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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Armenia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Armenia, 30 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4038.html [accessed 1 October 2014]
DisclaimerThis 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.
 

Since achieving independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Armenia has been striving to create a democratic, multiparty republic with a parliamentary system of government. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament whose members were chosen in 1990 elections, which, in spite of being conducted under Soviet procedures, proved relatively free. However, Parliament's continued inability to adopt a new constitution has inhibited political and economic reform. Levon Ter-Petrosyan was elected President in free and fair, multicandidate elections in 1991. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who presides over the Government. Armenia's judiciary is not fully independent of the other branches of government.

The police are responsible for maintaining order throughout the country and are generally subordinate to governmental authority. Like its predecessor, the Committee for State Security or KGB, the State Directorate for National Security of the Republic of Armenia is responsible for combating both external and internal threats.

The ongoing conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh, an overwhelmingly ethnic Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, has been the most serious territorial dispute in the former Soviet Union in terms of casualties and suffering. Since 1988 when the enclave voted to secede from Azerbaijan and join Armenia, thousands have died, thousands more have been injured, and hundreds of thousands made refugees. Armenian support for the separatists has led to a crippling Azerbaijani economic embargo which strangles landlocked Armenia.

The conflict itself, the attendant Azerbaijani and Turkish embargoes, and chaos in Georgia have exacerbated the Armenian economic crisis produced by the breakup of the Soviet Union. Industrial production continued to decline from its already minimal 1992 level, although at a slower rate during 1993. Unemployment and inflation rates remained very high. Electricity and fuels continued to be in critically short supply, and the health of large segments of the population, particularly the very old and the very young, was significantly affected by the difficult living conditions. The Government has privatized agricultural holdings and is moving to privatize the distribution sector, but most other segments of the economy remain under state ownership.

In the absence of a new constitution and the full panoply of laws protecting human rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by Parliament's 1991 resolution as the supreme law of the land, aims to ensure the protection of human rights. Armenia also relies on parts of the Soviet Constitution. Within this framework, Armenia generally respects human rights, although there were several reports of police brutality during the year. The press is free, and a wide spectrum of viewpoints is represented. Citizens are free to conduct public meetings and demonstrations. The Soviet-era criminal code, however, is still in force and allows suspects to be detained for up to 72 hours without charge; and judges do not appear to be sufficiently insulated from political pressure. The law on religion forbids proselytizing and appears to place restrictions on the kinds of religious organizations that may be officially registered. Although citizens are free to emigrate, Armenians must still have official invitations if they wish to obtain a passport for travel abroad. After the flight of almost all Azeri inhabitants of Armenia to Azerbaijan, Armenia's remaining national minorities do not appear to suffer discrimination. Deeply ingrained attitudes ensure that women are frequently the objects of discrimination. Appreciation of the rights of the handicapped remains very rudimentary.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

No political or other extrajudicial killings are known to have occurred in 1993. However, at least one person died while in official custody during the year. The trial of the policemen involved was under way at year's end.

b. Disappearance

No abductions by government or other forces are known to have been committed. Hostage-taking by both parties to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict continues (see the Azerbaijan country report).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, and Degrading Treatment or Punishment

In 1993 seven members of Armenia's police forces were officially charged with brutality. The number of actual beatings or instances of mistreatment may be higher. Allegations of police brutality are investigated by the procurator's (attorney general's) office. If investigation reveals evidence to support the allegations, and if there is a serious violation of the law, criminal charges are filed. Less serious cases are referred to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for administrative action. Information on prison conditions was not available, but they are believed to be harsh.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Parliament has yet to pass a law on judicial reform, although a proposal is under consideration. According to the Armenian Criminal Code, much of which dates from the Soviet era, suspects may be 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. After arrest, the suspect may be jailed for up to 3 months until completion of the investigation, or up to 9 months by special order of the procurator. If no charges have been filed after 9 months, the suspect must be released. There is no provision for bail or for trial by jury in Armenian law. Once criminal or civil charges have been filed, the case should by law go to trial within 1 month. In practice, due to current difficult conditions in Armenia, the deadline is often not met.

In July the former Minister of Civil Aviation and his deputies, who in 1992 had allegedly been arbitrarily detained, were released on their own recognizance pending trial.

Although the Soviet-era Criminal Code, which allows for the exile of citizens under certain circumstances, remains in effect, no one has been exiled since Armenia became independent.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The court system in Armenia 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 Criminal Code and procedures still obtain in Armenia.

The Supreme Court is divided into three separate sections. The first tries especially serious cases (murder, rape, and all crimes committed by high-level officials). The Presidium of the Supreme Court reviews all cases tried by the first section and provides final rulings on any contested verdicts. The second, civil law section hears lawsuits, civil appeals, and commercial suits. The third, appellate section of the Supreme Court reviews district court verdicts. The Ministry of Justice nominates Supreme Court judges, whose candidacies are vetted by a panel of their peers before being forwarded to Parliament for approval. Presiding district court judges were elected to a 5-year term in 1986. Their tenures have been extended pending the adoption of a new constitution. Neither group as yet functions fully independently from the other branches of government.

