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Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination examines the report of Armenia

Committee on the Elimination
of Racial Discrimination

28 April 2017

The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined seventh to eleventh report of Armenia on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

Introducing the report, Ashot Hovakimian, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia,  said that the legislative basis to ensure the equality of all citizens was currently being developed.  One of the main achievements of the constitutional reforms was Article 89, according to which national minorities were allocated four permanent seats in the National Assembly.  One of the most important steps in the State policy for the elimination of discrimination was the 2014 National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights, and the Action Plan deriving from the strategy.  The Action Plan 2017-2019 included provisions for standalone legislation on the fight against discrimination, the establishment of the equality body within the Human Rights Defenders’ Office, and the adoption of a procedural manual for judges on the implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation.  The standalone legislation on anti-discrimination was currently being developed by the Ministry of Justice, and it was expected to be adopted by the end of 2017.

In the discussion which followed, Committee Experts commended the fact that Armenia had ratified almost all regional, European and international conventions on human rights and humanitarian issues, as well as the punctuality of the State party in responding to the Committee’s questions.   They welcomed the reversal of the burden of proof as a further step to combat discrimination, and the steps taken towards gender parity in elected positions.   Nevertheless, they wondered about the effectiveness of the model of political representation for minorities, discrimination against certain groups, such as the Bosha people, and the lack of information about persons of African descent.  Experts also raised concern about the decrease in the number of ethnic Azeris, and they wondered whether Armenia could recognize the powers of the Committee to receive individual complaints even though it had not ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.   

In his concluding remarks, Mr. Hovakimian expressed appreciation for the friendly manner and spirit of the dialogue with the Committee. He said that Armenia was an old nation and a very young democracy that was still maturing.

Noureddine Amir, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Armenia, commended the ongoing progress made in legislative provisions to fight discrimination, which was impressive considering that Armenia was a young republic.  

Anastasia Crickley, Committee Chairperson, reminded that implanting the provisions of the Convention was a job that had to continue in Armenia.  It was still work in progress. 

The delegation of Armenia included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Education and Science and the Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Committee will reconvene in public at 3 p.m. today, 28 April, to hold informal meeting with State parties in Room XVII at the Palais des Nations.

Report

The combined seventh to eleventh report of Armenia can be read here: CERD/C/ARM/7-11.
 
Presentation of the Report

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, noted that the Government of Armenia attached great importance to the elimination of all forms of discrimination, and it condemned discrimination in all its forms.  The legislative basis to ensure the equality of all citizens was currently being developed.  In December 2015, Armenia had held a referendum on constitutional amendments, according to which the presidential system had been replaced by a parliamentary system.  In line with the Article 29 of the Constitution, any discrimination based on any ground was prohibited.  One of the main achievements of the constitutional reforms was Article 89, according to which national minorities were allocated four permanent seats in the National Assembly.  Representatives of Yezidi, Russian, Assyrian and Kurdish minorities had become members of the National Assembly after the parliamentary elections held on 2 April 2017.  One of the most important steps in the State policy for the elimination of discrimination was the 2014 National Strategy for the Protection of Human Rights, and the Action Plan deriving from the strategy.  The Action Plan 2017-2019 included provisions for standalone legislation on the fight against discrimination, the establishment of the equality body within the Human Rights Defenders’ Office, and the adoption of a procedural manual for judges on the implementation of the anti-discrimination legislation.  Training to enhance the capacity building of judges and lawyers was also envisaged in the new draft Action Plan.  The standalone legislation on anti-discrimination was currently being developed by the Ministry of Justice and it was expected to be adopted by the end of 2017.

