Last Updated: Friday, 26 December 2014, 13:50 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Armenia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Armenia, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa412c.html [accessed 27 December 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.
 

 

After declaring its independence from the Soviet Union in December 1991, Armenia began to establish the foundations of a parliamentary democracy. Legislative power is vested in the Parliament, which, because no party or combination of parties can consistently muster a majority or even a quorum, has been unable either to approve a constitution or to pass crucial legislation. The President appoints the Prime Minister, who presides over the Government. The judiciary is not fully independent of the other branches of government. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 1995, although Parliament has yet to pass an election law. Democratically elected President Levon Ter-Petrosyan will face reelection in 1996 upon completion of a 5-year term. In December, President Ter-Petrosyan temporarily suspended the activities of the opposition Dashnak party on the grounds that a clandestine terrorist organization subordinate to it was engaging in political assassination, drug trafficking, and espionage.

The Ministry of Internal Affairs supervises the police, which is responsible for maintaining order throughout the country. Several police officers were charged with brutality in the past year, and a number of cases go unreported. The State Directorate for National Security, while still responsible for combating both external and internal threats, was reorganized in January and is subordinate directly to the Office of the President.

The 6-year-old conflict over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh in neighboring Azerbaijan continues to dominate Armenia's political and economic landscape. After the hard-fought offensive of the winter of 1993-94, which resulted in few strategic gains despite thousands of casualties, the parties reached an informal cease-fire agreement in May. Formally confirmed in July, the cease-fire was holding by year's end.

Landlocked Armenia has faced longstanding economic strangulation due to instability in neighboring Georgia and embargoes imposed by both Azerbaijan and Turkey as a result of the conflict. This, coupled with the economic chaos produced by the breakup of the former Soviet Union, has devastated the largely state-owned economy. Critical shortages of fuel, electricity, and raw materials severely reduced industrial production, resulting in widespread unemployment. Nevertheless, progress toward economic reform included moves to privatize industrial enterprises and land and to liberalize prices. An agreement with the International Monetary Fund was reached in November, calling for far-reaching economic reforms in exchange for $395 million in international and bilateral concessional loans.

In the absence of a new constitution, Armenia relies on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted by a 1991 parliamentary resolution, and those parts of the Soviet Constitution still in force to protect human rights. The Soviet-era Criminal Code allows suspects to be detained for up to 72 hours without charge; and judges do not appear to be sufficiently insulated from political pressure. Within this framework, the Government generally respects human rights, although the suspension of major opposition newspapers as part of a suspension of the Dashnak Party's activities has tarnished the Government's record on respect for freedom of the press. There were several instances of police brutality toward detainees, many instances of forcible conscription of draft-age men, and suspected executions of Azerbaijani prisoners of war.

The law forbids proselytizing, and the Government further restricts the activities of "foreign and unregistered" religious groups. Armenian citizens are free to emigrate, but those wishing to travel abroad are required to secure exit permits from the Ministry of Internal Affairs. In addition, deeply ingrained attitudes result in societal discrimination against women.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

The only known extrajudicial killings in 1994 were the probable executions of eight Azeri prisoners of war being held in Yerevan. The report of the Armenian Special Investigator claims that the prisoners committed suicide (seven with the same gun) after their escape attempt failed. An independent British forensic specialist, who examined the bodies after they were returned to Azerbaijan, said the evidence pointed overwhelmingly to execution, but he admitted that the possibility of mass suicide could not be absolutely ruled out.

Representatives of independent international agencies maintain that many would-be prisoners of war on both sides in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict are summarily executed at military front lines. Policemen who were awaiting trial in connection with the 1993 death of a detainee in custody were released with the understanding that they would not leave Yerevan. All subsequently fled and are now wanted.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

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

In 1994 the General Prosecutor's office officially charged three members of the police force with brutality, although many cases go unreported. The General Prosecutor's office investigates allegations of mistreatment and files criminal charges if its investigation reveals evidence to support the allegations and if there is a serious violation of the law. It refers less serious cases to the Ministry of Internal Affairs for administrative action. Two of the officers accused of brutality were administratively disciplined, while the third faces criminal charges.

Information on prison conditions is not available, but they are believed to be harsh. The International Committee of the Red Cross had access to prisoners of war from the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict until October. At the end of the year, it was still discussing with the Armenian authorities renewed and regular access to all prisoners held in connection with the conflict.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

According to the 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. After arrest, a suspect may be jailed for up to 3 months pending trial and completion of the investigation, or up to 9 months by special order of the Prosecutor. If no indictment is handed down during that time, a 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 law requires a trial within 1 month. In practice, due to current conditions in Armenia, the deadline often is not met. In most cases, however, pretrial detention will not exceed 3 months.

The Criminal Code permits the exile of citizens under certain circumstances, but no one has been exiled since Armenia became independent.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

Armenia's criminal justice system, including its courts, laws, and procedures, follows the former Soviet model. The courts of general jurisdiction may hear criminal, civil, and juvenile cases. District courts try the overwhelming majority of such cases, but a Supreme Court tries some. Both may act as the court of first instance, depending on the nature and seriousness of the crime.

