HRW points to lack of ‘meaningful investigation’ into March’08 violence

“The Armenian authorities have yet to ensure meaningful investigations into excessive use of police force during March 2008 clashes with opposition supporters protesting alleged fraud in the previous month’s presidential election, and address related allegations of abuse in police custody,”  Human Rights Watch, a recognized human rights watchdog, said in a report released today.

The 612-page report, the organization’s 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

The section on Armenia is available in English and Russian. The report covers lack of accountability for excessive use of force by security forces during clashes with protesters on March 1-2, 2008, following the disputed February presidential election, torture and ill treatment of detainees.

It goes on to criticize the municipal elections in Yerevan in May 2009, noting that opposition newspaper journalists Gohar Veziryan (IV Estate), Tatev Mesropyan (Hayq), and Marine Kharatyan (Zhamanak) were attacked and prevented from covering the elections.

“Although election observers from the Council of Europe’s Congress of Local and Regional Authorities (CLRAE) stated that the May 31, 2009 Yerevan City Council elections were broadly in compliance with European standards, they also documented cases of intimidation of party proxies and domestic observers by unidentified persons,” HRW says.

Section on media freedom covers attacks against Nver Mnatsakanyan, anchor of Shant TV, Argishti Kvirikyan, coordinator of Armenia Today online news agency, Edik Baghdasaryan, the editor of the online news magazine Hetq and chairman of the Investigative Journalists’ Association.

“No conclusive investigations followed any of these incidents,” the HRW points out.

On an attempt to find something positive to say, the watchdog mentions in the report the fact, that OSCE positively assessed some of the amendments to the broadcast laws made in April 2009, adding: “However, OSCE also criticized the amendments for failing to ensure political and ideological pluralism of the licensing body, the Council for Public Television and Radio, whose members are appointed by the president.”

HRW reminds, that despite the June 2008 decision of the European Court of Human Rights finding Armenia in violation of article 10 (freedom of expression) of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in relation to A1+, the TV company has not been able to resume broadcasting due to a suspension in all new licensing until digitalization of frequencies, due in 2010.

There is criticism of the situation with the freedom of assembly in the country, attacks against human rights defenders and NGO activists.

The cases of Arshaluys Hakobyan of the Armenian Helsinki Association and Mariam Sukhudian, environmental activist, are mentioned in this section of the report.

HRW covers the 4 PACE resolutions on Armenia since the March 2008 events, and states, that US$64 million out of US$235.6 million assistance budget by Millennium Challenge Corporation for Armenia was suspended, “citing the Armenian government’s failure to meet the program’s “eligibility criteria” on civil rights.”

On a positive note, the report mentions the signing on May 2009 by Armenia and the European Union a Joint Declaration on Eastern Partnership.

Overall, the report has attempted to be balanced, even if it seems impossible in the case of Armenia with its poor state of the human rights situation.

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