The Government had also continued to strengthen the protection of women’s rights in the country.  It had adopted the Law on Ensuring the Equal Rights and Opportunities for Women and Men.  Mr. Hovakimian underlined the fundamental role of the criminal justice system in combating discrimination, notably the provision of the Criminal Code which qualified actions aimed at incitement of national, racial or religious hostility, racial superiority or humiliation of national dignity as a crime.  Speaking of refugees, Mr. Hovakimian reminded that Armenia had received the first refugees in 1988.  Those refugees had survived and fled the massacres of the Armenian population organized in the city of Sumgait in Azerbaijan in February 1988.  In January 1990, massacres of the Armenians had taken place in Baku, resulting in complete removal of Armenians from the city.  Accordingly, Armenia had received more than 400,000 refugees exiled from Azerbaijan.  Armenia had adopted the policy aimed at integrating refugees into the society.  Most asylum seekers came from Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, Iran and African countries.  The number of asylum seekers had increased in recent years due to the events taking place in the world.  The National Assembly had amended the Law on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in December 2015 in order to bring the national legislation in line with international standards.  A relevant action plan for the protection of the rights of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants had been elaborated in February 2017.

Racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia were closely related to the issue of genocide and could be considered as its warning signs.  Armenia had traditionally presented resolutions related to the Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.  Armenia had also continued to strengthen the protection of national minorities.  As of 2015, 66 religious organizations were registered in the country, out of which eight were the religious organizations of national minorities, including Russian, Assyrian, Jewish and Yezidi religious communities.  They were allowed to operate freely, and to build their meeting houses and places of worship.  Armenia ensured the right to education at all levels.  Civil society organizations of national minorities had established Sunday schools operating in their languages.  Taking into consideration the situation in Syria and the number of immigrants in Armenia, all children had been provided with an opportunity to continue their education, irrespective of documents certifying their grade.  The Government was focused on the development of cultures of national minorities, which created cultural diversity in the country.  Budgetary allocations had been made to that end.  Mr. Hovakimian raised the issue of the credibility of organizations which had submitted alternative reports, in particular of the organization named Caucasus Center of Human Rights Monitoring, whose report contained false information, as well as abusive and discriminatory language.  It was unacceptable that a non-existing organization could be granted an opportunity to have such a report published on the website of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  The delegation asked the Committee to consider removing any report containing false information and racially motivated abusive language.  

Questions by the Rapporteur

NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Armenia, commended the exhaustiveness of the State Party’s report, but he noted the absence of individual complaints.  The involvement of the representatives of 11 minorities in the drafting of the State Party’s report had been exclusively consultative rather than participatory. 

The bill amending the Law on Refugees and Asylum Seekers appeared to have not been yet adopted.  Could the Committee expect that the bill would be adopted to improve the situation of refugees and asylum seekers?  What were the methods for ensuring the access of refugees and asylum seekers to housing, healthcare, education and employment?

The Committee recommended to the State Party to criminalize organizations that promoted or incited racial discrimination.  What was the access to secondary-level and higher-level education?  What were specific mechanisms for providing education to minorities?

The number of acts of discrimination and the statistics on the economic and social conditions of minorities would allow the Committee to better understand their situation.  Did the State party intend to take measures to increase political representation of national minorities?  What was the statistics on minorities’ education?  What was the outcome of studies on gender issues among national minorities? 

Mr. Amir noted that Armenia’s criminal legislation did not always provide an appropriate response to discriminatory acts against ethno-religious communities.  The lack of mechanisms to share the burden of proof made it very difficult to establish the facts of the case.  What were the grounds that could lead to attacks against human rights defenders?  There was a need to raise awareness about the need for equality before law. 

Questions by Experts
 
Experts commended the fact that Armenia had ratified almost all regional, European and international conventions on human rights and humanitarian issues, as well as the punctuality of the State party in responding to the Committee’s questions.  

Experts raised questions about the participation of minorities in political life and public bodies, outlawing of organizations that promoted or incited racial discrimination, and about attitudes towards foreigners.  Why were not all 11 minorities given permanent seats in the National Assembly? 

Were there any posts in the National Assembly, reserved for minorities, occupied by women?  Were there any special measures to promote entrepreneurship among minority women?  Were there any women in the Council of the Elders?  What were legislative measures to widen the employment sectors in which minorities were present?  Who were minorities among the unemployed persons, an Expert asked.

