CoE Human Rights Commissioner Says March 2008 Wounds Need Healing

Armenia -- Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Yerevan, 21Jan2011.
Armenia -- Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe commissioner for human rights, at a news conference in Yerevan, 21Jan2011.
Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg has issued a press release on his recent visit to Armenia, which some opposition politicians claimed was an indication of increased pressure on official Yerevan to release jailed oppositionists. The release seems to pull ground away right from under the feet of such claims…

Issues related to the events of March 2008, freedom of expression and of the media, and human rights in the army were the main themes of Hammarberg’s 18 to 21 January, 2011 visit.

“The effects of the tragic events of March 2008 can still be felt in Armenian society,” the Commissioner has said in the release adding, that he “has recommended concrete measures” to address the needs of the families of the victims.

Failing to name the jailed oppositional ‘political prisoners,’ even though that’s the only way Levon Ter-Petrossian led Armenian National Congress (HAK) insists on calling them, Hammarberg has only so much to say about them “HAK indicated to the Commissioner that nine persons affiliated with them remain imprisoned, most of them in connection with the events of March 2008. The Commissioner discussed this issue with the Armenian authorities.”

CoE Human Rights Chief has also discussed the case of A1+ television, which had been the subject of a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights where the court had found a violation of the right of freedom of expression.

During a recent competition for a broadcasting license, the bid of A1+ was once again rejected; the reasoning given in the decision of the National Commission on Radio and Television was that the documentation which had been submitted by A1+ contained fraudulent documents.

“The Commissioner stressed the importance of ensuring that the media environment in Armenia is sufficiently diverse and pluralistic. He noted the work to amend the Law on Television and Radio and trusts that the question of the independence and pluralistic membership of the regulatory authorities will be addressed,” Hammarberg has said in the press release. (That’s a classic way of washing his hands off this issue. You see, he TRUSTS!)

I was frankly really skeptical seeing how Hammarberg’s visit and every move made news headlines all last week and was thinking, maybe the opposition knows something? The formulations above come to prove, that my skepticism was rather justified. However, according to the press release, “A report will be published in the coming months.” Sure, before making final judgement, I can wait a couple of months and see if there’s something vastly different and showing ‘increased pressure’ on Armenian authorities. I don’t see any so far…

Full press release is available here.

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3 thoughts on “CoE Human Rights Commissioner Says March 2008 Wounds Need Healing

  1. As someone who watched closely (from afar), I think this view is too dismissive of Hammarberg’s visit. The succinct press release says much less than Hammarberg himself said in his news conference. He made a direct call to release the imprisoned oppositionist Sasun Mikaelyan (http://www.epress.am/en/2011/01/21/i-would-want-sasun-mikaelyan-to-be-released-coe-human-rights-commissioner/), who is suffering from heart problems. Regarding the exact terminology “political prisoners,” he explained that he doesn’t use that term (anywhere, not just in Armenia) and why he doesn’t, while going as close as he could to calling them such: http://www.epress.am/en/2011/01/21/i-believe-theres-political-aspect-to-those-imprisoned-for-march-1-events-hammarberg-in-armenia/. Diplomats and official representatives have a tightly controlled vocabulary and don’t go outside of those bounds.

    Unlike so many previous European visitors like the lazy and reluctant co-Rapporteurs, Hammarberg made a very thorough effort to meet with all parties, including the families of those imprisoned and the relatives of those killed on March 1 (something the Armenian government can’t be bothered to do). He also traveled to the distant prison where Nikol Pashinyan is being kept and spoke with him for 2.5 hours. He met with leaders of all the major political forces—opposition, government, and “whatevers”—as well as army officials. His role was not to pass instant judgment but to investigate and to listen. There is now a deliberate space between his visit and the final report to give the authorities time to make some progress on correcting human rights violations. Let’s hope they make some serious efforts to do so.

    1. Thank you, Ani, those were important contributions. Hammarberg, indeed, was more ‘aggressive’ when speaking in Yerevan. However, at the end of the day, what matters are concrete documents and formulations in those. Regardless what he said while in Yerevan, this press release is a reflection of what’s actually going to be included in final reports. And I’m becoming worried… I really didn’t like his reaction, or backing off, if you will, from the A1+ issue.

  2. The media section of the report was definitely the weakest area; I think it’s regrettable that A1plus didn’t help their case by using those questionable documents. Without knowledge of the Armenian language it is hard for someone such as Hammarberg to get an accurate idea for himself of the problem with Armenian television broadcasts. And of course the ALA channel shut-off stirring into the mix deliberately muddied the waters.

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