial problems. Several media correspondents were physically attacked and offices of several newspapers were firebombed. No suspects have been arrested in any of these cases. Despite these hardships, opposition newspapers have continued to publish and print articles critical of the Government. There is no prepublication censorship. However, the Government supplies all mass media editors with a list of forbidden subjects, most of which relate to the military. There were no reports of prosecutions for violations of this injunction. Broadcasting is largely controlled by the Government. There is one functioning independent radio station. There are also several small independent cable television companies which are only licensed to show films. State television provided a total of 5 minutes per candidate and 30 minutes per party of free airtime during the parliamentary elections. In contrast, the ruling "Republic" bloc, through its control of the media, used scheduled programs to publicize its candidates and implored voters to choose Republic at the polls. Part of the President's speech in support of the Republic bloc was shown on election day, in violation of the electoral law. Exhortations to vote "yes" on the constitutional referendum appeared frequently on state television in the weeks before the vote. The shortage of electricity limited broadcast time for programming to about 3 hours per day. Generally, there is more freedom in academic institutions than was the case during the Soviet period. Instructors and students express their opinions during lectures and seminars. There is no official censorship or ideological framework imposed upon them. Bribes for good grades reportedly are common.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association. However, in December 1994, the Government suspended the Dashnak party by presidential decree alleging that the party harbored a secret terrorist cell, Dro, that represented a clear and present danger to the Armenian State. The Supreme Court subsequently upheld the President's decision to suspend the party for 6 months, on the grounds that the presence of expatriate members on its ruling bodies violated the law on public political organizations. The Dashnak party was not allowed to register for the parliamentary elections, although members were allowed to run as individuals in single mandate districts. In June the court extended the ban on Dashnak party activities for 1 more year. The court held that the Dashnak party charter continued to violate the law on parties. Simultaneous with the suspension of the Dashnak party, the offices of the Union of Constitutional Rights, which was located in the same building as the Dashnaks, were sealed. After protests, the Government provided alternative temporary office space so that the Union could continue its work. Other political parties were subjected to pressure prior to the July parliamentary elections. The authorities accused several leaders of the National Democratic Union party of plotting to overthrow the State and summoned them to appear for questioning. The Government did not follow through on these accusations and question these persons. Public demonstrations, meetings, and marches occurred frequently, usually without any interference by the authorities. However, a significant instance of government interference occurred in June, when several hundred people belonging to opposition parties assembled to protest the electoral commission's decision not to register a number of opposition parties and over 500 opposition candidates for the July parliamentary elections. About 40 paramilitary troops equipped with guns and handheld radios broke up the meeting and beat some of the protesters. Some troops said that they belonged to "Yerkrapah," a veterans' organization which reportedly is affiliated with government security agencies. Some opposition protesters were arrested by militia troops. The authorities took no actions against the paramilitary forces or those who directed them.
c. Freedom of Religion
The Constitution provides for the right to practice the religion of one's choice. In practice, however, the law imposes restrictions on religious freedom, and the right to freedom of conscience is not adequately protected. The Armenian Orthodox Church clergy is known to resent the inroads made by nonapostolic religions in recent years. The 1991 Law on Religious Organizations establishes the separation of church and state, but recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church (the Armenian Orthodox Church), to which over 80 percent of the population at least nominally belongs, as having special status. The Law forbids proselytizing and requires all nonapostolic religious denominations and organizations to register with the Ministry of Justice. Petitioning organizations must "be free from materialism and of a purely spiritual nature" and must subscribe to a doctrine based on "historically recognized holy scriptures." A presidential decree issued in 1993 supplemented the 1991 law and strengthened the position of the Armenian Apostolic Church. The decree enjoins the Council on Religious Affairs to investigate the activities of the representatives of registered religious organizations and to ban missionaries who engage in activities contrary to their status. A religious organization refused registration cannot publish a newspaper or magazine, rent a meeting place, have its own program on television or radio, or officially sponsor the visas of visitors to Armenia. Several nonapostolic religious organizations have been denied registration by the Ministry of Justice. In April paramilitary troops reportedly belonging to the Yerkrapah veterans' organization, whose actions reportedly were cleared by high-level government officials, staged a series of attacks against members of a dozen nonapostolic religious groups. Services were broken up by paramilitary troops wielding iron pipes and guns, pastors and adherents were beaten and kidnaped, and offices were ransacked and equipment stolen. Several victims were rushed to the hospital. About 20 adherents were held for several days or weeks at a military police facility before being released. When asked why they were being held, the commandant told the detainees that it was because of their religious beliefs. The attacks were tacitly abetted by months of articles critical of the groups in both the official and nonofficial press. Despite the Government's pledge to apprehend the perpetrators of these attacks and despite numerous eyewitness accounts, to date the authorities have made no arrests in these cases.