According to the 2011 census, about 98 percent of the population were Armenians, whereas the rest were made up by 11 minorities.  There was no mention of Azeri and those of African descent, but it was mentioned that there were 67 Germans.  Were there any Azeris living in the country and were there any of mixed Armenian-Azeri origin?  How many were of African descent?  What was the explanation of the steep decline in the number of Muslims?  What was the number of the Bosha and was it true that due to discrimination they denied their identity?  What were the criteria for the definition of 11 national minorities? 

What was the number of Armenians in the diaspora?  Was it true that Armenians marrying non-Armenians were considered non-Armenians?  Speaking about changes to the structural composition of the population, one Expert wondered how the State Party would deal with the high population growth rates among minorities. 

Experts raised concern about Armenia’s rejection of asylum seekers on a group rather than individual basis, namely on the basis of origin.  What was the regulation for awarding asylum status? 

Experts commended Armenia’s education system which provided for cultural retention by minorities and learning of minority languages.  Were there any minorities from African countries included in the education system?  Were only refugee children speaking Armenian admitted to school?  What was the percentage of the persons of African descent? 

One Expert reminded of the recommendation of the Human Rights Committee made to Armenia in 2012 regarding the lack of vigilance of the national human rights institution in monitoring, protecting and promoting human rights in accordance with the Paris Principles.  The Ombudsman should fully and independently perform his mandate.  Had it been further strengthened in terms of resources? 

Was there any alternative to the mandatory study of the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church?  Christian religion was declared the State religion. 

Did the State party start a procedure to adopt the Article 14 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms Racial Discrimination?  What was the position of the Convention vis-à-vis domestic law?  Was its supremacy recognized?  Had there been any cases that mentioned the Convention? 

Another concern was the failure of the police to investigate hate crimes and hate speech and the fact that no case had been prosecuted on the basis of racial discrimination, as well as a lack of a comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation. 

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, observed that the State Party’s incitement to hatred legislation needed to cover those aspects mentioned in the Convention.  The lack of complaints did not mean that there were no problems, but could indicate a lack of trust in authorities. 
 
Responses by the Delegation
 
Speaking of the existing legal framework for combatting discrimination, the delegation explained that all amendments to the Law on Refugees had been approved in December 2016, and they were now part and parcel of the existing legislation.  There were provisions to combat discrimination and mechanisms for judicial protection of the rights of persons who believed they were victims of discrimination.  International monitoring mechanisms and bodies had expressed the wish that Armenia have a separate law to govern those issues.  In the 2014 Programme of Action on Human Rights, a paragraph was included on that question.  Thus, a new plan of action was being developed, and its adoption was expected next week.  It was supposed to address three basic problems: giving full definition in line with international standards on discrimination and all its forms, distributing the burden of proof among various sides to uphold equality, and authorities of a special body to combat discrimination.   That body would include civil society representatives.  After the adoption of the law, training courses would be organized for judges. 

As for the criminalization of organisations that preached intolerance and discrimination, in general, Armenia’s legal system did not allow discrimination.  Individuals, rather than organizations, could be held accountable.  The activities of organizations could be prohibited if they propagated hatred and violence.   Speaking of the two criminal cases of spreading hatred that had been dropped, one case was dropped because it was impossible to identify the perpetrator.  The second case was an appeal case of a previous offender who had been found not legally competent. 

With respect to the compatibility of international treaties and domestic law, the constitutional provisions ruled out the possibility of contradiction.  The chapter on human rights in the Constitution stated that what was set out in the Constitution should be interpreted in accordance with the decisions of international bodies to which Armenia was a party. 

As for the innovations in the electoral system and the introduction of mandatory seats for minorities,  the goal was to ensure their participation in political life.  A separate list of national minority representatives was part of the new electoral system.   The Electoral Code stipulated that at least 25 percent of candidates should be women, and that figure should grow to 30 percent.   The Parliament had 100 deputies, out of whom four would be minority representatives, which was satisfactory given that minorities comprised about two percent of the overall population.  The question of representation of minorities could not be confined to the parliamentary level, and they should also be represented at other levels of management, such as self-governance at the regional level. 