Prosecutors, like the courts, are organized into offices at the district and republic levels and are ultimately responsible to the Prosecutor General, appointed by the President. Prosecutors and defense attorneys by law have equal status before the courts. In practice, prosecutors still are very influential because court proceedings are not conducted in an adversarial manner. Prosecutors direct all criminal investigations, which are usually conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Cases at the district court level are tried before a panel consisting of one judge and two lay assessors. Judges frequently send cases unlikely to end in convictions back to the prosecutor for "additional investigation." Such cases may then be dropped or closed, occasionally without informing the court or the defendant.

In their work, judges are not fully independent of the other branches of government. The Ministry of Justice nominates Supreme Court judges, whose candidacies are reviewed by a panel of their peers before being forwarded to Parliament for approval. Trials are public except when government secrets are considered at issue. Defendants may confront witnesses and present evidence. The court appoints an attorney for indigent defendants. Defendants have the right of appeal. There were no reports of political prisoners in Armenia. A former presidential aide and member of the opposition, Vahan Avakyan, convicted of attempting to divulge state secrets, was sentenced to a jail term of 4 years. His sentence was upheld by the Supreme Court. The arrest and trial were controversial both because of the circumstances surrounding the case and alleged procedural irregularities. Opposition leaders and some members of Parliament claim that Avakyan is a political prisoner and have called for the creation of an independent commission to investigate the case.

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 General Prosecutor's office for permission to tap a phone or intercept correspondence. The General Prosecutor's office purportedly must find a compelling need for a wiretap before it will grant the agency permission to proceed. One of the leading opposition parties claimed to have discovered unauthorized wiretaps on its office telephones, but there was no official investigation of these allegations. There were many instances of interference with privacy during waves of army conscription in 1994. Military recruiters appeared at houses where draft-age men were reported to live and often threatened or detained the occupants or inflicted material damage. They seized draft-age men in public places, such as markets, theaters, and the subway. There are credible reports that Armenian and Nagorno-Karabakh officials forcibly conscripted refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and Azerbaijan.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Law on Information provides for freedom of speech and the press, and the Government generally respects these rights.

The press is generally free and contains a wide variety of political opinion and criticism of the Government. However, as a result of a December 28 presidential directive, the publication of Dashnak Party newspapers and journals has been halted. The Ministry of Justice registers all publications and broadcasting organizations, which must state their general subject matter. It is required to act on applications for registration within 1 month of receipt.

There is no prepublication censorship. However, the Government reportedly supplies all mass media editors with a list of forbidden subjects, including 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 1994 for violations of this injunction.

Shortages of fuel, paper, electricity, and other supplies sometimes delayed or prevented the publication or distribution of the print media. There was no indication that the Government used such problems to control or influence the media. On October 21, the offices of the Ramkavar Party's newspaper were firebombed. Investigations by the Ministry of Internal Affairs into this and a series of other attacks on journalists and media offices in late 1994 turned up no suspects. Attacks targeted both government-sponsored and opposition media outlets.

The Government controls broadcasting almost entirely. There is one functioning independent radio station, one independent television company, which rents air time from a state channel, and several small independent cable television companies which are only licensed to show films. In December the Government voided a contract with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty to provide local rebroadcasts of Radio Liberty programming. It is widely assumed that the contract was canceled for political reasons.

The Ramkavar Party newspaper AZ6 was able to register bylaws for a second independent radio station on November 16, but the station is not yet operating. State television provides a total of 15 minutes of broadcast time per week for all opposition political parties. However, the opposition NDU and Dashnak Parties reportedly were both recently denied their time slots. Representatives of other opposition parties appeared regularly on political discussion programs. A shortage of electricity limited television time to about 6 hours per day.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

In the absence of an Armenian law, the International Covenant provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association. Public demonstrations, meetings, and marches occurred frequently in 1994 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. The procedure for obtaining a permit is not onerous, and there were no known instances of its arbitrary abuse. The Ministry of Justice registers social and political organizations, but the Government does not attempt to control the opposition through the registration process. The Ministry has registered some 661 organizations to date, among them many political parties and groups.

c. Freedom of Religion

The 1991 Law on Religious Organizations provides for freedom of conscience but imposes some restrictions on religious freedom. It establishes the separation of church and state and recognizes the Armenian Apostolic Church, with which over 80 percent of the population is at least nominally affiliated, as the predominant denomination. The law forbids proselytizing and refuses registration to organizations whose doctrine is not based on "historically recognized holy scriptures." An unregistered religious organization may not own property, publish a newspaper or magazine, rent a hall or other meetingplace, sponsor television or radio broadcasts, or officially sponsor the visas of visitors to Armenia. A 1993 Presidential Decree according the right to "restore and develop the spiritual life of the Armenian people" to the Armenian Apostolic Church supplements the 1991 Law. By enjoining 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, the decree called into question the legitimacy of all other religious groups. Some religious groups were obliged to reregister in the wake of the decree, often on condition that they alter their statutes to include a ban on proselytizing. Some groups, such as the Mormons, were quietly discouraged from applying for registration and have kept a low profile. The Hare Krishnas, in particular, were victims of harassment and several attacks; the authorities were neither responsive nor sympathetic. The Government refused to release 30 tons of religious literature to the Krishna group, claiming that receipt of the books was tantamount to proselytizing.

