At least seven prisoners of conscience were imprisoned for refusing on grounds of conscience to perform compulsory military service. Allegations of ill-treatment in detention continued to be reported. At least 25 men were under sentence of death. No executions took place.
President Levon Ter-Petrosyan resigned in February, following disagreements about policy regarding the disputed Karabakh region in neighbouring Azerbaijan. Shortly afterwards, the opposition Armenian Revolutionary Federation was able to resume legal activity and several of the political prisoners convicted in the so-called Dro and Ovanessian trials (see Amnesty International Report 1998) were released.
Robert Kocharian was elected President in March. The following month he appointed former prisoner of conscience Paruir Hairikian as chairman of a new presidential Human Rights Commission, which in June proposed establishing the office of ombudsperson in Armenia.
In October the UN Human Rights Committee reviewed Armenia's first periodic report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The Committee expressed concern about, among other things, allegations of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials; poor prison conditions; and discrimination against women in public and private employment and their under-representation in the conduct of public affairs.
The Committee also expressed its regret at the lack of legal provision for an alternative service to compulsory military conscription for conscientious objectors, deploring the fact that some had been conscripted by force and that there had been instances of reprisal against their family members.
The Committee also noted that the independence of the judiciary was not fully guaranteed, and that several provisions of the Armenian Constitution were not compatible with the ICCPR.
Recommendations by the Committee included the establishment of a special independent body to investigate complaints of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement personnel; the implementation of the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners; the commutation of all death sentences; and the adoption of specific preventive and punitive measures with respect to all forms of violence against women, including rape.
The Committee also recommended human rights training for the legal profession and the judiciary, and urged Armenia to disseminate widely its initial report and the Committee's concluding observations.
The draft new criminal code, which, among other things, would have decriminalized consenting homosexual acts between adult males, had not become law by the end of the year. The number of prosecutions for such acts during the year was not known, but the Prosecutor General's office reported in May that there had been 21 criminal prosecutions since 1993 (including four in 1997 and seven in 1996).
Conscientious objectors to compulsory military service continued to be imprisoned, in the absence of any civilian alternative. Some were charged with refusing their call-up papers, while others faced potentially more severe sentences under the military criminal code after they were forcibly conscripted. At least one was serving his second term for refusing military service.
Some were reportedly beaten because of their religious beliefs. Karen Voskanian, for example, was taken to Mashtots conscription point in March. He was allegedly beaten after declaring that he was a Jehovah's Witness and unable to perform military service on religious grounds. He was then forcibly conscripted into a military unit in Gyumri. In June he refused to take the military oath of allegiance and was charged with evading military service. In September Karen Voskanian was sentenced to three years' imprisonment.
Brutal hazing in the army was also widely reported, often allegedly with the consent or active participation of officers. In September, two soldiers and five officers were sentenced to up to 10 years' imprisonment in connection with the case of Private Mkrtich Ohanian, who in February shot dead six comrades and then killed himself. The prosecution described how Private Ohanian had opened fire as a result of systematic abuse and violence at the hands of the men he killed, and that commanding officers were aware of what was going on but took no action.
At least 25 men were on death row at the end of the year, pending adoption of the new criminal code which would replace the death penalty with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. The code had passed its first reading in parliament in April 1997, and in October 1998 Armenia's representatives told the UN Human Rights Committee that the code would come into force on 1 January 1999. No presidential commutations were reported. No executions took place.
Amnesty International urged the authorities to release immediately and unconditionally all those imprisoned solely for refusing military service on grounds ofconscience, and to enact legislation creating an alternative civilian service of non-punitive length, together with a fair procedure in law for implementing it.
Amnesty International also called for the immediate and unconditional release of anyone imprisoned for consensual homosexual relations between adult males and for a halt to further prosecutions for such acts; for the repeal of Article 116 (part one) of the Criminal Code, which criminalizes such acts; and for the equalization of ages of consent for homosexual and heterosexual relations.
The organization urged that reports of ill-treatment be investigated impartially and comprehensively, with the results made public and those responsible brought to justice.
Amnesty International consistently called for the death penalty to be abolished, and urged President Kocharian to commute all death sentences, in view of parliament's stated aim of abolition in law.
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