The delegation clarified that Armenia was planning to carry out a reform of regional and local self-governance.  However, that should not lead to a change in the representation of minorities.   A new law on the rights of national minorities would be drawn up soon, providing for specific mechanisms and institutions to exercise that right and on representation of minorities.  As for the criteria for defining national minorities, there was no clear definition in international law, but there was a general understanding on what a national minority was.  The same approach was adopted in Armenia, and the Government relied on their self-identification.  

The socio-economic situation of minorities and the protection of their labour rights was, unfortunately, affected by Armenia’s well known problems of socio-economic nature.  Most minorities lived in rural areas which created more predisposition for work in agriculture.  However, there were no barriers to change their occupation.  Labour inspections had previously been combined with health and sanitation inspections.   But, new approaches were now under discussion.  Stringent legal provisions prohibited discrimination in employment. 

With respect to Armenia’s accession to international conventions, the delegation said work was under way.  There were no obstacles to accession to International Labour Organization’s Convention 189.  Citizens could appeal to the European Court on Human Rights.

As for the mandatory teaching of the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Church was a bulwark for preserving Armenian culture and identity.  The Church also had a mission to spread learning and education when there was no Armenian State.  Minority teachers also taught the history of the Armenian Apostolic Church, giving their own point of view.  The textbooks were not obligatory for schools and classes for minority children.  A study plan was issued every year and had an input by minority representatives.  Minorities expressed interest in having more hours devoted to the study of European languages and the Armenian language.  Remote learning was a pilot project in three border schools in the country, due to the lack of teachers for some subjects.  Yazidis and Assyrians learned about the history of their churches. 

There were no barriers to education for refugees, and the language of instruction was chosen by their parents.  Tolerance was ensured in schools through methodological manuals “Teaching Tolerance” and “Conflict Management for the Surrounding World.”  There were also textbooks on civil and human rights, diversity and tolerance for higher classes of primary education. 

Minorities in Armenia were multilingual, whereas Armenians also understood multiple languages.  School materials were allocated to minorities free of charge.  Armenia was the only former Soviet country where the teaching of the Assyrian language was mandatory.  The authorities considered their duty to provide assistance to minority groups and to preserve their culture and identity.    

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, stressed that Armenia’s desire to maintain good relations with the neighbouring countries was part of its foreign policy.  However, some neighbours should also demonstrate the same desire.  The reduction in the population of Armenia by approximately 100,000 was due to the emigration that had started during the 1990s.  

As for the reduction of the number of Azeris in the country, the census was based on the principle of self-identification.  People could not be encouraged to declare their identification as one or another.  There might have been some sensitive issues regarding persons of mixed Armenian-Azeri origin. 

There was a very small number of persons of African descent, mainly asylum seekers.  Armenia was probably not the final destination for those persons.   It was still premature to talk about that group of people, but there were no cases of intolerance towards them.  Muslims in Armenia were mainly Kurds and Iranians. 

As for the question on whether the Bosha people refused to self-identify as such due to discrimination, the delegation clarified that there was no data on the existence of such a group.  The Government did not consider that there were any problems in that respect because it accorded everyone the right to decide how to self-identify. 

Final Round of Discussions

Experts welcomed the reversal of the burden of proof as a further step to combat discrimination as xenophobia affected many countries nowadays, as well as the steps taken towards gender parity in elected positions.   What was the election threshold for minorities? 

As for the existing legal mechanisms for banning of organizations that inspired violence and racial hatred, had any organizations been banned?  Had there been any cases prosecuted for discrimination on the basis of genetic features, an Expert asked.  

What was the rate of unemployment among persons of African descent?  Experts reminded that information on immigrants from Côte d’Ivoire, Congo, Guinea and Mali existed, so there had to be more general information on persons of African descent.  What kind of protection was accorded to the Yezidis?

Was there a plan to ratify the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189 on domestic workers? 

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, explained that there had been an extremely small number of asylum seekers from Africa, namely from Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.  Generally, Africans in Armenia were football players from African countries. 