The military tribunal operates essentially as it did in the Soviet era. A military procurator 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. They may confront witnesses and present evidence. The court appoints an attorney for any defendant who needs one. Defendants have the right of appeal.

There are no known political prisoners in Armenia.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Apart from the provisions of the International Covenant, there is no legal protection for the privacy of citizens, their communications, and their correspondence. Procedurally, the Directorate of National Security must petition the procurator's office for permission to tap a phone or intercept correspondence. The procurator's office purportedly must find a compelling need for the wiretap before it will grant the agency permission to proceed.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The law on information provides for freedom of speech and press. These freedoms were widely exercised.

The press is generally free and contains a wide variety of political opinion and criticism of the Government. All publications must register with the Ministry of Justice and state their general subject matter. The Ministry of Justice is required to act on a publication's application for registration within 1 month of its receipt.

There is no prepublication censorship. However, the Government reportedly supplies all mass media editors with a list of forbidden subjects. It comprises sensitive military information in categories such as the draft and army recruitment, information on military structure, civil defense arrangements, finance, communications, transport, and science and technology. There were no known prosecutions in 1993 for violations of this injunction. In an unsettling development, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in November banned correspondents from three opposition media organs from attending any briefings and meetings sponsored by the Ministry.

Shortages of paper, fuel, electricity, and other supplies sometimes delayed or prevented the publication or distribution of the print media. There is no indication that the Government uses such problems to control or influence the media.

Broadcasting is entirely controlled by the Government. There are no independent radio or television stations, although there are several small independent cable television companies. Several independent radio stations were allotted frequencies and are awaiting equipment and final approval from the Ministry of Communications before they begin broadcasting.

Each week, the government broadcaster provided a total of 15 minutes of television air time for all opposition political parties. The state radio company established a similar system. Representatives of opposition parties also appeared regularly on political discussion programs. A shortage of electricity limited broadcast time for Armenian television to about 5 hours per day.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

In the absence of an Armenian law, freedom of peaceful assembly and association is provided for by the International Covenant. Public demonstrations, meetings, and marches occurred frequently in 1993, without any apparent interference by the authorities. The Soviet-era law on meetings remains valid and requires those wishing to stage marches or demonstrations to obtain a permit from the regional executive committee. The procedure for obtaining a permit is not onerous, and there were no instances of its arbitrary use.

The Ministry of Justice registers social and political organizations, but the Government does not attempt to control the opposition through the registration process. Many political parties have been registered, and in 1993 the Ministry of Justice registered the three organizations that applied.

c. Freedom of Religion

The 1991 law on religious organizations provides for freedom of conscience and the right to profess one's faith, but there are some restrictions on religious freedom. The law forbids proselytizing and refuses registration to organizations whose doctrine is not based on "historically recognized holy scriptures." It also requires that petitioning organizations "be free from materialism and of a purely spiritual nature" before they may be registered. It establishes the separation of church and state but recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church, to which over 80 percent of the population at least nominally belongs, as the dominant denomination. A religious organization refused registration cannot publish a newspaper or magazine, rent a hall or other meetingplace, have its own program on television or radio, or officially sponsor the visas of visitors to Armenia.

The 1991 law was supplemented on December 22 with a presidential decree on religious activities which appears to further strengthen 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. It is not yet possible to gauge what effect the enforcement of the decree may have on the exercise of freedom of religion in Armenia.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Government does not restrict internal or international travel for political reasons. Travel passports are still withheld, however, from Armenians lacking invitations from the country that they wish to visit, from those possessing state secrets, and from those whose relatives have made financial claims against them. The Soviet-era Office of Visas and Registrations (OVIR) continues to impede travel and emigration through delays and the creation of various bureaucratic obstacles.

Some 200,000 people, virtually the entire ethnic Azeri population of Armenia prior to independence, 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. Many were forcibly deported, and the rest fled. It is unclear but increasingly unlikely that these people will be able to return, as is also the case for the nearly 400,000 Armenian refugees who fled Azerbaijan after the pogroms.

The Government does not in any way actively hinder emigration. Members of Armenia's small Jewish and Greek communities continued during 1993 to emigrate at a rapid rate.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Although democracy is not yet firmly established in Armenia, citizens have exercised their right to change their government peacefully. The 1990 parliamentary elections were relatively free in spite of being conducted according to Soviet election procedures. The Armenian National Movement (ANM) defeated the Communist Party. As Parliament began to function, its members affiliated themselves with new parties being formed. At present, 12 parties and associations are represented in Parliament, and many others dot the political landscape. The ANM, which supports the President, does not have a majority of deputies in Parliament. Because of frequent defections and splits, the relative strength of the other parties in the legislature varies.

