Covering events from January-December 2001

Republic of Armenia
Head of state:
Robert Kocharian
Head of government: Andranik Makarian
Capital: Yerevan
Population: 3.7 million
Official language: Armenian
Death penalty: retentionist
2001 ratifications/signatures: European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol No. 6 concerning the abolition of the death penalty; European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were persistent reports of torture and ill-treatment by state officials. The authorities continued to imprison conscientious objectors to compulsory military service. At least three death sentences were passed during 2001, and at least 30 men were under sentence of death at the end of the year, although the moratorium on executions continued. Delays in adopting the new draft criminal code held up important human rights reforms, such as abolition of the death penalty and the decriminalization of consensual sexual relations between men.

Torture and ill-treatment

Reports continued to be received of torture and ill-treatment by law enforcement officials, as well as of brutal treatment of army conscripts, known as "hazing". There were persistent allegations that law enforcement officials subjected people to torture and ill-treatment to obtain confessions and coerce testimony. There were concerns that investigations by the authorities into such allegations were not adequate.

  • Political activist Pogos Pogosian, aged 43, was reportedly found dead in the toilet of the "Aragast" café in Yerevan in the early hours of 25 September, 10 minutes after President Robert Kocharian had left the club. According to eyewitness accounts, Pogos Pogosian had approached the President as he was leaving and had verbally abused him, at which point some of the presidential bodyguards began to beat him. Pogos Pogosian was then reportedly taken to the toilet for a "conversation" by a member of the security team. On 27 September, it was announced that President Kocharian had suspended three of his bodyguards and had stated that the investigation into the incident must be impartial. One of the bodyguards was reportedly charged with manslaughter in November. AI urged the authorities to ensure that the investigation be impartial, thorough and effective, so that justice not only be done, but be seen to be done.
Prisoners of conscience

At least 27 men, all Jehovah's Witnesses, were reported to have been imprisoned during the year for their conscientious objection to compulsory military service, and sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from one to three and a half years. Fourteen remained in prison at the end of 2001. The draft law on introduction of alternative civilian service remained under discussion.

A number of conscientious objectors were released early. At least 16 were reported to have been conditionally released from detention after serving part of their sentences but were required to report regularly to the police. Others were released under the terms of an amnesty. This amnesty reportedly did not apply to those convicted of the military crime of "desertion", who included conscientious objectors who had escaped after being forcibly conscripted.

Prosecution of member of religious minority
Political prisoners
  • The trial into the case of the 1999 armed attack in the Armenian parliament, in which eight people, including the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament, were killed, opened in February in Yerevan. In previous years, AI had raised concerns about the fairness of the trials and conditions of detention of those detained in connection with the attack, such as allegations of torture and ill-treatment, difficulties in access to defence lawyers, lack of access to families and denial of access to independent medical practitioners. During the court hearings defendant Nairi Unanian repeated allegations that he was tortured during the pre-trial investigation, including being beaten with rubber batons. It was reported during court proceedings that an investigation into these torture allegations had opened in June 2000 and had concluded by the end of the month with a decision not to initiate criminal proceedings because of lack of sufficient evidence. There was widespread public and political support, including from the Prime Minister, for imposing the death penalty in this case, which led the Council of Europe to warn that Armenia would face suspension from the organization if any of the defendants was executed.
Death penalty

The draft new Criminal Code, under which the death penalty would be replaced by a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, had not been adopted by the end of 2001. At least three death sentences were passed during the year. In April, army servicemen Tsolak Melkonian, Levon Madilian and Artak Alekian were reportedly sentenced to death for killing eight people in July 2000 after deserting from their unit. In March, the Court of Appeal upheld the death sentences imposed on Armen Ter-Saakian and Alik Grigorian. There were no executions.

Council of Europe

Armenia entered the Council of Europe in January. Among its human rights obligations were: to ratify within a year of accession the European Convention on Human Rights and its Protocol No. 6 concerning the abolition of the death penalty, and the European Convention for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment; to adopt within a year of accession the draft new Criminal Code, drawn up in 1997, thereby replacing the death penalty with life imprisonment, and decriminalizing homosexual relations between consenting adult men; and to adopt, within three years of accession, a law on alternative service, and in the meantime pardon all imprisoned conscientious objectors. By the end of 2001, Armenia had yet to fulfil any of these commitments.

The Council of Europe Secretary General instituted post-accession monitoring of Armenia's commitments relating to respect for democratic principles, rule of law and the observance of human rights. A report entitled "Cases of alleged political prisoners in Armenia and Azerbaijan" was submitted by independent experts to the Secretary General (see Azerbaijan entry). The experts gave detailed attention to only the two substantive cases in Armenia that had been raised with them. However, in the context of the Council of Europe's ongoing monitoring of this issue, AI raised with the Council of Europe its concerns about a number of other cases, including those of the defendants in the 1999 parliamentary shootings case (see above).

AI country reports/visits

  • Armenia: A positive step towards religious freedom (AI Index: EUR 54/008/2001)
  • Concerns in Europe, January-June 2001: Armenia (AI Index: EUR 01/003/2001)

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