As for the election threshold for minorities, it was determined according to the number of the total population of minorities.  The four numerous ones were the Kurds, Russians, Yezidis and Assyrians.  Speaking about the ratification of the International Labour Organization’s Convention 189, Mr. Hovakimian explained that the issue of domestic workers was still not a big problem in the country.  Armenia had donated money to the Yezidi community in Syria, given that they had suffered much recently. 

With respect to the discrimination on the basis of genetic features, that was a new provision in Armenian law and there was still no experience in terms of specific application.  As for the provision that stipulated that the communities inhabited by national minorities could only be enlarged by people belonging to the same minority, the delegation explained that the approach aimed at protecting the rights of minorities. 

One Expert reiterated the question about the supremacy of international treaties over domestic law, namely with respect to the international treaties that ran counter the Constitution.   As for the effective representation of minorities, were the four seats in the Parliament only formal or indeed genuine representation of minorities?

The delegation explained that supremacy of international treaties was a controversial issue even among legal experts.  The Constitutional Court issued rulings whether provisions of international treaties complied with the Constitution.  In case of conflicts, international treaties could be adopted with reservations, or the ratification process could be deferred until appropriate amendments had been made to the Constitution.  The representation of minorities in the Parliament was a new phenomenon, and members of the Parliament had not been even assigned their terms.  Therefore, it was not possible to assess whether their representation was effective. 

Experts asked whether Armenia could recognize the powers of the Committee to receive individual complaints even though it had not ratified the Optional Protocol of the Convention.  They reiterated the question about the Bosha people and the fact that they hid their origin in order to escape discrimination.  Perhaps an objective study should be conducted about that issue.  They also raised the issue of the Armenian diaspora.

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, noted that the Armenian diaspora brought a great deal of multiculturalism to the country.  The diaspora played a very important role in the Armenian society, and it could make a great contribution to the fight against xenophobia and racism. 

The ratification of the Optional Protocol of the Convention was being discussed, the delegation clarified.  In the meantime, citizens could bring their complaints to other institutions, such as the European Court of Human Rights.  It might be risky to conduct a study on the origin of some people in Armenia.  Instead, the focus should be on the elimination of all forms of discrimination. 

How did the model of minority representation in the Parliament function, an Expert inquired.  Was it true that minority representatives could only address the questions that concerned their minorities, and could non-minority representatives vote about minority issues?

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, reminded that the four seats for minorities were guaranteed.  They had the right to participate in discussions on all issues and to vote on all questions.  Minority political parties could increase their presence in the Parliament according to the percentage of received votes.

One Expert proposed that Armenia introduce one ministerial seat for minorities.  The delegation thanked for the proposal, but noted that a ratio between the majority and minorities should also be considered.   

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, asked for a clarification about the cases which had been prosecuted in line with laws on crimes that incited racial or ethnic hatred.

The delegation explained that the criminal legislation contained description of crimes that incited racial or ethnic hatred. There was a case of online incitement to hatred, but it was not possible to identify the perpetrator.  In another case, a person had been charged with distribution of literature that incited hatred and had been convicted accordingly. 

Concluding Remarks
 
NOUREDDINE AMIR, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for Armenia, said that he reviewed the answers of the delegation of Armenia on the basis of four principles:  clarification, rigour, reliability and credibility.  He commended the ongoing progress made in legislative provisions to fight discrimination, which was impressive considering that Armenia was a young republic.   

ASHOT HOVAKIMIAN, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Armenia, thanked the Committee Rapporteur for his evaluation of the Government’s work, and reiterated that the Government was seriously working to eliminate discrimination, which was very important for the future of the country and its society.  Mr. Hovakimian appreciated the friendly manner and spirit of the dialogue with the Committee.  Armenia faced a lot of problems, but it was working to resolve.  Armenia was an old nation and a very young democracy that was still maturing.

ANASTASIA CRICKLEY, Committee Chairperson, reminded that implanting the provisions of the Convention was a job that had to continue in Armenia.  It was still work in progress.

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