In 1991 the Armenian electorate chose Levon Ter-Petrosyan as its President in a multicandidate election. By law, members of the executive branch, including the President himself, may not belong to any political party. The next parliamentary and presidential elections are now scheduled for 1995. They may be called earlier if a new constitution is ratified.

In the absence of a new constitution, the Government's legitimacy rests on the 1990 law on the Presidency and the 1991 law on Parliament. The law on Parliament established a multiparty system. The large number of seats won by those occupying full-time jobs in local government offices around the country and Armenia's economic problems have frequently made it difficult to muster a quorum and have correspondingly limited the effectiveness of Parliament. In an effort to enhance interparty comity and increase efficiency, the President has frequently induced members of other parties to serve in his Government.

Largely due to traditional social attitudes, women play a very limited role in government and politics. The Minister of the Environment is the highest ranking woman in government, and there are several women serving as mayors and Members of Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There are several fledgling human rights organizations in Armenia. The Government does not impede investigations, by either domestic or international human rights organizations, into alleged charges of human rights abuse.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Discrimination is prohibited by the International Covenant. Since independence, laws have been passed to protect against discrimination based on religion or language. Armenia signed the Convention on the Protection of Women from All Kinds of Discrimination on June 9, 1993.

Women

Armenia remains a male-dominated society. Women are typically expected to do the housework and raise the family even if they have a full-time job. In the workplace, they are generally not afforded the opportunities for training and advancement given to men. The 1992 law on employment does, however, prohibit discrimination in employment. The extremely high unemployment rate makes it difficult to gauge how effectively the law has been implemented to prevent discrimination.

In the first quarter of 1993, only six rape cases were tried by Armenian courts. It is virtually certain that many more incidents go unreported. In 1993 not one charge of spouse abuse was filed or tried by a court in Armenia.

Children

Armenia signed the Convention on Children's Rights on June 1, 1992. The Government has taken steps to insulate large families (four children or more) from Armenia's current difficult economic circumstances, and foreign humanitarian aid programs have been similarly targeted at large families. Armenia does not have the means, in the current straitened economic environment, to provide fully for the welfare of children.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

No laws have been passed since independence to protect against discrimination based on race or social status. The small communities of Russians, Jews, Kurds, Yezids, Georgians, Greeks, and Assyrians still resident in Armenia do not suffer discrimination. The 1992 law on language guarantees linguistic minorities the right to publish and study in their native language. There are publications in minority languages. In theory, minorities may use their native languages in court cases. In practice, virtually everyone presently in Armenia, including members of its Yezid, Greek, and Jewish communities, speaks Armenian.

People with Disabilities

The Parliament in 1993 passed a law on invalids that in principle guarantees the social, political, and individual rights of the handicapped. The law does not mandate the provision of accessibility for the disabled, however. Appreciation of the rights of the handicapped remains very rudimentary.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1992 law on employment guarantees employees the right to strike and to form or join unions of their own choosing without previous authorization. The vast majority of existing trade unions are holdovers from the Soviet period and were not freely chosen by workers. About 80 percent of Armenia's work force are formally members of unions. A presidential decree of January 1993 prohibits the Government and other employers from retaliating against strikers and labor leaders. It appears to be enforced. In the summer and fall of 1993, teachers from some of the country's schools formed a union and struck to press their demands for improved working conditions and a wage increase. Yerevan subway workers conducted a 2-hour warning strike in November. The activities of both groups did not seem to be hindered in any way by the Government. Unions are free to affiliate with international bodies and to form federations.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively.

The 1992 Law on Employment guarantees the right to organize and bargain collectively. Nearly all enterprises, factories, and organizations remain under state control. Therefore, voluntary, direct negotiations cannot take place between unions and employers without the participation of the Government. Collective bargaining is not practiced in Armenia. Wages in industries, which are overwhelmingly owned and controlled by the state, are set by the government with reference to the prevailing minimum wage. The Government encourages profitable factories to establish their own pay scales. They are generally set by the factory's directorate, without consultation with employees. Export processing zones do not exist. Wage and other labor disputes are adjudicated through the Arbitration Court. The Court has acted in the past to force the reinstatement of employees fired because of their labor activism.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1992 Law on Employment prohibits forced labor, which 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

According to the 1992 Law on Employment, 16 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. Child labor is not practiced. 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 minimum wage is set by governmental decree and was increased periodically during 1993. The minimum wage in December 1993 was about $0.50 per month. Employees paid the minimum wage cannot support either themselves or their families on this pay. 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. 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 resultant disruption in Armenia's trade, the overwhelming majority of Armenians are thought to live below the officially recognized poverty level. The standard legal workweek is 41 hours.

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." A law that would improve safety conditions at the workplace has been drafted and has been discussed in committee.

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