Human Rights Developments

The Armenian government blatantly reneged on its commitments to democracy, making 1995 the worst year for human rights in Armenia since independence. The government that once claimed to be the most stable and legitimate democracy in the Caucasus suspended the oldest and most popular opposition party months before Armenia's first parliamentary elections in the post-Soviet era, presided over obvious due process violations, tolerated a vicious crackdown on religious minorities, and failed to reform its criminal justice system, notorious for physical abuse of detainees.

On December 28, 1994, President Levon Ter-Petrossian suspended the Armenian Revolutionary Federation (ARF), a major opposition party, and ordered the closure of twelve newspapers and news agencies allegedly associated with the ARF. The decree claimed that the party had become a mere cover for "Dro," a secret organization within it allegedly responsible for terrorism, drug trafficking and illegal arms trade. Within hours of the decree, which the president broadcast on television, Interior Ministry troops sealed off the ARF headquarters and the offices of the twelve newspapers and news agencies allegedly linked to the ARF. Police confiscated archives, computers and other office equipment.

On January 13, 1995, the Supreme Court of Armenia upheld the ARF's suspension for a six-month period citing not threats to national security, but the presence of foreigners in the party's ruling board. The government claimed that it was by mere coincidence that the six-month suspension was to lapse just after the July 5 elections. Several weeks after the elections, police arrested the ARF's leader, Vahan Hovanesian, on terrorism charges.

The government allowed individual ARF members to run for parliament, but the party's absence paved the way for a resounding victory of the Armenian National Movement, the pro-government party. To its credit, the government allowed weekly mass demonstrations by the political opposition.

Due process violations marred the trial of "Dro" defendants, which began on August 7. Investigators frequently and arbitrarily denied defense attorneys access to their clients; on March 13 the attorney general's office issued new rules reinstating the old Soviet practice of allowing a defendant access to an attorney only after an investigation's completion. The prosecution allowed defense attorneys only fifteen days to peruse eighteen tomes of prosecution materials. A well known paramilitary group attacked a "Dro" defense attorney on March 21, leaving him severely injured. Investigators failed to resolve the case and dropped it after twelve days. Unknown assailants attacked another "Dro" defense lawyer on April 28 in broad daylight in downtown Yerevan. Two "Dro" defendants were reportedly beaten during their investigation.

At least two individuals died in custody in 1995. On May 17, Artavast Manukian, a "Dro" defendant, died of pneumonia—clearly the result of inadequate medical attention—in a prison hospital. The republic prosecutor had denied three separate requests by Manukian's attorney to transfer his client to a civilian hospital.

Romik Grigorian was beaten to death on May 9 in police custody. Police in the Kamo district had arrested him without a warrant on May 8, and family members reported that Grigorian's corpse bore several bruises, including one on the nape of his neck. As of this writing, no police officer has been held responsible. Similarly, police officers from the Spandaryansky district station in Yerevan, who beat to death Rudik Vartanyan in 1993, had not been brought to justice by November 1995.

The Armenian constitution, adopted on June 7, provides for individual rights, clearly a positive development, but allows most of these rights to be limited or suspended in times of emergency, which in most cases are determined by the president. The president now appoints judges nominated by the Justice Council, whose members have, in turn, been appointed by the president, thus removing judges from any public vetting process. The constitution also reduced to six the number of parliamentary committees, thereby abolishing the human rights committee.

Newspapers expressing a variety of views continued to publish in Armenia, but the government exerted indirect pressure on the press mainly by rigidly controlling the purchase of newsprint. According to reliable sources, the government was directly involved in the temporary eviction in May of Golos Armenii, a Russian-language opposition daily with no ties to the ARF, from its offices in the press building. The government denied any involvement, and President Ter-Petrossian personally intervened to reinstate the newspaper.

On April 18, paramilitary gangs attacked religious groups, rounding up nine members of the Jehovah's Witness, Pentacostalist, Hare Krishna, and other churches, beating several Krishnas, stealing property, and tossing the nine men into a military police prison, where they languished for two weeks. No government agency claimed to be involved, yet the military police told detainees that they were merely following orders.

The Right to Monitor

Local human rights groups reported no government threats or harassment. In June the government denied a visa to an ethnic Armenian with some ties to the ARF who had sought to monitor the "Dro" trial. The government did not prevent local and other international observers from attending the trial.

The Role of the International Community

The European Union

An April 6 European Union (E.U.) resolution condemned the ban on the ARF as an "attack on the basic principles of democracy" and criticized the related closing of twelve newspapers. It remained to be seen whether the E.U. would factor in these concerns as it negotiated a major trade and cooperation agreement with Armenia, which was supposedly premised on conformity with human rights principles.

U.S. Policy

Armenia received $41 million in U.S. assistance in 1995 (mostly in energy credits), far more per capita than any other state of the CIS. The Clinton administration did not use this assistance as a lever for improving the Armenian government's human rights record, but did criticize the closure of the ARF. A State Department spokesperson declared in January that "the suspension of a major political party . . . runs counter to the established principles of democracy and free speech. This is all the more important given that Armenia will be holding parliamentary elections," and urged the government to open a dialogue with the ARF. Commenting on July 18 on parliamentary elections, a State Department spokesman pointed to their "inherent unfairness" but praised them as "an important step in Armenia's democratic development." In a speech delivered to Armenian-Americans prior to the elections, senior presidential advisor George Stephanopoulos sharply criticized the ARF's suspension and restrictions on the media and stated that "our relationship will rest in large part on Armenia's commitment to democratic principles and human rights."

The U.S. Embassy in Yerevan was well informed on human rights issues, but generally chose to raise such issues with Armenian officials behind closed doors. In a welcome departure from this pattern, it sent an observer to the "Dro" trial.

The Work of Human Rights Watch/Helsinki

In 1995, Human Rights Watch/Helsinki shifted its focus from documenting Armenia's violations of humanitarian law in Nagorno-Karabakh to exposing the hollowness of the government's professed commitment to human rights. To this end we conducted a fact-finding mission in Yerevan in June which will result in a comprehensive report. A Human Rights Watch/Helsinki representative monitored the "Dro" trial in August; an amicus curie brief to the Armenian Supreme Court expressed our concerns over due process violations in this trial. A May letter demanded that the Armenian government fully investigate the death of Artavast Manukian and criticized the crackdown on the political opposition.

This report covers events of 1995

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