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

The Government does not restrict internal or international travel for political reasons. Armenians may not obtain travel passports, however, if they lack invitations from the country that they wish to visit, if they have knowledge of state secrets, or if their 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, including a requirement for "exit permission."Some 200,000 people, virtually the entire ethnic Azeri population of Armenia prior to independence, took refuge in Azerbaijan. After the 1988-89 anti-Armenian pogroms in Azerbaijan connected with the conflict over control of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Government discriminated against these ethnic Azeris and allowed the local population to intimidate them, often violently, as a way to drive them out of the country. The Government forcibly deported many, and the rest fled. It appears 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. There have been unconfirmed reports of ethnic Armenians resettling in territories occupied by Nagorno-Karabakh Armenian military forces. Such actions, if true, would hamper peaceful settlement of the conflict and the return of refugees.

The Government does not in any way actively hinder emigration. In fact, it is estimated that as much as one-third of Armenia's population has temporarily or permanently left the country during the last 6 years.

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

Although democracy is not yet firmly rooted in Armenia, citizens exercised their right to change their government peacefully in 1990 when the Armenian National Movement (ANM) defeated the Communist Party in relatively free parliamentary elections. 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 are active. The ANM, which supports the President, lacks a majority of deputies in Parliament.

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, thus limiting the effectiveness of Parliament. On December 21, 46 opposition and independent deputies resigned their parliamentary commissions in protest over what they called government ineffectiveness. Their action appears to be serious and will make it almost impossible for the Parliament to muster a quorum prior to new elections in May 1995.

On December 28, President Ter-Petrosyan temporarily suspended one of the largest opposition parties, the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF, also known as "Dashnaks"), on the grounds that the party was operating a clandestine terrorist organization involved in drug smuggling, assassination, and espionage. Several party members were arrested in conjunction with these activities, and Dashnak newspapers were closed. Armenian government officials indicated that the Dashnaks could reorganize and the ARF could again be registered as a political party if it purged itself of criminal elements. Leaders of the Dashnak party have denounced the suspension. The question of what requirements the Party will have to fulfill in order to reconstitute itself was under review in early 1995 by the Ministry of Justice.

Women and members of minority groups play a very limited role in government and politics. Currently, there are no women or minority group members in Cabinet-level positions, and only 9 of the 240 deputies in Parliament are women.

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

There are several fledgling human rights groups, which operate freely and openly criticize the Government's human rights policies. The Government generally cooperates with human rights investigations and supports the presence of international human rights groups.

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

The International Covenant prohibits discrimination. Since independence, Parliament has passed laws to protect against discrimination based on religion or language, and the Government generally respects these rights. Societal discrimination against women continues.

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, however, prohibits discrimination in employment. The extremely high unemployment rate makes it difficult to gauge how effectively the law has been implemented to prevent discrimination.

Violence against women does exist. Between January and October 1994, there were 21 reported rape cases; there were no reports of spousal abuse. It is likely that many more incidents go unreported. For those convicted of rape, the average prison sentence is from 5 to 10 years.

Children

The Government has taken steps to insulate large families (four children or more) from current difficult economic circumstances, and foreign humanitarian aid programs have also targeted large families. However, Armenia does not have the means, given the current economic situation, to provide fully for the welfare of children. Child abuse does not appear to be a serious problem.

People with Disabilities

In 1993 Parliament passed a law on invalids that in principle provides for the social, political, and individual rights of the disabled. The law does not mandate the provision of accessibility for the disabled, however, and public concern about the rights of the disabled remains very limited.

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, holdovers from the Soviet period, were not freely chosen by workers. About 80 percent of Armenia's work force are members of unions.

A 1993 Presidential Decree prohibits the Government and other employers from retaliating against strikers and labor leaders, and the Government enforces its provisions. A number of strikes occurred in 1994; the Government did not appear to hinder them.

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 provides for the right to organize and bargain collectively. However, most enterprises, factories, and organizations remain under state control. Therefore, voluntary, direct negotiations cannot take place between unions and management without the participation of the Government.

Collective bargaining is not practiced. The Government sets wages in state-owned industries with reference to the prevailing minimum wage. It encourages profitable factories to establish their own pay scales. The factory's management generally sets wage scales without consulting the employees. Arbitration courts adjudicate wage and other labor disputes. These courts have acted in the past to compel the reinstatement of employees fired because of their labor activism. Armenia has no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The 1992 Law on Employment prohibits forced labor, and it is not practiced. Local councils of deputies, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the Arbitration Commission enforce this prohibition.

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. Local councils of deputies, unemployment offices, and, as a final board of appeal, the Arbitration Commission enforce the law.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The minimum wage is set by governmental decree and was increased periodically during 1994. The minimum wage in September was about $0.50 per month. Employees paid the minimum wage cannot support either themselves or their families. Almost all enterprises are either idle or operating at only a fraction of their capacity. Workers still on the payrolls of idle enterprises, who have not been put on indefinite, unpaid leave status, 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 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."

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