d. Freedom of Movement within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
The Constitution provides for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but places restrictions on some of these rights. According to informed estimates, up to one-third of Armenia's population has temporarily or permanently emigrated during the last 6 years. Passports are denied to persons lacking invitations from the country that they wish to visit, those possessing state secrets, and those whose relatives have made financial claims against them. The Soviet-era Office of Visas and Registrations continues to impede travel and emigration through delays and the creation of various bureaucratic obstacles, including a requirement for "exit permission." Virtually the entire ethnic Azeri population of Armenia prior to independence--some 200,000 people--remain refugees in Azerbaijan. After the 1988-89 anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan connected with the conflict over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, these people were subjected to discrimination and intimidation, often accompanied by violence intended to drive them from the country. Of the 400,000 ethnic Armenian refugees who fled Azerbaijan, less than 50,000 have settled in Armenia. According to the Constitution, the President has the power to grant political asylum. No laws on refugees have been passed by Parliament and the status of refugees has not been accepted yet. Existing programs and regulations are all based on executive orders. Currently, there is a five-year state program on refugees (1994-99). The program's goal is to help the refugees integrate into the community. This program deals exclusively with refugees of Armenian nationality who have fled states in the region.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The Government's manipulation of the parliamentary elections and the constitutional referendum restricted the ability of citizens to choose and change the laws and officials that govern them. Local and international observers described the national parliamentary elections in July as "generally free, but not fair." The Central Electoral Commission (CEC) and the regional electoral commissions that administered the elections and the constitutional referendum were stacked with ruling party loyalists. In addition to the Government's suspension of the Dashnak party, the CEC used an ambiguous electoral law to deny registration to several other opposition parties or blocs and over 500 opposition candidates on minor technicalities. The CEC ruled on many cases shortly before election day, thereby denying some candidates a fair chance to appeal the CEC's decision. The Government also used its monopoly of the media to devote extensive coverage to a campaign to adopt the draft constitution and deny equal time to dissenting views. Opposition parties had limited access to government media, and media coverage of the constitutional referendum options was skewed. On the positive side, the electorate actively participated in the polling. Several opposition parties did mount credible campaigns and were able to seat some deputies in the new Parliament. Local and international observers expressed concern about outdated voter registration lists, voter intimidation in some districts, poor ballot security, and the lack of transparency during the final vote count by the CEC. The subcommittees of the CEC that counted the votes on the constitutional referendum comprised only representatives of the progovernment parties; all opposition members of the CEC were assigned to a separate subcommittee that was dispatched to outlying regions, and were not able to return to Yerevan when the session to count referendum votes was suddenly announced. Also, the progovernment majority on the CEC regularly voted down opposition appeals concerning the fairness of the voting. In general, local and international observers had good access to polling sites, and local election officials made conscientious efforts to adhere to proper polling procedures. Registered opposition parties and candidates were given limited free access to government media and some were able to mount credible campaigns. Some Dashnak party members were allowed to run as independent candidates. Under the new Constitution, the President appoints the Prime Minister and has considerable influence in appointing judges. The Constitution provides for independent legislative and judicial branches, but in practice these branches are not insulated from political pressure from the executive branch. The Constitution gives local communities the right to elect local authorities, but stipulates that the Government appoints regional governors, and the President appoints the Mayor of Yerevan. Under the transitional provisions of the Constitution, the Parliament (National Assembly), has the right to express no confidence in the heads of city and regional councils, until a law on local governance is adopted. The National Assembly is to operate as a part-time institution for the duration of its first term. Approximately one-third of the parliamentarians have been designated full-time deputies. Parliament also has a truncated work schedule for its first term. Sessions may be called, but may not last more than 6 days. Women and minorities play a very limited role in government and politics, largely due to traditional social attitudes. There are no women or minorities in cabinet-level positions, and only 12 of the 190 deputies in the Parliament are women. Out of the Parliament's six committees, the Committee on Health, Social Security, and Environment is headed by a woman.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
There are several fledgling nongovernmental human rights organizations. The Government generally does not impede investigations into alleged violations of human rights by either local or international human rights organizations, but it has impeded independent monitoring of prison conditions. The Government did not cooperate with the ICRC in the case of Artavazd Manukhyan (see Section 1.c.). The Government granted the ICRC access to all prisoners of war and civilian detainees held in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status
Discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status is prohibited by the Constitution, but cultural and economic factors prevent women, ethnic and religious minorities, and persons with disabilities from participating fully in public life.
In 1995 25 rape cases were opened, but statistics are not yet available on the number of convictions. It is virtually certain that many more incidents go unreported. No charges of spouse abuse were filed. Armenia remains a male-dominated society. In the workplace, women are generally not afforded the opportunities for training and advancement given to men. The 1992 law on employment prohibits discrimination in employment, but the extremely high unemployment rate makes it difficult to gauge how effectively the law has been implemented to prevent discrimination.
The Government does not have the economic means to provide fully for the welfare of children. The Government focuses its efforts on children's rights and welfare on measures to insulate large families--four or more children--from the effects of the country's current difficult circumstances. The Government similarly targets foreign humanitarian aid programs at large families. The family tradition in Armenia is strong, and child abuse does not appear to be a serious problem.
People with Disabilities
There is no discrimination against disabled persons in employment, education, or in the provision of other state services. The Constitution provides for the right to social security in the event of disability. The 1993 Law on Invalids provides for the social, political, and individual rights of the disabled, but does not mandate the provision of accessibility for the disabled. The Government's enforcement of the rights of the disabled remains rudimentary.
The Government does not discriminate against the small communities of Russians, Jews, Kurds, Yezids, Georgians, Greeks, and Assyrians in employment, housing, and health services. The Constitution grants national minorities the right to preserve their cultural traditions and language, and a 1992 law on language provides linguistic minorities with the right to publish and study in their native language. There are publications in minority languages, but the Government has not devoted sufficient resources to organizing minority language schools. In practice, virtually everyone, including members of the Yezid, Greek, and Jewish communities, speaks Armenian.
Section 6 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The Constitution provides employees with the right to form and join trade unions and the right to strike. The Constitution stipulates, however, that the right to form associations-- including political parties and trade unions--may be limited with respect to persons serving in the armed services and law enforcement agencies. A January 1993 presidential decree prohibits the Government and other employers from retaliating against strikers and labor leaders. In practice, labor organizations remain weak due to high unemployment and stalled industry. Unions are free to affiliate with international organizations.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
Collective bargaining is not practiced. The Government sets wages, and the Constitution provides all citizens with the right to a just wage no lower than the minimum set by the Government. Although the 1992 Law on Employment provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively, voluntary and direct negotiations do not take place between unions and employers without the participation of the Government because nearly all enterprises, factories, and organizations remain under state control. The Government encourages profitable factories to establish their own pay scales. Factory directorates generally set the pay scales, without consultation with employees. Wage and other labor disputes are adjudicated through the Arbitration Court. There are no export processing zones.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The Constitution and the 1992 Law on Employment prohibit forced labor, and it is not practiced. This provision is enforced by the local councils of deputies, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the Arbitration Commission.
d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
Child labor is not practiced. According to the 1992 Law on Employment, 16 years is the minimum age for employment. Children may work from age 14 with the permission of a medical commission and the relevant labor union board. The Law on Employment is enforced by the local councils of deputies, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the Arbitration Commission.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The Government sets the minimum wage by decree. In May the daily national minimum wage was set at $1.30 (540 drams) per month. The standard legal workweek is 41 hours. Given the cost of living, employees paid the minimum wage cannot support either themselves or their families on their pay alone. The overwhelming majority of Armenians live below the officially recognized poverty level as a result of the economic dislocations caused by the breakup of the Soviet Union, the 1988 earthquake, the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, and the resulting blockade and disruptions in trade. The vast majority of enterprises are either idle or operating at only a fraction of their capacity. Those still on the payrolls of idle enterprises continue to receive two-thirds of their base salary. The Constitution provides citizens with the right to clean and safe work places, but Soviet-era occupational and safety standards remain in force. Labor legislation from 1988 places responsibility on the employer and the management of each firm to ensure "healthy and normal" labor conditions for employees, but it provides no definition of "healthy and normal." Workers cannot remove themselves from hazardous conditions without risk of loss of employment.